As a former rock-climber, I have often loved walls for the challenge of getting over them. Here’s me fantasizing about scaling Devils Tower in Wyoming this summer.
There have been many times, though, that I am aware of different kinds of walls in my life that are keeping me from moving forward with Jesus.
Instead of just ignoring or unconsciously accepting the walls we come up against, it helps to acknowledge them. Some of us go through seasons of feeling blocked from praying, reading the Bible, sharing our resources, trusting God like we want to, or getting over our bad habits. It’s tempting to think of ourselves as hopelessly stuck in all kinds of ways.
The truth is usually the opposite: the walls are evidence that we are called to go deeper. They are evidence of a spiritual life, and the call in us to keep growing. They are evidence that we outgrew our old way, and we’re ready for the new. I like how Tim Geoffrion says it in Saying Yes to God:
Hitting a wall in your spiritual life is a graphic and powerful image to describe what happens to everyone who takes his/her relationship with God seriously and desires to grow. It doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. It may actually mean that you are finally ready for the next stage in your growth. When you hit a wall, you must face your inability to attain your goals or fulfill your desires in your way, on your terms, and in your own power. Yet, the emotional and intellectual impact of hitting the wall is a sign of hope, because it means you are now ready to listen to God in a new way and at a new depth.
Janet Hagberg and Bob Guelich in their book, The Critical Journey, talk about the wall as a place where we are ‘unmasked’ and have to face what we have not been able to acknowledge about ourselves and our motivations up to that point. It’s the place where we may have to face our own limitations and, frankly, our inability to be the person we wished to be. It’s where our will meets God’s will. It’s where we must ‘let go and let God,’ as many preachers are fond of saying, in a more profound and truly life-changing way than ever before. It’s where we surrender.
Hitting a wall, then is actually a positive sign that you are growing (or poised to grow) in spite of the fact that it may feel as if you’re coming apart. The wall prepares you to experience God and to develop in new ways, previously unavailable to you. There are many spiritual practices and resources you can draw on to help you at the wall (such as this book, IMHO), but in the end, God is the one who takes you through the walls in your life. Only God’s Spirit can enable you to reach a more mature stage in your spiritual life. The walls in your life drive you to your knees where you must wait for God. There you pray, seeking, asking, and knocking on God’s door, being purified and prepared for the Holy Spirit to take you somewhere you cannot reach on your own. This is your spiritual journey.
This means that striving to know more, be more, and do more is not necessarily the answer. I’ve got one of those “type A” personalities that needs to hear this regularly. A life with God is about inviting God to do the work in us that needs to be done. That means we can sit down and lean against the wall, and ask for the help we need.
Sometimes in the moments, against the wall, it helps me to remember the “armor of God” that the apostle Paul describes in Ephesians 6. We don’t have to understand it all fully in order to consider its comfort and protection. The belt of truth is that Jesus is Lord. The breastplate of righteousness is that we are covered in his. The shoes of peace is that he is our peace, the one who destroys the dividing walls and brings all things together. The shield of faith is a reminder that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Sometimes our hope is enough! The helmet of salvation is that God has got you, he made a way for you now and forever! And the sword of the Spirit is that he is with you.
In rock-climbing, I used to imagine myself as “one” with the rock to help calm my fears about falling off. It was a little mind-trick that gave me freedom to risk that next hand-hold. I imagined that the rock and I were actually one thing, intrinsically stuck together.
I’m glad that’s actually true with Jesus. He is there with us at the walls we face, no matter how giant they feel, patiently ready to help us take a step. Let’s ask for his help.