Traffic Patterns and U-Turns
It’s funny, living overseas, driving a car. Americans that come to visit us in the last country we lived cringed when driving down the road either with me or with others. Here, it seems to be the same. Offensive driving is the key to getting anywhere within the city. Offensive meaning you work your way through to get to where you’re going almost to the extent of no matter the cost. Though it drives me crazy (pun intended), I actually enjoy it a bit. What is painted as a two lane road, actually is five lanes. Sidewalks are used as an “express lane” of sorts. At least sometimes. To me, it’s part of learning to live outside of what I’ve always known…a learning experience. Which I like to learn. The tricky part is when back in the States (or any other Western country), remembering that that is where I am…not in a super offensive driving scene. People get tickets for that kind of thing, you know.
When all the traffic is backed up, two lanes turning into four, all going in the same direction, I often try to find another route. Open up my map on my phone and look for other roads, allies or paths to get to where I want to be and just start driving. In many cases, I actually end up dong a u turn and find a route that way, which ends up being significantly faster than if I would have just sat in traffic. Going back to move forward. One thing that has always stumped me driving in the last four cities we’ve lived in is it seems that many other drivers on the roads don’t think this way. “If I need to go West, going East, even for a little bit, won’t get me there,” seems to be the thought. Weird..though I’m glad because it gets me there faster!
I had a great conversation the other day with a friend of mine. We were talking about how in the Western mind, we have to constantly be advancing the Kingdom of God. Growing. The church must continue to grow. And to be honest, this make sense, right? If we want the Kingdom to advance, we have to constantly be pushing forward, clamoring and grasping at anything we can to move.
I don’t think I could be a monk. I love to read, I enjoy monasteries and I thoroughly enjoy and need solitude. That’s just how I roll (Iris has come to appreciate this side of me as I have come to appreciate that she is rejuvenated by groups of people). I don’t think I could handle as much solitude as a monk, however. The Desert Fathers and Mothers escaped the craziness of life and threats of killing in the 4th century. They escaped to the desert in Egypt hence their name. Great works of deep spiritual thought came from their time and still speak relevant truth today. They realized that they would need to grow deeper in Christ in order to help others do the same. They desired to provide a place where people could get away and focus on their inner life for a bit.
Why? To refresh. To recenter. To refocus. To retreat. They were able to see that Jesus Himself needed times of retreat in order to move forward in what the Father had planned for Him. If this is how Jesus lived His life, they believed, this is how every believer could benefit from living and modeling the same. This idea of moving “backward” in order to move “forward” is very counter-intuitive. Economies recede, countries panic. Armies retreat, everyone thinks that they have lost. Churches plateau or decline in attendance, pastors panic. Not hearing God speak, have I lost faith? When these things happen, it’s good to stop and evaluate what’s going on. But panic? Christ is the Prince of Peace, for us to panic was never His intention.
In the book “Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development,” Bruce Demarest quotes developmental psychologist Daniel J. Levinson’s observation, “Both generativity and its opposite pole, stagnation, are vital to a man’s development. To become generative, a man must know how it feels to stagnate-to have the sense of not growing, of being static, stuck, drying up, bogged down in a life full of obligation and devoid of self-fulfillment. He must know the experience of dying, of living in the shadow of death.’Through the dark night, then, God changes the habits of our lives, lovingly weaning us from attachment to inordinate pleasures, possessions and puffed-up egos.'”
In those times of silence, plateauing, or stagnation so to speak, it may feel as though we’re going backwards. And to some extent, perhaps we are. But it is only to move us forward. Retreating to grow in depth to move forward in a different, more profound way. Or perhaps, stopping enough to simply gain perspective of where you really are and who is really around you so that you may move forward more effectively, compassionately, intentionally.
For me, this has happened more times than my human mind would have liked. So many times wondering what was going on, why am I moving backwards, why am I being “held back” or “forced” to stall (I talk a little bit about that here and here). Yet every time my compassion for others has increased, my patience has grown and I am more at peace. Of course not all the time, I am a human don’t forget. But it’s just been more. Or maybe just more consistent. I know there will be more times like this, and it is hard on my heart to even admit that. But, I also hope I remember what I’m writing now…that “all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
be blessed today
And you? Have you gone through a time of moving backward, of retreating, of stepping back? Did you feel “forced” to do this? What was your experience like, and what came of it? Sharing your journey only helps us all live out ours. Thanks for reading!