A few years ago I saw a concert at the Hollywood Bowl. There were a few performers (including Adele way before she got super famous and sung James Bond theme songs) and one of them was Chaka Khan. To be honest, I didn’t go to hear her and only knew one of her songs. You know, the one where the guy keeps saying her name (Chaka Khan, Chaka Khan). However, I really enjoyed her as a performer and at one point she spoke about her faith in God. She mentioned a time in her life when she “walked through the fire”. Then, she asked us, the audience, who was walking through the fire at that moment. People raised their hands. Chaka Khan went on to say how it was in that time of walking through the fire that she came to know God. That phrase came back to me this morning. Because, in my own way, I have been walking through the fire.
Now, this isn’t the only phrase I’ve heard used to describe this experience. I’ve heard it called a trial, attack, desert or wilderness times. Desolation. Sanctification. Purification. I’ve heard it described fondly, with despair, or with the usage of multiple cuss words. Essentially, we’re talking about the circumstances, the movements of the heart, the tensions, that bring about our growth in relationship with God.
I remember growing up and how much I was inspired by a good testimony. My parents both have crazy stories of how they came to God. My story was much more calm and unexciting. I was really young and told my mom I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. Growing up in the Evangelical church a story like that can be disappointing. We want our insane come to Jesus stories, with extra drugs, sex and rock n roll on the side. What I’ve found though, is that my story got much more interesting once Jesus entered the picture (or rather I acknowledged he was in the picture). My life didn’t get perfect with Jesus. And if I think back over the last 15 years in particular, my life has been much more challenging, tumultuous and complex. There have been good times, but there have been seasons of walking through the fire.
When I was in my twenties, I eventually came to suspect that Jesus wanted access to the real me. He wanted to be with me in my “broken places”. It was scary, but also exciting. I was met in significant ways by him. Enough so that I learned to trust him a bit more with these tender places of my heart. Today, going into these places in my heart has lost its sheen. I still want to go there, to walk the way of honesty, but I’m weary from the journey. Each time back into the fire, it gets deeper, more painful, and that much more costly.
Today I walk in a season of unknowing. I have a lot of questions about my callings in work and relationships. I don’t have a lot of answers, but that just makes me want them that much more. Some days I just want to run away from the fire. Other days, I feel more peace in it.
The verse that keeps coming back to me during this time is Peter’s words to Jesus, “Lord, to Whom shall we go? You have the words of Eternal life.” (John 6:68) This journey doesn’t have the excitement of something new and unknown right now, but it does have the promise of God. There’s no one else I could or would go to. I don’t know much else, but I do know that. And today, as I continue on in the fire, this is what grounds and secures me.