I participate in a women’s contemplative prayer group that begins with a time of silence during which we are supposed to listen for God, followed by a short teaching. This week’s teaching has left me sitting with a particularly challenging/unsettling/exciting quote:
The familiar and the habitual are so falsely reassuring, and most of us make our homes there permanently. The new is always by definition unfamiliar and untested, so God, life, destiny, suffering have to give us a push – usually a big one – or we will not go. (Richard Rohr, Falling Upward)
So I’ve been thinking about big pushes, trying to think of times we ask others to give us a push. Most of those times come in childhood:
These childhood pushes may seem scary (like asking for a push on a sled to fly faster down a steep, icy hill), but we also trust that the push will make whatever we’re doing way more fun.
As adults, we don’t ask others to give us a push as often as we do when we’re children at play. Perhaps that’s why “God, life, destiny, suffering” have to step in occasionally to do the pushing. To get us out of a hidey hole. To make us step out into something uncomfortable but right for us and others around us. To change us in ways we wouldn’t choose for ourselves.
For many of us adults, the push doesn’t seem like it will result in anything way more fun.
What has struck me over and over about the quote is the challenge to look at where I’m stuck in the familiar and the habitual and truly examine whether there is any false security. I’m also trying to acknowledge the ways God is pushing me to choose paths I wouldn’t if left to my own choice.
I remember my longtime church organist explaining his difficult decision to leave our church for another one close by. He had struggled with the decision for many months (years?) but finally submitted to God telling him to go. He didn’t like the push, especially at a time that our church was having a spectacular new organ built, but he got to the point where he knew that to stay would be willful disobedience to God. He finally accepted the big push out of what had been familiar and reassuring. We miss him, but I know he is a blessing to his current church, and I hope they are a blessing to him, as well.
Obedience is hard when there’s a big, uncomfortable push. Adam and Eve didn’t skip out of the Garden of Eden. Moses made God angry with his excuses at the burning bush about why he didn’t want to return to Egypt. While he was still the Saul who persecuted early Christians, the man who would become Paul didn’t want to believe in Jesus.
God has plans for us but has also given us free will. Because that free will comes wrapped up in stubborn hearts and minds in bodies, sometimes a big push has to happen to make us live into our best selves.
Looking back on your life, what big pushes do you recognize? How did they change you and bring you to the life you’re living today? How have the big pushes helped you live a better, more meaningful, flourishing life?