Where was Jesus staying?
I find it interesting that John records the time of day which the disciples were with Jesus but does
not mention or give detail to the dwelling place of Jesus, especially since that was their initial
inquiry. Jesus did not hesitate to invite them to this place and once they saw it, the disciples spent
the day there with Him. My first thought is that this home must have had a welcoming aura,
overflowing with grace and love. I envision it as a place of solitude and retreat. Simple. Quiet.
But then my mind is met with the challenge, what about the uncomfortable? What about the
unwelcoming? I think it is so easy to assume that where Jesus was staying was comfortable
because it is easy to find Jesus in these places, but does He not also dwell in the uncomfortable?
Perhaps, this place Jesus invited His disciples was not a place of solitude and warmth, but
because they were in the presence of Jesus, they decided to dwell there with Him for the day.
I come from a ‘one stoplight town’ that is welcoming and considered a place of retreat for many
individuals. It is tucked away in the quiet, humble mountains of North Carolina. Life is gentle
and slow there. It is silent and peaceful, with space to breathe. There is no doubt that Christ is
present in that sweet little town. But in my heart I heard His invitation to come and see where
else He dwells. So I packed bags and moved across the country to a bustling city. Far away from
what is comfortable, where hurry, worry, and noise are woven into the atmosphere, Jesus has
made His presence known.
In the friendships that have formed, in the conversations with co-workers, in the laughter that
fills our home, in the smiles of my students, in the Saturday morning breakfasts, in the constant
hum of rubber meeting asphalt, in the moaning whistle of the train, Jesus has breathed life into
all of it and therefore, He is a part of it and present within it. He continues to meet me in the most
mundane of moments to the most difficult and uncomfortable of moments. He is here, staying
here, in Salt Lake City and has invited me to experience it with Him.
How beautiful it is that all we have to do is accept His invitation to see where He is staying. He
will meet us there and sit with us in that place, whether it be for a day, a month, or a year. Let us
strive to dwell with Him in the uncomfortable, in the unwelcoming, in the chaos, and in the
Jesus, where are you staying?
Come and you will see.
Identity. It is something that you think you understand about yourself, until you get put into a whole lot of newness, and then you realize that you don’t. Coming out to Salt Lake City was a decision that I was sure about. I had always known that I wanted to take a gap year while applying to, and before attending, medical school. I was excited for the change in the pace of life, for the mountains and new adventures, and for the challenges and blessings that come along with a new community. But, I wasn’t prepared for the way the Lord was going to refine me, and so soon.
For as long as I can remember, school, and my achievements in school, have been a priority and gave me a sense of identity, importance, and purpose. I wore this identity like a mask, relying on the attributes and perceptions about me that it formed. As I have entered into this new community of people, I realized how many other masks I have put on in the past in order to try to feel approval or acceptance.
I was sitting at the top of a mountain this past weekend, looking over Lake Blanche, after a long and strenuous hike, when I realized how exhausted I was. I was not only physically exhausted, but I was emotionally exhausted as well. I was tired of trying so hard. I was tired of being so worried about what others thought of me and wasting my time trying to decipher if others think I am “enough”. It took the process of moving to a new place, being in a new stage of life, and being in a new community to realize that the old masks I used to hide behind weren’t relevant anymore, and that these people don’t see me for the identity that I have worn so proudly, for so long. Who am I if I am not seen as the [blank] person? We could all fill in that blank with attributes that we rely on such as “smart”, “funny”, “athletic”, “tough”, “dedicated”, etc.
Right there, in that moment, overlooking that beautiful lake and feeling utterly exhausted, I gave up and fully surrendered to the Creator. I gave up on trying to find my identity in anything other than the One who made me. I gave up on trying to be someone I thought others wanted me to be. I gave up on trying to so desperately fill in that blank with anything but “fully loved by the Creator”. The Lord just told me to stop and to let His acceptance of me be enough.
My ultimate goal is to show the love of Jesus through a future career as a physician. I want to treat my future patients with a compassion, empathy, and whole-person care that exuberates a life that is lived for a meaning that is more than just about myself. The Lord has been faithful throughout the process it takes to apply to medical school and I am expectant that He is and always will be faithful. I am not aspiring to go to medical school to be accepted by, or to impress, others. I am pursuing this career, and have worked so hard for it, because I am passionate about it and feel that it is the Lord’s calling on my life.
On top of that mountain, I gave up. I didn’t give up on my passion or goal, but I gave up on every identity that I have tried to find fulfillment in, or purpose from, other than Jesus Christ. I was tired and exhausted. I was ready to allow the Lord, and His acceptance of me, to define and shape my identity. This is not to say that I have finally “found the gold” and “have it all figured out”. Not at all. Slowly but surely the Lord is teaching me what His unearned grace and love with no conditions truly means. I am learning what it looks like to fully place my identity in THAT truth.
I am not only learning how to let Jesus love me well, but how to let this amazing new community love me well too. In order to allow someone to love you well, you have to admit fault, imperfection, and weakness, and then you have to bring that into the light. That process takes a lot of trust, and it can be hard. Two of the Fellows shared their life stories this past Monday, and I was so grateful. I was grateful for their vulnerability, honesty, and humility in sharing, and I am grateful for the deep level of intentionality that they set for this community going forward. I am learning that real community can be messy and challenging, but in order for it to be “real”, YOU have to be 100% “real” and bring that 1%, that you kept in the darkness for so long, to the light. We all have masks that we hide behind because we are so terrified of what people will think if “they knew the real me.” But, the crazy thing is, when you get to know someone’s “real me”, you see their humanness, imperfections, weaknesses, and amidst those, you see Jesus shining through the cracks.
