(This week our guest writer is my dear friend, Nicole Lewis. Nicole lives and works with Agape in London, England)
Over the years, I have noticed that I have developed a particular spiritual practice in my life, in which God will reveal something to me and if I find it too truthful or perhaps I would like to just ignore it because it feels a bit too uncomfortable, I do my best to act like somehow God must not be speaking to me. It’s the spiritual equivalent of saying to God “you know, I would rather not talk about this right now.” I am not sure how over the years I have been walking with Jesus I developed this avoidance strategy, but I suspect I am not alone in this in the family of God. I would imagine that a number of you reading this right now, can resonate with what I am saying. For anyone who shares this experience you already know the end of this story, that God is not put off by my avoidance and he is not deterred by the fact that I would rather not talk about this. He knows me better than that, he knows me better than anyone else ever will, and he knows exactly why he is wanting to get my attention, which time and time again is always for my good out of the depth of his immeasurable love for me.
This past year the conversation I have not wanted to have with God has been around the theme of Risk. In November I was riding the tube (I live in London) and reading the free paper you can get at all the Underground Stations. In the paper was an advertisement for a workshop being offered by Google’s Digital Garage for Female Entrepreneurs. It was offering Digital Skills training and there were 100 places and it was totally free. I am in full-time Christian Vocation, but so much of what I do and have to think is like starting a new business. I was intimidated to go, to be honest, but thought I would greatly benefit from the development, it was free, and it would push me outside my comfort zone. Now, you would probably guess this should have prepared me for what would follow my time there and how God was going to weave in Risk, but sometimes I am not quick to listen to the things that he is stirring in my soul. In fact, if I look at the Gospels and consider the many times that Jesus called people to follow him when it wasn’t comfortable and risky, you would think that we might be more clued in by what he taught and also modeled.
After the workshop finished, which I really enjoyed, I had a coaching call with a friend of mine. We were talking through some changes I wanted to make in the ways I work that I think would allow me to really flourish and bring the best of me to the table. It was my “Slay in my Lane” project (the title is from a book I read “Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible). I had told my friend, what I want in this season in my life and what I think I should be doing at this stage in my life is “Slaying in my Lane.” As we talked about what this might look like my friend said to me “I want to see the risky version of Nicole” I soon as those words came out, I felt immediately uncomfortable and was thinking how do I get myself out of this corner? I wasn’t opposed to what my friend was saying, but I really wanted to avoid that feeling I was having where the Spirit of God that lives in me was speaking to my heart in the language I have come to know over the years of listening, as the language of paying attention.
By nature, I think I am a fairly risk-averse person, but if you were to ask those who know me, they would probably say that I am someone they think is always taking risks. And they would be right, I do take risks in my life, but I know what my friends can’t know, the inside story of my life and why I take those risks. Sometimes I do because following Jesus means I am willing to surrender fully to him those things in my life I may have chosen differently if I didn’t believe “that I have now been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me-Galatians 2:20). But sometimes those risks I take are very calculated (wow, now I feel my sin is fully on display), they are things that I deem “safe risks” or where I run the least risk of failing at something.
