A school teacher asked her class of first graders, “What colour are apples?”
Some children said “red!”
Others exclaimed “green!”
A few said “yellow.”
Then one little boy raised his hand and said, “Apples are white.”
The teacher patiently explained that apples could be red, yellow or green, but never white. However, the boy insisted. Finally the teacher asked him, “Where did you see a white apple?”
“Every apple is white” he explained. “Look inside!”
That’s good advice. As a rule, we don’t look inside as often as we should. Our natural tendency is to focus on externals when looking for the truth, beauty and value of things and people. I’m not talking about the “world” here, whatever that means. I’m talking about us church-going Christians. We can be the first to judge a book by its cover and an apple by the colour of its skin.
I think this judgmental attitude is a reflection of a deeper problem, namely, our resistance to look inside ourselves. We’ve been enculturated to look outward for God and the things of God. Very few of us are mentored to discern and listen to the voice of divine wisdom within.
One of the primary reasons we resist looking inside is that we know a lot of ugly and scary stuff is in there, too. We’d rather avoid it. All our pain, brokenness, disappointment, anger, sadness, shame and fear lie within us. The thought of rummaging through the cluttered storehouses of our inner beings terrifies us. Yet we will not find what we desperately want and need in life without going inside. Inside is where we find healing, peace, liberty, joy, hope and wisdom. Inside is where we meet Christ.
In John 4, Jesus tells a Samaritan woman drawing water from a well that anyone who trusts him will experience a spring of living water erupting from within. There are two key things about this promise:
- First, we need to trust Jesus.
- Second, the healing waters we need in our lives will spring forth within us. The sacred spring of Christ is not out there somewhere. It is within you.
Father John Eudes once shared with me that the only way to grow spiritually is through prayer. I asked him, “What is prayer?” He closed his eyes, smiled and said, “Prayer is entering into the space within your own being where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have taken residence, and are waiting for you to come, sit and commune with them.”
Ever since he gave me that prayer advice, I frequently hear the old Al Green song, “Jesus is Waiting” whenever I sense the need to be still and go within. Jesus is waiting to commune with us, inside our own bodies. That’s such a wonderful mystery.
I realize all this focus on the internal appears unbalanced. If we focus too much on God, truth and wisdom being within us, why do we need community? We don’t need churches, mentors, pastors or the Bible if we just need to look inside, right?
Here are my thoughts.
The Holy Spirit and divine wisdom are within us. But so is a lot of other stuff: lies, fear, wounds, greed, assumptions, anger—not to mention all the authoritarian voices from our past that we’ve internalized and routinely mistake for God. The most difficult journey in our lives is to wade through all the stuff within, and find the centre of our beings where Christ, the “wisdom of God,” is waiting to meet with us.
In order to make this long inward journey, we need Scripture, community, mentors, counsellors, spiritual directors, ministers, small groups, and saints—both dead and alive—to help us. When we genuinely desire God, we will seek out other people to help us. In fact, God will bring the right people into our lives. The struggle many pastors and churches have is that people with this desire for God are not coming to us anymore for help.
There are a number of reasons I think we’re losing this privilege of helping people navigate through the wilderness within to find God.
Many of us have not made the inward journey ourselves, and have no business coaching others. They’re not fooled by us. For too long, instead of pointing people to God’s Spirit within to find wisdom, we’ve pointed them towards our truth, traditions, experiences and answers, only to find they’re not interested.
Troy Watson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is pastor of Avon Mennonite Church in Stratford, Ont.