July 22, 2015
I have 500 words to describe my experience of going through the Transformation Intensive (TI) …but there's no way I can do that. What I can do, though, is relate a fraction of my experience and hope that it sheds light on the greater whole.
In brief, here's the framework for TI: participants commit to approximately six months of daily individual prayer and weekly group meetings. The first part of the weekly meeting (the large-group gathering) is spent receiving instruction, and is followed by participants meeting in pre-assigned small groups to unpack the week's prayer experiences. Participants spend each week systematically working through "Spiritual Exercises" (practical methods of engaging in prayer) in order to "have a more dynamic on-going relationship with God, encounter Christ and relate to Him experientially through Scripture and spiritual practices, and move into more effective, intentional, and creative participation in God's mission to redeem the world."
I'd love to say that I found joy in the process right away. But, to be honest, I found myself thoroughly discouraged after the first three weeks. See, in those first weeks we each reviewed our life story, and I was faced with the pervasive, nagging question: What had all the work, dreams, efforts of my life left me with? When I closed my eyes to pray, all I could picture was a desert. Nothing of beauty – just vast stretches of dry, barren places that I couldn't see any hope for growth in. During one of my prayer times, I invited Jesus into the desert of my life to take a look at what a hopeless case I was. I walked Him through crags and dried valleys, and over vast stretches of dead wasteland. He was silent as we walked. After several minutes, He looked back at where we had just been. I looked back too. Everywhere His feet had gone was transformed into lush, green pastures. The words I had read earlier that week in Isaiah 43 flooded my mind: "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland."
It wasn't magic. My life didn't change overnight… but it did change over the course of those six months. There were external changes (I quit my job, changed career paths, decided to move…), as well as significant internal ones. That prayer of inviting Jesus to walk around in my despair changed something in me. It opened a new possibility – my inability to imagine a fuller, more beautiful life for myself was not a hindrance to God being able to transform me. It was a seed of hope for a long season of change.
I look back and wonder when exactly during the Transformation Intensive this change took place in me. Which experience dispelled my belief that God was disinterested/disappointed in me? When did I start believing that He desires me as I am now rather than as I could be someday? When did the chasm between the theology in my head and the disbelief in my heart become passable? When did hope overshadow despair? When did the mist clouding my vision begin to dissipate? For me, it was like standing on the shore, waiting for the tide to come in. The ups and downs of inviting Jesus into all the hopes and fears of life. The gradual transformation, as slow and hard to see as waves heading to the shore. I thought the tide would never come in, but I suddenly found I was up to my knees in water.