This is A Wide Open Space...
Updated: May 23, 2019
To be totally up front from the get-go, I had a bit of a breakdown about four-ish years ago. My hubby and I had done a ministry belly flop and landed ourselves in counseling for a season, licking our wounds and tending to our marriage while we confronted deep and serious issues within ourselves. Somewhere along the way of this great unravelling I experienced what I now refer to as my soul’s own “D-Day”, an explosive season of unearthing the painful truth of my own crippling anxieties, fears, and people-pleasing, along with their sources.
It was a months long journey of what felt like scales falling from my eyes to see these giant and weighty shackles of fear that controlled my life: every thought, feeling, and action. Before ‘D-Day’ I had no idea they were there, but once I saw I could not unsee. And I desperately wanted to be free.
This might sound really strange, but as I walked with my counselor deep into my heart and started taking purposeful steps out of my people-pleasing ways, I could literally feel anxiety show up in my physiology in real time. I would get a text message, someone assuming my help or presence for something I did not want to be part of, and the immediate pressure I would feel to perform would make my legs and feet tingle, this small muscle in my right shoulder blade tense up, and my jaw clench. I think these had long been present but were always silenced in my quick response to please. Now as I was doing the hard work of learning to say "no" these signs would scream loud. My heart would race. I would get sick to my stomach.
Somewhere in there, I learned the wonder of physically pounding out anxieties through running, racquetball, and weight-lifting. This was completely foreign to me being a certified couch potato/bookworm/homebody my whole life. But these workouts had a way of helping the stress to melt away, my real thoughts and feelings to surface (as opposed to what other people thought/felt by my own estimation), and - most importantly – the kind and gentle voice of God to whisper to my soul.
I discovered that I had a harsh inner voice that I’d somehow confused with conviction. This voice was mean and found me always lacking. And I discovered that God, in stark contrast, was kind. I discovered that He actually cared about my well-being and never trivialized my needs.
And then one day during the aftermath of ‘D-Day’, He gave me a new handle for life, a theological manifesto if you will drawn from Psalm 119. This phrase reached out of the pages of my Bible and offered a hand to mine, an invitation to enter into His actual grace.
This is a Wide Open Space.
The passage reads like this,
“Let your love, God, shape my life
with salvation, exactly as you promised; Then I’ll be able to stand up to mockery because I trusted your Word. Don’t ever deprive me of truth, not ever— your commandments are what I depend on. Oh, I’ll guard with my life what you’ve revealed to me, guard it now, guard it ever; And I’ll stride freely through wide open spaces as I look for your truth and your wisdom; Then I’ll tell the world what I find, speak out boldly in public, unembarrassed. I cherish your commandments—oh, how I love them!— relishing every fragment of your counsel.” [Psalm 119:41-48 MSG, emphasis mine]
I’d never known what it was to “stride freely.” I’d only known what it was to fall in line to strict marching orders on a tightrope. This is what people-pleasing looks like. But striding through a wide open space? That sounded so…. Safe. And welcome. And secure.
I realized that this was the journey He had me on the whole time, one in which I was learning intimately the distinction between His voice of love to shape my life and the harsh ones to deliberately shut down. He was showing me how this Great Love walks with me everywhere I go, His Spirit within to nudge and guide my ways. And it is this reality that gifts us all with A Wide Open Space.
We often hear Matthew 7:13 quoted as a warning to believers to do life on the straight and narrow, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (NIV). While it is true that the ways of the Kingdom of God are upside down to the destructive ways of the world, I would argue that we often mistake “the gate/road” for life itself, our coming and going, daily decisions, etc. instead of Christ Himself, and the difference cannot be overstated. We enter into salvation one way only: through the narrow gate of Jesus Christ crucified. But that salvation then sets us free from the tyranny of forever-failing to live up to a law we cannot keep no matter how hard we try. We don’t have to try anymore; Christ has done it already, and He’s within us now to guide us as we go. And He does speak. He does fashion us to do life more and more like Him every day.
This is the Wide Open Space, to live life like His grace extended really does cover all: past mistakes, present shortcomings, and future flops. We can throw our arms out wide and relax, walk freely without shame, definitely without fear, and full of confidence. We can explore, create, invest, live. When Jesus Himself is our close companion and guide, we cannot misstep out of His grace. It is a Wide. Open. Space.
It’s been a few years now of walking in this newfound freedom God has given me, a freedom I actually had the entire time and never knew it. But now that I know it and live like it, I can tell you I never want to go back to that harsh self-scrutiny. I find I hear His voice more clearly than before. He is kind and gentle. He whispers to my heart rather than bellows in reprimand. His correction now feels to my soul like an invitation toward healing rather than a disappointed measure of inadequacy. And best of all, this Wide Open Space I now experience as the grand adventure in partnership with Jesus that it was perhaps always intended to be.
So here’s where I am at, and I would love to have a friend on this great adventure. I wish to unearth treasures found in the fields of the Wide Open Space. God is always speaking, always revealing Himself to us to gently and strategically fashion us more and more into the image of His Son Jesus.
I invite you on the journey. Take a deep breath with me, throw your arms out wide, and stride freely.
This is A Wide Open Space.