The Obstacle Is An Invitation.
What if the obstacles we encounter are invitations to experience something God knows we need, but wouldn't choose ourselves?
Not a reader? Feel free to listen this weeks edition instead.
A WEEK OF OBSTACLES.
No one enjoys obstacles.
By definition, an obstacle is something that obstructs one’s way, or hinders progress. So an obstacle is something that stands between you and where you want to be. This weekend, God taught me an important lesson about obstacles that I’d like to talk about in the context of the spiritual practice of silence that we’ve been discussing the past couple weeks.
Thanks for reading The Lighthouse ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
My kids just finished their fall break, something I never remember having as a kid. For some reason I still don’t understand, but I’m thankful for, they had Wednesday through Sunday off of school. In past years, we’ve never really planned anything outside the norm. I’m always working, so they hang around the house and then we usually end up doing something around Salt Lake over the weekend. But this year I decided to take an extra day off and plan something fun for each day of the break. They were excited about it and so was I. Unfortunately, our fall break seemed to be met with one obstacle after another.
It all started on Thursday with a visit to a certain “fun center” here in the valley I won’t name. When we arrived three of the five major outdoor attractions were closed for “construction” despite the fact that no work was being done. The closures alone were frustrating, but here’s what I couldn’t seem to get past: We were charged full price when over half the attractions were closed. How is that fair? Shouldn’t there be some sort of half priced deal since only half the park was operational? It seemed like common sense to me, but I have to tell you, it did not seem like common sense to the 16-year-old “supervisor” who was barely awake and had his ear buds in when I tried to loop him in on what I believed to be better business practices. Regardless, we made due with what was open and then headed home. But I couldn’t shake my frustration. The obstacle had ruined the day.
The next morning I woke up with a better attitude, ready to face a new day. The plan for Friday was to start the day skateboarding with my son, Ryder, and then a family hike up in the mountains, followed by a picnic by the lake and pizza and movie night that evening. Sounds awesome, right? Just wait. As Ryder and I pulled up to the skatepark there was a sign saying it was closed due to landscaping. I don’t know if you know this, or not, but skateparks are concrete, so they’re not exactly a botanical garden brimming with the need for two hours of landscaping. There is one strip of grass around the outside. I could push mow it in fifteen minutes. The moment I saw the sign, all that frustration from the day before came rushing back. But again, we tried to make the best of it and drove twenty minutes to another skatepark where they don’t close for two hours in order to mow the concrete.
When Ryder and I got home we found out that my youngest son, Lincoln, had come down with a cold, which meant our mountain hike and picnic by the lake weren’t going to happen. Obviously, I felt horrible that Lincoln did not feel well, but I was once again overcome with frustration because this sickness was yet another obstacle hindering our ability to experience the fun plan I’d put together. So I moped around the house the rest of the day like a disappointed child, rather than the 42-year-old adult I actually am.
The good news was, despite all these obstacles and the disappointment that accompanied them, there was still Saturday. We would just shift our day in the mountains and spend a fall day surrounded by the beauty of the changing leaves. Crisis averted. We could still salvage this fall break. But the moment my poor wife came out of our bedroom Saturday morning, I knew that none of that would be happening. She had suffered all night through a crushing migraine and the pain was evident in her eyes. Another day, another plan ruined by yet another obstacle.
So in summary, our fall break was foiled by an array of obstacles. By Sunday I felt so defeated and discouraged I was at genuine risk of drowning in the sea of self-pity out of which I couldn’t seem to swim.
So I prayed.
This may be the one response I got right all weekend. I believe that God cares about my experience and that He meets even my bad attitude and self-pity with a compassion and care I don’t deserve. As I prayed, I experienced this sobering sense that God was trying to say this to me:
“Obstacles are an invitation to experience something I know you need, but you may not choose for yourself.”
