In the unseen: How’s the garden of your soul?
Delphne Tan // June 5, 2020, 6:22 pm
I don’t know how the circuit breaker was for you, but from what I found myself sharing with others, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this time of being at home.
Although true for the most of it, I think in my soul I was struggling with the extended period of rest and the “unseen-ness” of this season.
In the midst of my career transition and disrupted work plans, and the abrupt halt on God-given dreams due to a seeming lack of passion for anything, I struggled with my worth.
Who was I if not defined by what I did and how much I could contribute? What fruit was there to be demonstrated if I wasn’t doing more?
In her profound book on living in seasons of anonymity, author Alicia Britt Chole points out that in seasons of the unseen, of what she terms “the spiritual winter”, everything is stripped away because we can no longer seek out validation from our gifts and talents.
“In spiritual winters, our fullness is thinned so that, undistracted by our giftings, we can focus upon our character. In the absence of anything to measure, we are left with nothing to stare at except for our foundation.”
(Alicia Britt Chole, Anonymous)
No longer do I have the sneaky satisfaction of being seen – not praised for my talents or called beautiful by others. Even if I chose to seek out approval and affirmation through Instagram posts, that too often becomes lost amid the noise of others wanting their lives to be seen as well. Remove social media in a time of isolation, and there’s no one to impress, no gift or talent to perform for others.
“Often the obvious accomplishments of our days get most of our attention. Noticing the roots, much less tending to them, seems secondary when there are branches to climb and fruit to pick.”
(Sara Haggerty, Unseen)
Like tree roots slowly deepening, Your love is taking hold…
Using the familiar imagery of a tree, I was led to write a song called “In the Unseen” about the roots of my identity being tended to in this season of “unseen-ness”.
Like both authors Haggerty and Chole point out, the unseen foundations can often be neglected. And without the applause and distraction of public ministry or simply “doing God’s will”, the foundations upon which my identity has been built are revealed.
God’s love and my worth – grounded in that love for me – could finally deepen and allow the rest of me to flourish. Even in seasons of being hidden, of being in the shadows, I’m still flourishing and growing.
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)
The fruit, I’m recognising, is of an unshakable identity as a daughter of God.
“…the God whose love does not ebb and flow on the ever vacillating waves of human perceptions.”
(Alicia Britt Chole, Anonymous)
Jesus spent about 90% of his life in anonymity – an unknown man from a tiny town, so obscure that it had people questioning, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46)
Without the applause of public ministry or simply “doing God’s will”, the foundations upon which my identity has been built are revealed.
Chole writes that Jesus spent 29 years in obscurity, fully man and fully God, likely to be in full knowledge of what His purpose was (look at 12-year-old Jesus!), but still submitting to His parents and waiting patiently.
And His public ministry began like this: An ordinary-looking man identifying Himself with sinners who needed the baptism of repentance, wading into the Jordan and getting baptised by mere man. This whole sequence of events is so unimpressive, but that’s exactly where the power is.
“And when Jesus was baptised, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.'” (Matthew 3:16-7)
God was pleased with Jesus. He delighted in Him. Before Jesus achieved anything, preached any sermons and performed any miracles, God was pleased with Him. He was pleased with a man who lived a simple, obscure and anonymous life for 29 years.
And here I was, struggling to believe that I’m delighted in by the Father after years of being on the platform and serving in church. Not that serving is wrong, but perhaps God draws us into seasons of hiddenness so that we may know of His delight in us, completely independent of our achievements, completely as His child.
I hear Your footsteps gently walking in the garden of my soul…
God spoke these words into my heart two nights ago as I laid bare to Him all my thoughts and feelings about the last six weeks. It’s funny how I talk to Him often and still find that there are things I am withholding, or at least have no articulation for what I’m feeling… not yet.
This time, something in me just clicked. The tender, gentle presence of God in my life was tangible, the pressure of His feet in the soil, the crinkling of leaves as He took each step, unhurried, fully present.
Perhaps God draws us into seasons of hiddenness so that we may know of His delight in us, completely independent of our achievements.
He wasn’t clicking His tongue at the unruly brambles grown out of shape. He wasn’t swatting flies or uncomfortable. Much like the walks I took in European forests, His walk was quiet, beautiful, simple, unrushed.
On this walk, He was marvelling at all the work He had done. Arms behind Him, one foot in front of the other. Nothing escaped His sight and yet He smiled.
God was enjoying being with me, working in me. He enjoys gardening my soul! He delights in me, His creation.
In the quiet, seeds are stirring in the shadow of Your presence…
The shadow of His wings is dark, unseen, yet intimate and close. As we ask of God: “Keep me as the apple of Your eye; hide me in the shadow of Your wings” (Psalm 17:8), we shouldn’t be surprised to be drawn into periods of “unseen-ness”.
In fact, God allures us into the shadow of His wings so that we might know Him intimately – our unshakable identity as children of God, protected and shielded by Him.
How are you feeling in this time of social distancing? Of seeming isolation and loneliness? Are you allowing God to hide you in the shadow of His wings?
Won’t you tend to the roots of your identity and faith, emerging stronger and more unshakable? Won’t you be allured into deeper intimacy with the Father, knowing that even in the unseen, you will bear fruit?
There is time yet for God to do a work in the garden of your soul. For all who identify with this, I pray that you will know the deep assurance of a God who never stops, is never wrong and is always right on time.
This article was originally posted on Delphne’s blog and has been republished with permission.
THINK + TALK
- If your soul were a garden, how would it be doing now? What would it look like?
- How was the extended time of social distancing for you? What were your struggles?
- Even in Phase 1, there is time to allow God to walk with you through the issues that have surfaced. What is He drawing your attention to?
- For those feeling lonely or isolated, what is really causing you to feel this way?