An artist friend of mine gave me a present today—a relief sculpture. Mounted on a beautiful wood piece is an abstract sculpture of a dancing woman. Her right arm is thrown over her head and there's movement along the bottom of her long dress. You can tell she's dancing with joy. These words from Psalm 30 adorn the top of the piece: You have turned my mourning into dancing. You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.
I used to believe that this kind of joy—the kind that compels us to jump up and dance!—was only known after some big event, some mountaintop experience of God. I've had a few of those amazing experiences in my life. When I decided to leave ARCO and go to seminary. When I preached at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. When I married D. When I sat on the beach, on the Jersey shore actually, looking out at the overwhelming infinity of the ocean and suddenly felt myself one with all creation. In each of those experiences pure joy pulsed out from the center of my heart. And yet, as I've reflected on it over the years, I've concluded that something even deeper was animating me.
And the kind of freedom I'm talking about isn't known only as part of some huge and unusual event. No, I think we're meant to live from within this kind of freedom all the time. I met with my spiritual director last week. As we spoke, the concern that had been weighing on me suddenly evaporated. She reminded me of the freedom that always awaits me when I let go, when I no longer cling to particular outcomes, when my only desire is to do what is mine to do, the best I can, and then trust that God is always working to bring about what is best. Being reminded of that truth, I was able to relax and smile again. Ah, what freedom!
My artist friend talks about freedom as an ever-increasing opening to life and all it brings. I love that. No doubt there will be pain—pain is part and parcel of what it means to be alive. But as we decide to let go and trust in God for everything, then the courage needed to open ourselves in freedom like that simply appears. In my experience, once the decision to trust is made, courage never fails. Oh! how I want to live my life always in such freedom, such joy.
I'd love for that freedom and joy to be constant, but of course, it isn't. Learning to live so freely is a process, a journey down a road full of potholes and circles and curves that seem to move me back, not forward! It often takes the perspective born of years to see that the journey is forever leading me toward God and slowly transforming me into the image of Christ.