I have this box on a shelf. It’s been there a while. It holds some feelings, dark and ugly feelings. Packaged away and hidden high on a shelf, those feelings remained for a long time.
Until they didn’t anymore.
Until one day this spring as I’m chatting with my spiritual director about a recent event, and suddenly I am overwhelmed with emotion. “I don’t know what this is,” I cry. “I don’t know what is making me respond like this to a situation that really isn’t about me at all.”
[Maybe tears when I’m talking about one thing are actually about something else. Maybe those boxed-up feelings aren’t as secured as I hoped. After all, I couldn’t figure out how to get a lock on that box—just a lid.]
“You’ve got to sit with God in your grief,” my spiritual director tells me. And then reminds me that “ungrieved pain will turn into bitterness” and I realize that I need to open that box. That I am going to have to sit in grief and bitterness, and even more: loss and abandonment. I wanted to say that there was an unexpected life circumstance that caused my box to slip from its secure location and fall at my feet, but in reality I know it was God pushing it forward.
Even after the revelation that I was going to need to open the box I wasn’t ready to do it, I wasn’t ready to sit in the yuck. While the box no longer sat high on a shelf, it now became comfortable on my bedside table—unopened. I promised God I would open it soon, and begged God’s patience, knowing God might deem I was ready before I felt ready. All summer long I glanced at it, asking God for a little more time.
This feels like a season of preparation in my life. Going to seminary, leading a local para-church ministry, resting and worshipping on the sidelines at church (yes, you could call me a “pew sitter”), God is doing deep and important work in my soul. I am more attuned to my inner life than I have ever been. As a leader and a do-er, this season of stillness and solitude has been marked with hard-fought growth. I feel like Eustace, with God peeling off my scales and revealing the true me underneath.
But I was still afraid of that box on my table.
In this time of work in the waiting God and I are dreaming big dreams together. I know something is coming. And I don’t want to rush. I want to be fully ready for it. I want all my scales to come off. I want to lead others into transformation through the power of Christ, and I long to find God in the context of my leadership rather than miss God completely in it. As Ruth Haley Barton writes, “the soul is a tender thing, and leadership can be very dangerous…we know that the leader is often the one who gets shot at or voted off the island. The savvy soul knows better than to run out into the clearing, thereby giving everyone a better shot!”* I need my tender soul to be healthy.
So today as the rain poured down outside, I lit some candles and sat in the quiet and solitude with God. It was time. I closed my eyes, quieted my breath, and opened the box. I was shocked at what I found: hiding in the corner, so small I almost missed her, was a little me. A tiny Deanna, sitting on the bottom, knees pulled up to her chest, arms wrapped around them, head weighed down.
What am I supposed to do with her? I whispered to God, who (I was not surprised to find) was standing there with me gazing into the box.
Oh Deanna, God lovingly responded.
You are her.
Let me open this box.
It took some time and some courage and a whole lot of trust, but as I looked up at God’s face I climbed inside myself, inside my box. The darkness was enveloping, the fear suffocating.
But as I waited, God’s light began to shine into the darkness. God didn’t take the lid off as I had, instead the light came in through a crack, small at first and then bigger and bigger until my curiosity got the best of me and I had to see what was outside—taking a peek through the crack and letting the light warm me.
And so the work has begun. But I am not the one doing it. I thought I would have to, I thought I would have to open that box and unpack all the contents and examine and study and I don’t know…fix all of it.
But instead I just needed to acknowledge the truth of that broken-hearted, tender woman, hiding in the darkness. I needed to crawl inside her, to feel her pain. And to let God to do the fixing.
So I am sitting here and letting God lovingly and tenderly and with the utmost compassion and patience do the work.
My soul might be feeling a little battered and bruised, but it is so happy to be under the care of the master surgeon and is reveling in the light.
*Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership by Ruth Haley Barton is a must-read for any Christian leader.