It is September 2016 and I have just returned from a long, tough walk in Corsica. Life is a challenge right now and I know that so much that is familiar is about to change…..just as it was 8 years ago! Exactly 8 years ago to the date, I was on a long tough walk in Corsica with a series of challenges and life changes ahead. During that walk, I wrote this journal entry. My plan is to let my journal of 8 years ago challenge me afresh today.
Leaving The Comfort Zone – September 2008
During the climbing of the first day, the prospect of 14-16 days tough-mountain walking seemed like forever. Body and mind were not yet conditioned to the physical and mental challenges and the way ahead both excited and daunted. I knew that it would be beautiful but I knew that it would be tough. I had a goal; I had prepared for situations that might arise, but there were so many variables over which I would have no control!
Someone said to me that the GR20 is 40% physical fitness; 60% mental determination. Whilst walkers undoubtedly need to be relatively fit, even the fittest person will fail without steely mental determination, because this walk takes a person right out of their comfort zones and into the wilderness.
The first days walk was a relentless climb. From the top of the pass, I gained a much fuller understanding of the geography of the area and how it all fitted together. As I looked down at the beautiful seaside town of Calvi, I was reminded that we were leaving civilisation, leaving opportunities for comfort and pleasure and exchanging them for the unpredictability of the mountains. There was great resonance with our lives ‘off the trail’.
Into my solitude, I sensed a voice whispering,
‘Are you prepared to leave your comforts and move to the places where I am in control? Follow me to the wild places and you will see things from a new perspective; increasingly as I see them, not from the eye level view of the comfortable places. From here, you get a much wider perspective and you can see how everything relates. It will be wild, exciting and scary. Have you Lindsay got what it takes?’
I accepted the challenge, but couldn’t help thinking that this would serve to make me feel even more out of kilter with the surrounding cultures…even that of the church. It is what anthropologist Victor Hugo would call ‘liminality’ which is defined by Alan Hirsch as ‘an in-between marginal state in relation to the surrounding society, a place that could involve significant danger, but not necessarily so’
God clearly wants me to look only to Him for approval and identity. I still found myself praying that He would give a few wise companions for the journey who will encourage and hold me to account. That will be important, particularly if God is wanting to show me things from an increasingly different perspective because I’ll be picking my way through lesser known territory where danger of error is greatest.
The 3rd morning whilst climbing, my mind turned to negative thoughts about the past. Cutting across these, I sensed God asking me,
‘Are you prepared to do anything for me?’
One by one, I went through all the potential things that could inhibit God’s work in and through my life. It reminded me of a period in 2005 when I felt God calling me to re-submit absolutely every area of my life to his will and purposes, so that nothing at all could come before bringing him glory. No relationships, no possessions, no desires or ambitions, no fears….nothing! Theologian Paul Minear writes that
‘The sole sovereignty of God is realized only by stern struggle with other gods, with all the forces that oppose his will’.
For me that episode in 2005 was the culmination of that stern struggle…a struggle that brought me to the place I am today-a place where many of life’s comforts and securities are being stripped away.
Over the course of the trek, I read the story of Elijah and found that it really resonated with me. Elijah had been taken aside to Kerith after being used by God to speak to Ahab. In that place of obscurity, he learned dependence on God and was fed by Him.
My life has seen so many changes over the past few years that it has been quite disorientating at times. I have become increasingly defined by ‘who I am’ rather than ‘what I do’ because so much else has been stripped away. It has however been the Kerith that God had prepared for me. It has been isolating and without significant encouragement from many Christians, yet God has fed me, quenched my thirst for Him and enabled me to serve him in ways that I had never before been able. My dependence upon Him, my faith and trust in Him and my desire to serve Him alone have grown significantly. I am now confident that I do not need the limelight to survive.
I must now ensure that I maintain a disciplined life; a life that leaves no room for anything that would challenge God’s sovereignty in any area of my life. I must therefore frequently ask myself ‘am I still prepared to leave my comfort zone for the sake of the gospel’ and ‘is there anything in my life inhibiting God’s purposes for my life?’
In the afternoon of day 3, there was a long, difficult downhill section. Andrew asked me to wait for him part way down the mountainside en-route to Haute D’Asco, a disused ski station and our stop for the night. I sat and waited for Andrew on a large granite promontory. I got out my mobile phone which I had brought for the sole purpose of receiving a text from a church that was considering calling me as their minister. Did the church want to progress to the next stage or not? I turned the phone on with a mix of apprehension and excitement. There was a signal, the text came through and YES….they wanted me to come and preach with a view…the Sunday after I was due to arrive back in England.
I knew that if they subsequently called me, Andrew and I would have to leave our beautiful house in the New Forest and move to a town where we wouldn’t know anybody. It would mean starting Bible College whilst finishing the M.A in Missional Leadership. It would mean leaving family and friends and the church where I was serving. It would mean the challenges of being a sole, part-time pastor. It would mean Andrew leaving his job. It would mean leaving the remaining ties to our comfort zone and having no idea where it will lead!
Yet, as God has grown me out of my comfort zone, I have learned increasingly to ‘hold lightly’ to everything as I increase my reliance on Him. I have discovered what an incredibly isolating journey the journey of true submission can be (especially and surprisingly in relation to fellow Christians). I have however also learned how gentle, yet powerful His love can be.