“About every ten years, you have a chance to look back on your life and, when you do, you can see the ways the Spirit has touched you, moved you, maybe even shoved you in certain directions. And the Spirit of God is there in the least likely of places, in the least likely of people, in everyone you’ve known and loved. And the Spirit has touched you through all of them. You’ll be able to say, ‘There’s the Spirit,’ and ‘Oh, look, there’s the Spirit again!’ What you know in the present is that you have to make decisions, you have to answer the questions your life and ministry bring you. Later, as you begin to reflect, you’ll begin to understand that if the Spirit was there with you in the past, the Spirit is with you now, and will be with you as you move into the future. If you want to know how the Spirit is working in your life, just look in the rearview mirror every once in a while.”
One of the problems with moving forward is that there are times that require looking back--and not with nostalgia.
I was recently visiting with a friend who is a Vietnam veteran, describing "then" and "now."
He described it like this: "When I came home, I sort of put all that stuff in a package. You know, when I was in country, we always said "When I get back to the world, I'm gonna...etc. etc." It was sort of like Vietnam was "another world." I knew it was a temporary world. What I learned to survive there wasn't much use to the world I live in now. But it was VERY useful to the world I was in at the time--it helped me survive. But sometimes I am surprised at how that package opens itself when I am not expecting it."
I think when any of us think back to what we would consider "traumatic life experiences," the "other worldliness" is very evident. They are places we don't care to look because they are laced with adrenalin and obscured in a cloud of fear. There is a heaviness to them. There are feelings of loss of control that people describe as being "trapped" or "paralyzed" or "feeling reeled in, unable to get any traction to resist."
I know for me, those things feel like I am trolling with a fishing rod in calm water, and suddenly hooked Leviathan. I can no longer control the direction in which the boat is going. I can't turn the crank on my reel and get any purchase on it. My feet strain against the hull of the boat, simply to remain in the boat. I am afraid that any minute, Leviathan will decide to dive, and capsize my boat. I don't dare let go of the rod for fear the line will get snarled around my feet or body and drag me out of the boat and drown me. The only thing I can do is consider getting my pocketknife out and cutting the line, and even that is hard to do because it involves taking one hand off the rod...or pray the line breaks on its own.
But even then, when it's calm again, I am faced with a new reality. My boat is in a place I did not want or expect. I'm still going to have to navigate back to shore. I'm going to have to re-orient, get my bearings, find a landmark. I may have to rely on the next random boat that comes along for directions--and the person in that boat may or may not be trustworthy. I am going to have to weigh that advice before choosing. But ultimately, to get back to shore I have to make a series of choices about the new environment in which I've suddenly been thrust. I have at times found myself angry and resentful of those choices. I find myself feeling powerless when "that package opened itself" and I am left to deal with the residue that leaked out of it. Maybe the residue is toxic; maybe it is benign. But I find myself feeling like it's ALL toxic, even when it isn't, and simply angry that it must be cleaned up.
But recently, I thought about this in a new way after reading the essay where I got the above quote. I suddenly realized that somehow, I'm still always in the boat. Somehow, I remained in the boat.
That boat, I believe, is the Holy Spirit. It was always there, even when the only conscious memory I have of it is straining against it, just as my feet strained against the boat to hold on.
The other thing I realized is no matter how bad the ride has been, in those times I revisited a place I did not want to go at a time I did not want to visit it--the times I suddenly feel the rod and reel jump in my hand as the hook sinks into Leviathan--when the episode is over, there is a joy--a calm--about just being in the boat, in the same way seeing a rainbow after a bad storm is calming. It's just good to be alive, and it's good to be in the boat.
The other thing I realized is none of this ever dented my courage enough to stop fishing. There are other fish out there I want to catch--good fish--fish that are nutritious and healthy. Yes, the chance always exists I might hook Leviathan--but the good fish are so good, and so tasty, I always feel it's worth the risk, and I continue to be more experienced at fishing as a result of it.
...And, you see, I also know I have a good boat. I doubt my boat is the most attractive boat on the water. I am almost positive it isn't the neatest and tidiest boat. (Anyone who's ever ridden in my truck and seen me move three pounds of clutter from the passenger seat knows THAT.) But that boat is sturdy and reliable.
So, I have come to believe, is the Holy Spirit in each of our lives. Always there, even when we don't perceive it. Even when our only perception is we are straining against it. That's ok, too--she can withstand our straining, and sometimes straining against it is the only way we can remain where we are and not be swept overboard and drowned.
But ultimately, we need not fear Leviathan if we only can be brave enough to trust the boat.