Here’s the thing: Our family has experienced maybe our most stressful 6 months to date. I’ll spare you the list of reasons, but trust me when I say, it has been a lot. As I reflected on this past week and all my ruined plans it struck me: Maybe we didn’t need to run from one activity to the next for five days. That’s all we’ve done for six months. Maybe what we needed was simply to rest around the house together. In reality, we did end up spending the week around the house. The problem is, because I refused to recognize God’s invitation to rest, I sat around the house grumpy, frustrated and restless. And now it’s Monday morning and I’m exhausted. All because I didn’t recognize the invitation in the obstacles.
WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SILENCE?
Now at this point you may thinking, “Thanks for story time and you should for sure talk to your therapist about this, but what does it have to do with relationship with God in general and silence in particular?” I’m glad you asked:) Silence is filled with obstacles. That’s why we spent last week reflecting on the many benefits. The more evasive the practice, the more essential we understand the benefits. Despite the benefits, our times of silence are often met with what feel like insurmountable obstacles. So what I’m wondering is, what if these obstacles are actually an invitation to experience something God knows we need, but we wouldn’t choose ourselves? What if each obstacle we encounter in silence exposes something within us that Jesus wants to further form in His image? Let’s look at a few examples…
1. Hurry - I don’t have time!
Many of us are too busy to pray, read the Bible, even attend church, must less sit in silence. Our hurry is an obvious obstacle to silence. But what if that obstacle is an invitation from God to reflect on our priorities? What if it’s an invitation to consider why we’re so busy? What exactly are we trying to accomplish? What is our constant hurry forming in us? What’s beneath it and why is it so hard for us to create margin and simply be with God? The obstacle is an invitation.
2. Productivity - I can’t sit and “do nothing!”
We are obsessed with efficiency and production in our culture. Amazon is filled with an almost endless number of books promising to help us learn to produce more in less time. If we’re not producing something of value, if we’re not doing something, we feel like we lack meaning and worth. Understand, I’m pro-productivity. I don’t like wasting God-given time. I think creativity is good and an essential part of the human experience. So my issue is not with productivity, but the belief that unless we’re producing something, we’re not valuable. The truth is, one of the most “productive” things we can do is prioritize time to simply be with God. Silence helps forms our understanding of this. Again, the obstacle is an invitation.
3. Restlessness - I don’t like how I feel!
As we’ve discussed in weeks past, this is probably the most common obstacle people experience and cite. We don’t embrace the benefits of silence because we don’t like what comes up inside of us in the midst of it. But at the risk of repetition, let me just say, silence surfaces the very things God wants us to see. He isn’t trying to hurt us. He’s always working toward our healing. The obstacle is the invitation.
There is certainly biblical precedent for this lesson. The Apostle Paul had an obstacle in his life. He referred to it as a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7). We don’t know what it was, but based on Paul’s choice of metaphor, it sounds like it was painful. So Paul did what any of us would do: He begged Jesus to remove the obstacle. But God said…
At first glance that seems so harsh! Why would God say, “No,” to such an understandable request? Paul served God faithfully. He was one of the most fruitful church planters of all time. He wrote Bible, for goodness sake! Why would God say, “No?” The truth is, that isn’t all God said. After Paul begged Him three times to take away this obstacle, Jesus said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Did you catch that? The obstacle was an invitation to experience a more perfect expression of Jesus’ power. Paul’s obstacle was an invitation and so are ours.
So here’s what I want to invite you to this week: 1. Continue to practice small stints of silence with God. Again, the length of time matters far less than making any amount of time for this practice. 2. Pay attention to the obstacles that arise. It could be any of the three I mentioned, or something altogether different and specific to you. 3. As you reflect on that obstacle, ask Holy Spirit where there is an invitation for you. Is there something He’s inviting you trust Him with? Is there something He’s inviting you to change? Maybe something to embrace, or believe? Ask Him and trust Him to answer.
THE OBSTACLE IS AN INVITATION.
Obstacles are an invitation to experience something God knows we need, but we wouldn’t choose ourselves. So let’s choose to trust Him, to be curious about what He’s up to in all circumstances and embrace the invitation in every obstacle we encounter.
If you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear what you sense the Spirit inviting you to. Leave a comment below.
Thanks for reading The Lighthouse ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.