The only time I go running with my husband Peter is when he is pushing at least two children in a jogging stroller. I remember one time, many years ago, when we were running side by side and I told him I needed to rest. "You can do it," he said. "I know you can." I could hear the good intentions and encouragement behind his words. So I kept going. A few minutes later, again, with that same tone, "Just push yourself a little further. You can do it." But this time, I was past the point of needing encouragement. I just wanted (needed?) to stop. So I started to cry. We stopped running and never tried that again.
I share this story not because Peter is a jerk. He's actually a wonderful person to have around when I'm in need of encouragement (seriously–I didn't even consider a doula when I was giving birth because he's such a fabulous coach). I share it because there are times when it's good to push on through, and there are other times when you just can't keep going.As a Christian, I believe that I am called to live by God's leading. And I believe that God often leads us into challenging places. There are the Biblical examples–think Abraham and Isaac, Moses and Pharaoh, Jesus and the cross, Paul and various floggings and imprisonments. But I also I think of our friends who live in Zambia in order to serve children with intellectual disabilities. Or our friends who moved to the inner-city to pursue racial reconciliation. Or our friends who have adopted children. Gifts and graces, all, but challenges too. It's tempting to shy away from the challenges altogether, but then we would miss out on God's calling. With that said, it's also tempting to grit our teeth and keep going, no matter the cost. I was grateful to be reminded recently that God not only sends us out into the world to serve others, but God also calls us to rest and seek refuge. As I wrote a while back,
In the Old Testament, God instructs the Israelites to set apart six cities as "cities of refuge," places where people may flee if they unintentionally kill another person. (See Deuteronomy 19 for a fuller explanation.) And it struck me then that I also need cities of refuge, places where I can flee when I have unintentionally gotten off track, made mistakes, or hurt others. I need to flee towards God's mercy and grace.
I would now add that I need "cities of refuge" not only when I've made mistakes, but also when I'm just really tired. When I need a place where I won't have to defend or protect myself. Again, from an old post:
This concept of "cities of refuge" comes up again and again in the Old Testament. God wanted to make sure that people who had made a mistake, even the grievous mistake of killing another person, would know protection and grace. God also wanted to make sure that one unintentional death would not lead to a string of vengeance killings. The cities of refuge protected the individual, but they also protected the community.
I trust that God also wants to ensure that when we are tired, we find rest and refuge before being sent out again. For me, cities of refuge are akin to thin places, not only the physical spaces of restoration but also points of connection–the conversation with a friend about God's presence after her husband died . . . the moment in our kitchen this morning when William stretched out his arms wide and looked at Penny and said, "I love you THIS much". . . the laughter that comes from sharing childhood memories with my sisters . . .
I need my "cities of refuge" to heal after I've made mistakes and to rest when I'm weary. Thank God he invites me in.