So when my friend said “I want to see the risky version of Nicole,” I thought that doesn’t feel safe and that does not feel like something I can make sure I don’t fail at. What you are asking me to do, means that I am going to need to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I can remember getting on the tube back and home and thinking I am not going to think about that again, I can flourish without taking any risks. For a couple of weeks, I managed to ignore those words, by just pushing them away whenever I was thinking about my Slay in my Lane project. But then it started to happen, that thing that always happens when God is wanting me to pay attention, the word Risk starts to show up all over the place. This happened to me once when God and I were talking/not talking about hope and I had spent the night in a hotel and when I opened the curtains in the morning a wall across the street from my hotel had the words HOPE graffitied on it. With risk it began with a video series we were watching in my small group at church, it came up in sermons and in a podcast, I listened to on anxiety two weeks ago. Critically for me, it came up in a study I decided to do on the stories of women in the Bible. It was a simple study, of looking at women who we see in the story of God in the Bible, reading their stories, and seeing what I could learn from them. As I looked at the lives of women like Miriam, Rahab, Tamar, Ester and Shiphhah, and Pua the Hebrew Midwives in Exodus and reflected on who they were while walking along the sea in Malaga, Spain in January, what the Lord revealed to me which I had never seen before in their stories was that these women were all in their own right “risk-takers.” I had never really paid attention to the story of the Hebrew Midwives, but I would encourage you to go back and read their story if you can. These women chose to defy a direct order by the King of Egypt to kill all Hebrew baby boys they delivered. They did this at great risk to their own lives “because they feared God,” and though the text doesn’t say this explicitly we could imply that “the fear,” meant they knew God, they knew his promises to his people and in an incredibly courageous and defiant act, their obedience became part of God’s story of his promise to Abraham that he would not only make his name great but that he would make him a blessing to the Nations.
That walk in Spain got my attention and in the months that have passed since then (which have seemed like two lifetimes with Coronavirus), I have been trying to do what my good friend Colette calls “Braving Forward” into the land of Risk. I wish there was a roadmap to navigate what lies ahead, but as I have found is so often the case in the Christian Life, what Jesus says to me is what he also said to his first disciples, and it is simply this-Follow Me! I often resonate with Peter and I have found great comfort and encouragement from the early morning walk He and Jesus took by the Sea of Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection. As they walked not only did Jesus call Peter to Love Him above all other things, he gave Peter a very clear charge to keep on following Him. He didn’t tell Peter where he was going, it was enough for Peter to know that He needed to go Jesus’ way, and as he went that way, he would follow his Lord in obedience to those things he had for Peter. So I am braving forward along the Jesus way, knowing that what lies ahead of me might mean failing, but I don’t know any other way and I don’t want to walk with anyone else.
At the beginning of Lent this year (2020) I read a blog post from Rachel Held Evans on ideas for Lent and on this post, she had some questions for reflection, which I found helpful for Lent but then also found incredibly helpful during the Global Covid-19 Pandemic was “When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday, how will I be different? What am I preparing for?.” As I seek to answer this question, the answer seems fairly obvious given the great lengths it seems that God has been going through to get me to pay attention, I want to be a woman who is willing to risk. I want to cultivate the habit of risk in my life. One of the clear reasons I see that God would want to grow this in my soul is that for too long I have cultivated the habit of fear and let it take root in my heart and by extension my actions. Not all my actions of course because we as people are never fully just one thing. I am a gloriously holy contradiction of Courage and Fear, but I know the one in whose image I am being formed was a man who called people out of boats to walk on water, the very thing he himself was willing to do.
This new language of risk is not yet fully formed in my life. Like all habits, it will develop over time and experience. It won’t all happen at once and I am going to need God’s strength to resiliently move forward, especially when I am going to want to run. When my friend asked me to write something to share for Collegiate Abbey, I wrote out a list of things that God has been showing me, I think I was hoping that maybe just maybe God wouldn’t make me talk about risk if I listed out some other cool things I have been learning. And to be honest, I could have chosen other things, I would have chosen them, but I would know that my choice, in the end, to do so would have been out of fear and wanting to squirm out from underneath this. If you have been reading this and you are finding yourself in a season of risk-taking, there are three things I would like to say to you friend: “Brave Forward;” Be Resilient; Jesus is worth it, he is absolutely worth it.
What are themes you have seen in your life in the past year that God has been speaking into?
Which ones have you found uncomfortable and wanting to ignore?
Why do you think he would want to shape you in these areas?
When you think about living a life of godly risk taking, what would that look like right now in your life?
Are there some risks you are wanting to take, but you are hesitant to do them? Who are people in your life that you know and trust who could come alongside you as you do this?