Recently, I have been confronted time and again with the idea that the work that God is doing in me is not always visible. It is, in fact, at times imperceptible even to myself. As a person who likes to feel like I am accomplishing something demonstrable, this leaves me with an interesting conundrum to ponder – what’s going on when it feels like nothing is going on? Is God still working?
Cynthia Bourgeault, in her book, Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, says, “What goes on in those silent depths during the time of Centering Prayer is no one’s business, not even your own; it is between your innermost being and God; that place where, as St. Augustine once said, ‘God is closer to your soul than you are yourself.’ Your own subjective experience of the prayer may be that nothing happened… But in the depths of your being, in fact, plenty has been going on, and things are quietly but firmly being rearranged” (page 6).
Now, I love rearranging. There was a time in my life when I would rearrange my bedroom weekly – enjoying the freshness of a new organization, a new system to work out, a new way of doing things. I loved seeing the possibilities and making it happen. Those first few times I’d leave and then walk back into my room after I’d rearranged gave me a thrill of freshness, newness, and a slight sense of surprise. I would do the same for my house now, except that I live with two change-averse people for whom rearranging can be scary or just plain confusing – so I try to keep my rearranging in check.
Perhaps this is why the idea of God rearranging my heart is so appealing to me. I want to be growing in love and faith and obedience to God, but I don’t always see it happening. Sometimes it seems like nothing is going on, even though I am trying to be faithful to the spiritual disciplines which are supposed to carry me forward into new spiritual territory. I’m not becoming like those saints and hermits, for whom prayer, silence, and solitude have been the bread and water of their spiritual existence. I still struggle to focus my mind on God in the midst of the daily chaos or crises of life. I fail in my attempts to love my neighbor when they say something that is particularly nasty or hurtful and I get defensive and want to lash back at them. That doesn’t feel like a heart that is surrendered to God.
But then I am reminded that God’s artistry is as subtle as the gentle transitions in a rainbow. When you look at a rainbow, you can see its distinct colors so clearly and brilliantly. But look closer and you will notice there is no clear break when one color becomes another – the colors are so gradient that they melt into one another seamlessly. I’d like to think that is how God’s artistry is working in me – that the changes, when seen from distance (looking back upon?) will be clear and brilliant, even though up-close they may not be distinct enough to recognize the difference.
There are times when it is very clear that God has been at work, reconstructing, rehabilitating, and renewing my heart to be more in line with His purposes. I wish all times could be like that. My husband – the sole income-earner in our household – recently was laid-off. As he is searching for a job, I am distinctly aware of how God has been teaching me to rely on Him. I’m not stressed about my husband finding a job in this high-unemployment market, because I can sense God orchestrating our lives in a way that is constructing a new picture, a new way of being, a rearrangement of the furniture of our lives. I can see how the colors are changing, even though I cannot see what the color will be.
For times like these, I am grateful. But I am also reminded of the months and years that have gone before, during which I could not see God’s hand molding my heart. And I am grateful for those as well, because I know that God is at work, even though I’d much rather be able to see the results.