This post is the forth under “Losing Faith”. They can easily be seen together HERE.
Upon graduation from seminary, my wife and I headed to Central China to be English teachers within a medical college. In retrospect, we have no doubt of the divine designs upon that season of life. Before we even began asking for His leading, God was silently setting a course upon which we were already walking. A one-year adventure evolved into a three-year residency, during which the Middle Kingdom became our training ground on living as residents of the Highest Kingdom. Beyond travel opportunities and delicious (and dirt-cheap) food, the years provided us with a wonderful marriage foundation, as we were forced to bond unusually tightly with home’s support systems and comforts stripped away. What a gift!
The highlight, however, was undoubtedly a special group of friends that developed. We worshiped together and studied together, and both Scripture and spiritual life opened anew for me during this span. We discovered hungry hearts to pour ourselves into, and spend ourselves upon.
By the end of the year two, I recall a real weariness.
More than a lack of sleep or energy, it felt deeply spiritual. My soul was tired. My well was drained to such an extent that refreshing seemed like fantasy. So intense was the sensation that I could hardly remember a feeling other than dry. Almost physically, I could perceive a shallowness of breath, a constricted cavity at the core of my being.
Seeking rest, we booked ourselves to escape to our favourite Chinese getaway for the one-week May holiday. The countryside of Guangxi brings me pleasure; with its right-out-of-the-paintings hills scattered amongst picturesque rice fields, this countryside of terraced land and winding rivers is unusually beautiful. And there is no better way to get lost in those inviting surroundings than to rent a bicycle and take the first exit off the highway.
On this particular day, we departed down a dirt path which was familiar from an earlier trip. The May sun was hot, and I recall a healthy sweat as I exerted myself to pull away from the group of bikers. When the gap was significant, I stopped to wait. With feet on ground and head on handlebars, I prayed. It may have been my tenth prayer or hundredth prayer thousandth prayer. For weeks, I had weakly expressed the weakness in which I found myself. I had asked for life, though my prayers were neither bold nor confident. So on this dusty road, with sweat dripping off my nose, I reservedly placed one more grain of sand on the scales of prayer, a confession that I had no life within myself. Either God would renew me, or I would remain as I was. This had been the prayer on my lips for months, and I was well into wondering whether God was listening at all.
And that’s when it happened.
There was no warning, no dramatic build. The difference between the previous moment and the upcoming moment was unobservable, but the difference between the two was undeniable.
A gentle breeze.
It cooled my skin, and then it kept going. Penetrating me, the wind appeared to gain access to my depths. Like water through cracks, this breath poured through the gaps of the dry broken shell in which I had been dwelling. Physically, I could perceive a lightening and an expanding. I was breathing more deeply, and my lungs where the least of the participants.
I dared not lift my head or look for my companions. The moment unfolding was clearly sacred, and I would not disturb it.
Recalling the event still ignites the memory with vividness. It was the first time I stared a miracle in the face, and what a faith-damaging miracle it was.
Apparently, the eternal Spirit of God, the same One credited with calming chaos at Creation, was still stirring and breathing in places that were void and empty. And if that were true, then the faith that I had carefully constructed was hopelessly hampering my interactions with Him.
For this fellow, a sweat was the least of what was breaking in the sticks of China that day. A sacred Wind had Jericho-ed my well-constructed walls, and a long-held faith was slipping through my fingers as subtly as its assassin had approached me on that unmapped dirt road.
My faith was being lost.