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A few key messages from God

A time for lament. The time leading up to my week at Duke's Center for Reconciliation was difficult for me, as I was still reeling from a shooting that happened on our block just a few weeks before. As a witness to the shooting (in which no one was, thankfully, hurt), I experienced shock, numbness, and confusion for some time. As I boarded the plane for Durham, I felt worn and tired from trying to process the hard questions that I needed to ask, like: what am I doing here? What does God want to show me through this? I felt deeply burdened by the hardships faced by residents on my block.

When I applied for the conference two months prior, I had thought that the time would be one of vision-casting and receiving direction for my life, as it pertained to the pursuit of God's heart for reconciliation. I was excited and expectant at the connections and plans God would lay. Instead, I found myself acknowledging after the first day's sessions that I felt completely burnt out.  Oh no!

Has that ever happened to you? You enter something new with expectations that sparks will fly and that God will speak something so clearly and directly, that all of a sudden the different pieces that He has been moving in your heart and mind will click into one, clear Word from Him, but then, nothing tangible seems to materialize?

In hindsight, I can see that what did happen at Duke far outweighed my expectations. God did speak clearly to me, but in my cloud of mixed desires and expectations, it was difficult to discern.

Of all the themes explored at the conference, the dominant message for me came from day two, where we explored the meaning of Lament. Rev. Sarah Jobe, a prison chaplain, shared how her daily experiences of overwhelming sorrow and darkness threaten to make her heart hard. Lament is the antidote to a hardened, calloused heart, but it requires an intentional choice to keep our hearts soft toward God. It requires space to weep, mourn, and pray. At the other end of lament, we do experience hope, and resurrection.

This statue on Duke's campus called "Reconciliation: The Parable of the Prodigal Son" demonstrates both the hardened and the softened heart before God. The prodigal son, though he spurned his Father's name and ran off in disobedience, came back weeping and asking for forgiveness (pictured here). I spent a lot of time studying this statue one morning.

But the older son, despite the Father's pleading, stands with his arms crossed, remaining hardhearted towards them both. He, like his Father, had been hurt by the younger brother, but he held onto that hurt instead of opening himself to grace and compassion which come from above. As I gazed upon the statue, I didn't label myself as one son over the one, but I could see both of them in myself, and I knew that the message that morning about having a "soft heart" was for me.

God invited me into His presence that week, through quiet time, and through the compassionate ears of a few key people. As I look back at it now, I think I was being called to just kneel and lament in His presence, much like the younger brother in this statue, and to receive grace for myself. I didn't need to "figure out" what God was doing or where He was taking me in terms of my spiritual direction. I just needed to be.

Gorgeous spaces for reflection at Duke

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