Moments after the attendant handed us our blended Butterfinger milkshakes, my youth pastor handed them back through the same window. “These are too low,” he pointed out, “Could you please top them off?
I stared at him, speechless at the audacity of his words. He turned to me. “They were too low,” he repeated. As we thanked the attendant and pulled away with our newly topped-off shakes, he remarked, “You’re thirsty.”
Confused, I thought he was talking about a physical need, perhaps explaining his insistence on my paper cup being filled to the very top. But as he continued, I realized he was referring to my meltdown earlier that afternoon, the one eliciting the pit stop for shakes in the first place.
“Your spiritual tank is running low.”
He said it matter-of-factly, as if it should have been obvious to me. But it wasn’t. My anxiety over the pressures of high school had distracted me from my spiritual practices of prayer and worship. In the midst of my senior year, the variables at stake overwhelmed me: the unknown of life after high school, my self-imposed standards for a perfect GPA, my spinal fusion and the awkward hinged body brace I wore that year, my extracurricular activities, and my part-time job.
Having a youth mentor at such a turbulent, impressionable time in my life was critical for my spiritual formation. But who fills that role for me now? Is it my husband? My pastor? A life group? My faith will always have room for growth; it is a life-long journey in which I am the student. With social media at my fingertips, I could find an influencer to follow, or I can look to the people in my own life, learning so much from those who have gone before me and those who walk alongside me.
The unknown can be overwhelming, and staying in my comfort zone becomes more and more enticing. Before we plow ahead, or remain in the safety of our comfort zones, we need to intentionally set aside time to do a heart check, asking ourselves hard questions. Establish this heart check as a regular practice. What will yours look like? Will you write out your thoughts or process them with a friend? Consider whose input might have value in your conversations with God, whether it comes from a spouse, children, parents, friends, a counselor, or other key voices. Will you set aside time for this reflection seasonally, annually, monthly, or at another consistent interval? What problems are you looking to solve?
First, I examine my priorities. What truly matters, and am I making space for these things? How am I spending my time and energy? Are they congruent? If not, what can I do to realign my priorities and my time? Identify pain points and note what has worked well.
I also reflect on my motivation. Do earthly things motivate me, such as achievement, approval, or money? Where does God fit in? Am I feeling content, complacent, or scared? Consider where you might be able to hold back and allow someone else to step in with his or her gifts. Are you already stretched too thin, or are you better-equipped to serve elsewhere?
Nearly 20 years after my drive-through top-off, I wake up, stiff from the air mattress in my husband’s old Eagle Scout tent, camping with my family of five. I’m thirsty again. I continue to ask myself these hard questions.
Is this life I’ve built the one I want to continue to build? Are there things I can adjust, or do I need a foundational shift? Is my heart here where my feet are planted, or am I restless for a different path, one where I feel more fulfilled in my calling?
I unzip the tent, careful not to wake my light sleepers, ages two, five, and seven. Standing at the lake’s shore, I shift my feet ever so slightly, trapping the dazzling morning sun behind one of the sweeping pines, backlighting its needles into precise silhouettes. Where do I need to stand to allow God’s radiance to embolden me in this way?
I question my footing and whether I have enough faith to remain in one place long enough to allow God to shine in and through me, or whether my tendency for restlessness causes me to leap too soon. Am I being true to my identity in Christ? This is the self-reflection I need during this regular exercise. Do my priorities align with my identity in Christ? Is my time spent running after what He is nudging me to do?
Am I restless because I wonder if a better opportunity will come along? In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul wrote, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” Ephesians 2:10 (ESV). How do we know whether to plant ourselves where we are, or to uproot and walk? Am I listening to God’s directives, or am I striving for control? What can I surrender to God?
Am I happy? Am I trying so hard to obtain a different life for me and my family that I am not enjoying what I have now?
Poised over my journal on a wooden bench at the water’s edge, my pen can’t keep up with these racing questions. Am I becoming who the world wants me to become, or who God wants me to become? Am I, in my mid-thirties, too young to have regrets? At the same time, am I too old to pursue new ventures? Should I be grateful for what I have, for what I’ve already built for myself? Is there only one “right” path for me? People move all the time; how do they start over? Would I be okay starting over? Who would support me? What would people think? Am I in too far deep to unravel it all and step into something else? I’m not a risk-taker; what if I fail? If this new venture doesn’t work, will I be able to come back? I vacillate between my comfort zone and the unknown.
I don’t know what lies ahead, but God draws me out from my questions. He silences my panicked thoughts. He beckons me to listen. Right here on this campsite with no phone service and my family stirring in the tent, He has my captive audience. I bow my head.
“This is your life,” He gestures to me, to the sounds of my boys. “Home is not confined to the walls you reside inside, but is defined by the lives you have created inside. It isn’t going to be easy.”
What isn’t going to be easy? Is this His way of calling me to step out, or is this my own rationalization, trying to discern what to do next?
“Watch me. Let me take the lead.” I notice a small fishing boat tied a few yards away, rowed here from the boat launch across the lake. For whatever reason, it is tied here for this brief time. I imagine God with the oars as I untie the knots. God waits for me to settle in, surrendering to His directive.
“Lord, where are we going today?” I question. He doesn’t answer, rowing into the great expanse of fog, able to see further than my limited vision. “I won’t let you down,” He reassures me, “just stay with Me.” The boat doesn’t follow a track. It glides along the lake, slicing its path through blurry waters, leaving only its wake.
The full afternoon sun delivers sparkling clarity across the lake. But after a day oscillating between slow progress forward and hints of clarity, the next morning sweeps a new blanket of fog onto the lake, God’s invitation to join Him in the boat again. This time, I step in the boat with more confidence, knowing Who is at the helm, but not knowing where we are going. My faith assures me I will be delivered safely to shore again at His appointed time. I’ve done this before, not on this exact path, but with my same God, and we will continue it again, every day, through the morning fog and afternoon clarity, and evening darkness, establishing these sacred rhythms of yielding and trust, leading and following, praying and listening, resting and stepping out, always leaving a wake for those who follow behind.
I haven’t always gotten in the boat when He’s offered. Unable to discern through the fog on my own, I’ve struggled to relinquish control at times. I’ve stayed in safe harbor, not changing or growing. I’ve felt safe — content, even, but not fulfilled. But when I step off-shore, into the boat, trusting His vision to guide me, we journey together, my heart aligned with His. He calls the fog to rise from the surface of the moving waters in His time. I wake each morning, hungry for this passage with Him, my Father. I trust His pattern of fog and clarity. Sometimes entire seasons bring only fog. But I am ready for whatever the day brings, for what He reveals as we journey together into the unknown.
I am filled.