For most of my life, my answer to these questions was No.
I wanted to experience God in my daily life, amid the wear and tear of marriage and parenting and housekeeping and writing and church.
I was wary of seeking mountain-top experiences which would fade once I got down to the valley simply because they often had, leaving me discouraged. Far better to experience God little by little in the valleys, and have this experience permeate my whole life.
I guess you could say I was not really hungry.
* * *
It’s the rare person who’s hungry for God while you still hope that your life can work very well, thank you, without God.
So it took a period of brokenness—of a manuscript being rejected; of having to totally lay my writing aside to found a business to pay for private school for the girls; of being purified in the crucible of marriage—for me to want to be filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit, and his gifts of love, joy and peace more than I wanted to be a successful writer.
And this God-longing is revealing itself in my use of time.
* * *
The ancient Celtic symbol for the Holy Spirit was a wild goose.
If the wild goose did not grace your backyard, you searched for him in places where he was last rumoured to have been.
And so when I run out of energy, of love, of joy, of a steady sense of shalom and the presence of God, I am happy to take time out, to seek the wild goose of the Holy Spirit once again.
* * *
And spiritual quests, luckily, are not the quest for the Holy Grail, where you either find the Grail, or you don’t. They are not all or nothing.
They are like treasure hunts in which one might pick up one gleaming golden feather one time, or a fistful of them the next, or bits of delicate down. And each of these makes your life more beautiful.
And finally, you chance upon the shimmering wild goose itself
* * *
Healing comes layer by layer. Revelation and clarity and guidance come layer by layer.
The Holy Spirit like water floods the soul of the seeker, sometimes in a trickle, sometimes a stream, sometimes a mighty flood.
I like the way the ancient Israelites constructed a cairn of stones to remember significant spiritual encounters.
* * *
Here are some of my cairns:
Learning soaking prayer at a Catch the Fire Conference with John Arnott, and somehow catching a deep awareness of the Father’s love for me, through the week-long conference, and through the practice of soaking prayer they taught. Receiving healing from adrenal fatigue at a healing prayer session. Receiving partial healing from emotional eating at Cwmbran and Harnhill Retreat Centre. Beginning to radically change my diet after a visit to His Place, Saarland, Germany, a holistic Christian retreat centre.
* * *
If you feel stuck in your personal life, or goals, or relationships, or feel the need of physical or emotional or mental healing, or would like to experience more of the presence of God who is energy and joy and peace, I would highly recommend going away for a retreat, personal or guided, or a conference with speakers with an attested track record of fruitfulness and integrity (I find Bill Johnson, John and Carol Arnott, and Heidi Baker worth listening to.)
Why go away to experience God when God is everywhere?
1 God honours the humility it takes to inconvenience ourselves to seek him.
Namaan the Syrian has leprosy. His slave girl tells him about the prophet, Elisha in Samaria who can heal, and off he goes pompously with chariots and horses and silver and gold and clothing to be healed.
But Elisha merely send him word to bathe seven times in the Jordan.
Namaan is furious: “Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?”
His servants tell him, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!”
So Naaman bathes in the Jordan, and is cleansed.
Sometimes, God heals us in response to our own prayers, and, sometimes, in response to other people’s prayers. Both happen in Scripture— the second far more frequently. Who knows why? I think God honours the humility it takes to ask for prayer.
It also ensures that we cannot position ourselves as some sort of super-prayer-warrior who can cure all our own diseases and ailments, physical, mental and spiritual by our own prayers.
2 We hear God better when we set aside time to do so.
Mark Batterson in The Circle Maker: Praying Circles Around Your Biggest Dreams and Greatest Fears has a formula
Change of pace + change of place=Revelation.
Come on, be realistic. Home can be a talking-to-do list of duties and distractions. And there’s the phone, and mobile phones, and the internet. A good retreat centre will infuriate you by cutting wifi, thereby ensuring that you hear God rather more than you bargained for!!
If we struggle with making time and space and silence for God in our daily life—but feel the need for clarity, peace, blessing, healing, guidance—it makes sense to go away and seek these things.
3 God honours the sacrifice of money, time, convenience and career advancement that we make in seeking him.
4 Going away to seek God has been built into Judeo-Christianity from the very earliest days when the Jews went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem three times a year. A kind of holy-day, exercise, community and God all thrown in.
5 It is generally so worth it.
I was talking to a woman who had spent thousands of pounds last year on a forthnight in the Bahamas, and came back with no more peace or joy than she had before.
Then she went on a weekend retreat at Waverly Abbey, and came back glowing, couldn’t stop talking about it, felt spiritually full and somehow different.
I love travel—it energizes me. However, etymologically, the English word travel is derived from travail: trouble, sorrow, suffering, hassle. It’s not always a spiritual experience for me (though it often is).
A silent retreat however clears my mind of all my whirling thoughts and worries, gives me clarity, and fills me again with the spirit of Jesus. It’s a great investment of time.
* * *
Bird watchers are amazing. All they want to do is to see the bird—the kingfisher, the toucan, the macaw or the albatross and the penguins which I saw in New Zealand.
And I want to similarly seek the wild goose of the Holy Spirit until I have all of him, and he has all of me, and says, “Okay child, I have seen your heart. I will make you my dwelling place. I will come and fill you, and you will be my Anita, and I will be your God.”