I’ve been doing some listening to God lately, perhaps more than in the past–at least more so in terms of sitting quietly and still and waiting to hear from Him. I want to test whatever comes to mind as words that Jesus speaks to me–by that, I mean I want to ensure those words measure up with the truth of Scripture. Maybe that’s why I haven’t always been an attentive and quiet listener to Him; maybe I’ve been concerned that I couldn’t (or shouldn’t) trust those impressions that I sensed came from God’s Spirit.
But lately I’ve attempted to listen more. Earlier this month, I visited a spiritual director for the first time. As I talked and cried with her, the director invited me to think of a place in the past where I felt lonely, a place I may have gone when I felt hurt, and to invite Jesus to be there with me.
I immediately thought of the porch swing at our house when I was growing up; it hung at one end of the long porch that stretched across the front of our home. I remember sitting there once as a teenager, silent and alone and tearful. The spiritual director asked me to imagine sitting on that swing, with Jesus sitting with me–with His being Immanuel, God with us, in my need. I pictured Jesus sitting so close that I could hold His hand, and I could put my head on His shoulder. And with our bare feet, we slowly pushed our naked toes against the wood floor of the porch to put the swing in gentle motion.
I wouldn’t have pursued that kind of spiritual exercise if my spiritual director hadn’t led me to do that. But now that I have, it’s something I’m trying to incorporate in regular prayer time (I wanted to write “daily” prayer time, but I also want to be honest.). So I get quiet and alone, close my eyes, and put myself back in that swing, which no longer feels like a lonely, sad place. Instead, it feels like a place where I WANT to be. And I listen as I imagine swaying in that porch swing with Jesus.
Recently, I heard Jesus tell me this: “I like you just the way you are.” Now, given my background and my personality and the sum total of all my life experiences, I’m accustomed to think of this concept more like this: “I love you just the way you are BUT too much to let you stay that way.” Which is true–and thank the Lord, He relentlessly pursues the growth of my character. But I’ve found that we as His children are so often quick to jump past the “just the way you are” part and camp out on the big but…BUT you need to grow so much; BUT you need so much transformation; BUT you have a long way to go.
It reminds me of the response I received from someone when I got my hair cut short–so, so short–about 10 years ago. I’d been growing my hair out for about 3 years to donate to Locks of Love, and I had about a foot of hair to give. I got a cute haircut (for free, plus a tip) and emailed pictures to this person to show her. When we next spoke on the phone, I asked if she saw the haircut photos.
Her reply: “It’s cute, BUT IT IS SO SHORT!“ True, it was short, shortest I’d ever had it. But the compliment part got swallowed up by the “so short” exclamation. I don’t believe God interacts with us in that way; I don’t believe He says, “I love you, BUT YOU ARE SUCH A MESS!” I don’t believe the “I love you” part gets swallowed up by the reality of “you need to grow.”
So, “I like you just the way you are,” I heard Jesus whisper. He loves me, and He LIKES me. And if it’s followed by anything, it’s not a big but; it’s not even a small one. I believe it’s an AND–“I like you just the way you are, AND I have more in store for you to become the whole person I want you to be.”
Do you have your own porch swing? Your own place where Jesus meets with you so you can savor the presence of God? If so, I hope you get to be barefooted there, too.