excerpt from My God and Me: Listening, Learning and Growing on My Journey by LaShawnda Jones
On my second New Year’s Eve in New York City, I visited the historic Riverside Church in Harlem. I was in search of a church home and was immediately awed by the atmosphere in the nave of Riverside. The majestic gothic interior had a lot to do with my initial reaction.
I was in need of a message on that crisp Sunday morning. God, in His infinite wisdom, delivered one to me. I had been struggling with issues that were hard to put into words. I talked about the things I could speak on with those who would listen. But even those simpler speakable things were not well received by friends.
I was changing. As we all do. Not only was God reworking me in a major way, I knew it was time for me go to another level. I was ready for a change, however I had no idea how monumentally drastic it would be. In 2005, when I decided to move to New York, I told my family and friends I would not be in contact for at least six months. I thought that was all the time I needed for my personal evolution. My knowledge then only scratched the surface, and it’s not much deeper now. However, after my visit to Riverside Church, I became more accepting of whatever changes were to come in my life.
God is in the Growing
Reverend Dr. R. Scott Colglazier gave the sermon that helped me over a hump that resembled a mountain at the time. There were hundreds of people in the nave that Sunday morning, yet I felt as if I was sitting face to face with the Reverend Doctor in private conversation, finally accepting words that have been offered previously but not embraced. He said, “People talk about Jesus as being constant – always the same now and forever. Though the essence of Jesus never changes, there was a time when Jesus, the man, went through change.”
“I hear you,” he said. “‘As soon as life gets good, as soon as everything falls into place, I’ll start living in God’s presence.’ What if the pieces are never all together? What if God is only found in the growth, in the striving, in the struggles of everyday life…? God is discovered in the growing, not the perfecting of life…. Don’t miss out on sharing your gifts with the world. You’re in a growing moment. You know what that’s like, don’t you? When you want to give up…. When you’re missing home…. When you want to sob, not cry, but sob. Those are growing moments. Without vulnerability, mistakes, and heartaches – we don’t grow. We don’t change.”
How profound is that? How did he know my heart? How did he know my fears? How did he know how to soothe me?
Of course, he wasn’t telling me anything new, but sometimes we get so deep in our troubles, someone else’s voice works as a beacon to guide us through our darkness.
I’ve been an advocate for change all my life. I’ve embraced it. Searched for it. Preached it to others. I had lived in four states and six cities by the age of fourteen. By the age of twenty-six, I had been to six countries on two continents and visited forty of fifty states, speaking three languages. One of my selling points in job interviews had been my adaptability to change. However, none of that, nor my positive attitude, upbeat personality, adventurous spirit, thirst for knowledge and culture or my facility with conversation was sufficient preparation for the road I am now traveling. Or rather, all that preparation has not been the focus of this portion of my journey.
I have some good friends, but during my personal and spiritual evolution I discovered none of them was able to give me anywhere near what I needed, when I needed it. By the time Reverend Dr. Colglazier spoke to me, I had been re-evaluating my family and friend relationships for over a year. The night before I attended his service, I had concluded I had no true friends. I had no helpers or supporters who were available for me to call on in my need. They had all been tested in some way. My friends showed support but rarely followed through by actually giving support. They encouraged me to call on them and ask for assistance whenever I needed them, but they rarely responded to my call.
What my summary does not take into account are all the variables of life – marriage, children, mortgages, jobs, sick parents, personal transitions. When I have felt that my friends have failed me, they were championing others or caring for themselves. This may be the same situation when I have failed them. I have changed as a friend over the last few years as well. Whereas I used to make myself available in some capacity whenever I was called, I became a hermit and cocooned myself during my transition. I have said no to more requests for my time and space during this time than in the entire span of any given friendship. I needed to distance myself. I needed to be stripped of my sense of ease, security and comfort. No matter what type of relationship you have with family and friends, when you are surrounded by them you have a sense that whatever befalls you, someone will pick you up. Innately, I knew the people I turned to for advice, conversation, support, or just a listening ear were not people I could go through a personal evolution with.
God needed to be my focus. Solitude was necessary for me to learn to communicate with Him and build our relationship. He isolated me so I could hear Him better. It was time for me to lean on God and allow Him to lift me.
Everyone I knew, family and friends, were roadblocks to my spiritual growth. I don’t mean that in a demeaning way. We all have our tests and struggles in life. James tells us to count all our trials as joy because the testing of our faith produces patience and matures us (James 1:2-4). My family and friends were blocking my growth because their expectations of me kept my focus on them and their needs. Yes, it is good to help others; however, it is not good to neglect yourself. I did my best to fulfill whatever people expected or requested of me. My effort was based on my desire to be a positive influence in everyone’s life. A dependable influence. Many people had let me down, and I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone’s disappointment or disillusionment. If I could be a representative of the good of man/womankind, then I would do all that I could. If someone asked me to bend backwards and my back was paining me, I wouldn’t tell them I couldn’t, I wouldn’t even tell them that my back hurt. I would bend back as far as I could. I would barely recover before the next person and the next person and the next person were asking me to bend just a little bit further….
When I got tired of bending, I stood up and walked away. Far, far away….
For those who asked, I truthfully shared my desire to get to know me. I wanted to do things simply because I wanted to do them, not because something was expected or needed of me. I wanted to live without everyone else’s demands, influences, and judgments.
Ironically enough, when breaking down my daily life in New York, it’s not much different than my daily life in Milwaukee was. I’m a bit lonelier, but I am freer and happier overall. My essence, core, and character have not changed. I have grown more outspoken and protective of me, my wishes, and my boundaries. I’ve lost interest in being nice. I’ve gained a deeper interest in being right with God and true to myself.
My search for self-knowledge led directly to a deeper knowledge of, and connection with, God.
“I can’t go back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”
– Lewis Carroll
I can’t go back to who I was. Sometimes I cherish thoughts of giving up trying to live out my dreams and crawling back into the lifeless arms of my family and friends. That’s a fantasy I can no longer afford. I’m not interested in hearing the I-told-you-so’s and suggestions on how I should just settle for whatever is handed to me. Failure has never been part of my plan, but I’ve learned from all of my mistakes.
When Reverend Dr. Colglazier said, “You’re in a growing moment. You know what that’s like, don’t you? When you want to give up…. When you’re missing home…. When you want to sob, not cry, but sob. Those are growing moments.” I felt like he was shaking me awake. He went on to say, “Sometimes change is easy and joyful. Sometimes it’s painful and hard. Enlightenment is telling the truth of where you really are. Risk something this year. Risk something for yourself.”
The road of spiritual growth and personal development is never-ending. I became aware of my long journey a short time ago, when my physical uprooting mirrored my spiritual uprooting. It’s a lonely process, and every once in a while I’ve tried to pull someone onto the road with me. Not because I felt they needed to be there, but because I felt I was lacking in companionship. Or I simply couldn’t stand my own company anymore. After a few steps, my path got crowded and I got cramped. I felt a different type of frustration, as if my temporary companion was obstructing my view. I would then set them aside and continue forward by myself. I later regarded these short intermissions of friendly companionship as friends “failing” me. A transition is no time to test friends or family. God will never equip others to be to you what He wants to be to you while He’s teaching you to depend on Him. I wanted people to be trustworthy and dependable. Fortunately, I learned to trust and depend on my God for all things.
Meditation Verse: Acts 9:3-9
As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”
Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.