into the river
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.”
“Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within him.”
How Deep Will I Go?
The Scriptures about who the Holy Spirit is and His purpose in our lives are deep and wide. But that still doesn’t stop most Christians, me among them, from struggling to understand Him or take advantage of all that God wants us to pursue through His power.
Several years ago I had an experience with my extended family that, when I look back now, was God teaching me the depths to which He invites me, and you, into experiencing the grace and gift of Spirit. And so I now invite you into that story and to ask yourself the question, “how deep will I go?”
By The River
My family and I stood by a small peaceful cove with the wild current of the river just beyond us. Behind us lay the worn path that led back to our cars and the picnic site. To our left and right the ground was flattened and well used while just across the river the dense forest draped over the water, wild and unkempt.
We surveyed everything around us and considered how we would engage the river. Some journeyed back up the path to lounge by the picnic tables and enjoy rest in the trees far from the noise and action of the water. Some chose to walk along the well-worn trail on the bank. It was a beautiful walk and allowed for a stunning panoramic view of the river without the risk of actually getting in.
Still others tiptoed into the cove just before us. They were able to get a taste of the crisp cool water while remaining protected from the whip and whirl of the current. Ankle deep. Safe.
Into The River
A few of us, though, were determined to navigate the deep of the river. We worked our way past the boulders and stumbled along the edge. We didn’t know what lay ahead but we were ready to follow the river’s lead and find out.
My son began hopping rock to rock so as to be right in the thick of the adventure but free of the uncertainty that the water and wet rocks might cause.
My daughter and nieces worked their way along joyfully, slowly slipping and sliding with each step. They laughed and giggled when they fell and worked their way gently down the stream.
My siblings and I followed along with the children slipping down the river. The kids were filled with glee as they worked with the water and problem solved how to make the next move. I was in the river like the others. But I was tense and stressed by the lack of control I had and somewhat fearful of the mystery that lay before me as the water continued to deepen.
I looked far ahead and saw my teenage nephews. They had the joy of my children coupled with the confidence and strength that accompanied their age and knowledge. They ran ahead of all of us, they didn’t care about rocks ripping at their feet and legs, they didn’t care about falling. They literally ran down the steam. When it became deep and carried them in the current they fell down into it laughing and letting their bodies be swept along. I longed to experience the river in the way that they seemed to be experiencing it.
They were soon so far ahead of us that I volunteered to go ahead and check on them. After ensuring that my kids were safe with my siblings, I cautiously began to follow the example my nephews had set for me.
To get to where my nephews were, I knew I would need to let go, so I began running and jumping and plunging in with the current. It was amazing and freeing to flow with the water and then walk, crawl, and climb along the shallow places. I could feel the rocks under my bare feet and the pull of the water drawing my body forward. I was free and part of the water, joyfully moving as it moved, and dancing as it danced.
Finally, I found my nephews. They had come to a place where the water was deep and still, framed with a large boulder on one side and the brisk current safely on the other. They had taken a break and were now jumping off the rocks and swimming in the pool that had formed there.
I could see that beyond this quiet pool, the current was strong again and the water splattered around smooth rocks and disappeared behind another bend. I thought my brave nephews had been rewarded with the perfect destination and wondered aloud if they planned to stay.
My nephew just grinned at me. He wanted to go further into the unknown. He was just enjoying the space for a brief rest before they journeyed onward to see what other surprises the river had in store for them.
The River and The Spirit
The river was a beautiful picture of the Holy Spirit for me. Each of my family member’s responses to that river were illustrations of the ways I have approached the Spirit. Reflecting on my experiences in the river brought me to ponder these two questions:
Where am I in relationship with the Holy Spirit?
Where do I want to be?
My journey with the Holy Spirit has been much like my tension filled walk down the river. I have spent most days in the river but spiritually on edge, wondering if I’m going to fall and bump my knee or worse yet, gash my head. I pray, and I hear, and then I question if I heard or not.
I struggle as I clumsily stand in the deep or tensely follow the current. I long to exchange that clumsy struggle for the beautiful freeing dance with the Spirit.
At one time or another, I’ve been in every spot in and around that river, save one. The one where I’m going down the river joyfully and freely and that, my friends, is where I really want to be.
I’m convinced it’s the scariest, and yet most wonderful place, and I don’t want to experience it alone, I want to journey with others.
I’m in the river but my approach and attitude aren’t what I want them to be. So what tangible things am I doing to go from a tense river walker to dancing joyfully along with the current? Well, I’ve started by praying for the Spirit to teach me. I’m also paying attention each day, each moment when I see that I’m becoming anxious and tense at the lack of control I have in the river. I’m choosing to stop in that moment and say, I’m not gonna do this anymore. Through much prayer and practice, change is coming and I’m beginning to have faith that I can really be free in the Spirit.
How about You?
What are you supposed to do with a story about a river and the Holy Spirit? Maybe you are asking who is this Holy Spirit? I think it’s the perfect time to dive further in, not into my story but into yours instead.
Where are you in relationship with the Holy Spirit? Where do you want to be?
Join me in the river. Join me in asking the questions and seeking the answers. You don’t need to know about Jesus or the Holy Spirit. Seek and you will find. The river is near.
Post by Randa Smith (CG West).