Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation (Downers Grove, Ill: InverVarsity Press, 1993), 27.
As if he didn't identify enough of us in the paragraph above, in another place, Dr. Mulholland adds, "Information gatherers are structurally closed to being addressed by God. Frenetically functional activists find it extremely difficult to be still, and know God as God."*
There. Now that about covers all of us.
I have issues with control. I want things to be the way I want them to be, my buttons get pushed when things aren’t that way, and by default, I do not react well when those buttons are pushed. To make matters trickier, I’m usually blind to what’s happening. I’m probably aware that something is stirred up in me, but to recognize that a button has been pushed, to identify which button it was, and to question whether it’s appropriate for me to react by trying to take control…those are in-the-moment skills that I need double-doses of God’s grace to employ. Much more often, I lean into my default reactions when the button gets pushed, but things still don’t come under my control the way I want. Then yet another bucket gets tossed into what becomes a lifetime-full lake of ingratitude, resentment, and a host of other things which don’t add up to the kind of person I want to be at my core.
This is difficult enough to recognize and deal with in any area, but when it comes to our lives with God, we often don’t know what role to fill if we were to lay down our claims to our own control. If I were to show up to be with God without having even set an agenda, what on earth would we do together?
Even though I can identify with a number of the categories Dr. Mulholland described, the one I wear as a badge of honor is “information gatherer.” One of the reasons it’s so hard to release is because it has served me so well. My desk is surrounded by the best books on Christian spiritual formation. There are always more things I need to learn, and I know how to go locate good information, process it, and then occasionally blog about it, teach it, or sometimes even write a book about it.
But all of those ways I react when my “Danger: You’re uninformed” button is pushed are very, very different things from knowing this Person who is with me and who knows what I need much better than I do. Information gathering on my own is much different than learning to listen to the wise, loving voice of a Parent who knows the game I’m playing even if I don’t. Trying to secure my own survival and happiness is very different from entrusting myself to the One who said, “deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.”
I wonder if our biggest fear of releasing these means of control in our lives with God isn’t that we might get ambushed by some danger for which we were left unprepared without our usual defenses, but that if we were to give up the ways we’re used to being in control…it isn’t that something bad would happen, but––worse––that nothing would happen. What do I have left to rely on between me and God if I’m not surrounded by all of these great books? What if the space between us would just be…empty?
The way that I have read Dr. Mulholland through the years is that he invites us to engage in spiritual practices in ways that we stop attempting to fill up the space between us and God, and rather––in a deeply intentional, trusting, and loving way to come to God without our default barriers between us. (As he has described, this applies to any of our habits––the one he wrote about the most was the ways we read scripture: either as a place in which we are open to encounter with God, or yet one more place where we can grasp, manipulate, control, or arm ourselves with information or incessant activity.)
The "presence, purpose, and power of God in all things" is readily and abundantly available to shape us. We have to get out of our own way and maintain the open space between us and God for that to happen.
* Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, Rev. ed. (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2000), 27.