String Theory

I often get asked, “What is spiritual formation?”  Instead of responding with a definition or list of practices, I usually ask folks to think about their gut reactions to life’s circumstances and what shapes those reactions.

Several years ago, as plans were being made for my ordination, the church decided to give me a robe for worship as a gift.  It was to be a surprise, so my husband was asked to get measurements of my height and neck so the robe could be ordered.  Height went smoothly.  I didn’t pay much attention to him asking me how tall I was, other than to wonder why he still didn’t know this after 20 years.  But the decision to get my neck size in the middle of the night while I was asleep may not have been completely thought through.

If you want to test your gut reactions, wake up and find your spouse tightening a rope around your neck.  Ok, maybe it was just string.  At 1 a.m. it’s a noose.  If you knew me, you’d probably be thinking, like I was, that I had finally run my mouth one too many times.  My gut reaction was to lie perfectly still and pretend to be asleep – which I’m told bodes well for me if I’m ever attacked by a bear.  “Wow,” I remember thinking as I peered out of a slit in one eye.  “So this is how I am going to die.”

My mind feverishly searched through the events and conversations of the previous day, as he slowly pulled on the anchor line to secure a good fit.  (The robe really is a bit snug at the neck…)

Nothing.  Of course there was nothing – except the persistent thoughts that overshadowed all the others – that my husband really does love me, is far too good a man to go down like a Lifetime movie villain, and was not crazy enough to raise four kids by himself.  As the rope shrunk in power to its true string state, the dots of ordination and robes and measurements began to connect in my head.  It took all the restraint I had not to grin and spoil the surprise.

Gut reactions.  That’s what spiritual formation is all about — engaging in practices that train our gut reactions to be by faith and not fear; that shape how we instinctively see the world and solidify our trust in what we know to be true.

We come across “string” all the time and panic that it’s rope.  Our minds run ahead of us all the way to death’s door or utter destruction before God ever has a chance to whisper that the comment we misinterpreted or the slight we misconstrued or the obstacle that is in fact very real is actually being made into a bow on a gift God is trying to give us and not something that should tie us in knots.

At the slightest hint of trouble, our defenses can cause us to believe the worst motives in people we trust, underestimate people we love.  It can make the journey very lonely, and keep us from ever accomplishing the really good stuff together.

This is my “String Theory.”  Most of us keep getting tied up by the same string in our lives.  Your string is different than mine, but we both know the frustration of getting tangled up … in the same way… again and again.  The question is, what are you doing to put your gut reactions in God’s hands… before they happen?

Jayne Davis

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About the Author
Jayne Davis is Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. She is part of the Hopeful Imagination ministry team, encouraging churches and church leaders in a changing world. Jayne is co-author of the book Hopeful Imagination and posts on Facebook at Spiritual Formation - Along the Way and is trying to learn to Tweet, though, being from the Bronx, is paranoid about people following her.

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  • gary neil gupton

    My ‘string’ that became a ‘rope’ trying to ‘hang’ me was (and sometimes still is) my novel, which I’ve been working on for around 2 years. When the pressure and anxiety of sometimes not wantng to face the stories that I’m eventually compelled to write, I’ll freeze up, dropping the novel for days. When I do relax and listen and feel what I believe God wants me to tell, the words flow, sometimes revealing to me truths about myself and my stories, which are given me. There are ‘bad’ episodes in my novel, but there is always that ‘good’ that overshadows, really outshines, the ‘bad stuff’. I find myself on the verge of ‘completing’ this novel’ and the noose still comes on occasion to try and ‘snuff me out.’ God is always with me, and has been with me through the ‘walks’ that brought me the stories. My ‘icon’ of the rooster has significance – the title for my novel is “and the Rooster Crowed”.

    • Jayne Davis

      Thanks, Gary.  I love how you talk about listening and hearing the stories.  I do think there is sometimes (?often) pressure and anxiety that comes in advance of something good that God wants to give us or say to us or through us… a lot like how the pressure around here drops before a hurricane.  You can feel it coming.  For me it’s my heart racing when I think God wants me to say something but I’m worried how it will be received.  Too often we get scared away by the ‘string’ turned ‘rope'; we find ways to distract ourselves or turn the other way… and we miss it.  Sounds like you have learned much about listening in your walks.  Can’t wait to read your book!  Grace, Jayne.

  • Jonnia Smith

    The middle-of-the-night episode is hilarious! I’m still laughing over it.

    I very much like the idea of INTENTIONALLY engaging in practices to help change our reactions and approaches to everything from a place of faith and not fear, as you put it. intentionally, as opposed to the way most of us just hope we get better at it as we bump along through life.  This is something I’d like to hear more about.

    • Jayne Davis

      Jonnia, I’m looking forward to the conversation.
      I like your blog.  Love the idea of thriving instead of just surviving.  We forget, sometimes, that we get to choose between the two.
      Grace, Jayne

  • Vick Griffin

    We could probably shoot that in Wilmington, you know.  But you’d probably live in Forest Hills and Gary Cole would be your husband.

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