One of my favorite things about Utah are the mountains. I have such a deep appreciation and fascination for the mountains because they make me feel small. They remind me of how big and how in control my Creator is, and how small, insignificant, and not in control I am. They remind me that my problems or worries are not the be-all-end-all and it blows me away that I am so dearly loved and cherished by the One who created those massive, beautiful, and majestic mountains. For the past month here in Salt Lake City, I have been trying to live in a state of adventurous expectancy, seeking after the Lord and the identity He gives me, and soaking up this amazing community where I have been placed.
Wherever you are, or whatever stage of life you are in when reading this, I would encourage you to take off the mask, let others see your 1%, and let the Creator’s utter love and obsession with you define you and your identity. Live in adventurous expectancy, with a humble boldness that can only be attributed to the One who made you!
Salt Lake City has been home for a little over a month now, and yes, it already feels strangely like home. As someone who often reflects on life, enjoys moments of nostalgia, and does not handle change well, the transition to Salt Lake is something I think about daily. After a tough first week alone in the city before the other Fellows arrived, I have since settled into a weekly routine with work, found encouragement through the other Fellows and church community, signed up for a rec kickball league (yes, you read that correctly), and planned something to do outside nearly every weekend. These combined aspects of everyday life have certainly made the transition easier, but have not necessarily solidified Salt Lake as “home.” In fact, what I have described is busyness—the everyday distractions, commitments, and (many times good) necessities of life we often confide in to keep us from confronting the discomfort we may be feeling, or struggles we are facing. Therefore, what I have learned thus far in my short time here is that busyness makes transitions easier, but cannot provide a reliable foundation for new beginnings. What has made Salt Lake home is that the Lord has met me here and made His presence overwhelmingly known in the mountains, valleys, and canyons of Utah.
Our first Fellows retreat was a backpacking trip in the Uinta mountains. It was an incredible experience filled with struggle, laughter, meaningful conversations, discovery, and the first bonds of a budding community. Being outside was refreshing, and the time with new friends was life-giving. As a part of the retreat, we spent several hours in solitude—time alone in the woods with God. I am a book-lover, so, naturally, I brought along a book I have been itching to crack open entitled The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God Through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence by Henri Nouwen.
Before the retreat, my mind was spinning. I was very unsettled and unsure if I could make it out here for 10 months. Coming off an incredible college experience and a summer full of joy, suddenly picking up and moving nearly 2,000 miles away from my family and friends was less than ideal for this reflective, comfort-seeking individual. All I could think about was the familiarity and fond memories I was leaving behind as I stepped into the unknown and the discomfort. In my mind, God was there, 2,000 miles away, and I was on my own out here. In fact, I was already starting to use work and the busyness of life in Salt Lake as a distraction from this feeling of loneliness. But as I sat on a rock in the high Uinta wilderness surrounded by wildflowers and trees, next to a bubbling stream, facing a peak majestically standing 13,000 feet tall, my mind was forced to settle. I quickly realized God was here. As I opened my book and read a few pages, I was challenged by two quotes in the first chapter appropriately titled “Solitude”:
“Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter—the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”
“Solitude is thus the place of purification and transformation, the place of great struggle and the great encounter. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world. Solitude is the place of our salvation.”
I looked up at the daunting peak and smiled. Here I was, alone in the middle of the woods without my phone, with no one around me, but I was certainly not alone. I was experiencing what Nouwen calls “the great encounter.” My mind was being purified and transformed. Solitude dissolved the distractions riddled with falsehoods and filled me with the love of God. Here, in the middle of the woods, I was home. I was home because Christ was with me. In that moment, solitude was certainly the place of my salvation. It saved me from the “compulsions of the false self” and lies of the unsettled mind. Greater than that, though, solitude forced me to understand only He is sufficient. Only Christ can provide the way to salvation in the grand scheme of eternal life and during the little moments of each day. In this little moment, I caught a glimpse of the grand scheme. I caught a glimpse of home. This is the glimpse solitude revealed and the glimpse I needed.
I have heard many times that home is where the people are—those who mean most to you in life. There is certainly a lot of truth to that statement, as I definitely feel most comfortable around those who love me most and know me best. But is home where we are most comfortable? If that is the case, Salt Lake City has no business feeling like home at this point. Even more, home is where the Lord is—the sovereign Creator, loving Father, and abundant Provider. Because home is where the Lord is, we can go anywhere and be found, feel known. We can go anywhere and He is with us. We can go anywhere and have deep purpose. Therefore, I have transitioned to home here in Salt Lake because God has overwhelmingly met me here. Looking back, I can say the same about my college experience and summer in between. The busyness of life is no longer a big distraction—it is rather a mission with purpose. That being said, I would have never taken the time to meet the Lord if it were not for solitude and rest. I am already thankful and very much looking forward to this year of solitude, rest, and discovery. There will still be highs and lows, good days and bad days, struggles and joys. Nevertheless, I am thankful for a God who gives us an identity, infinite value, overwhelming worth, and meets us wherever we are. As someone who would live in a single moment forever if change wasn’t inevitable, I am grateful Home is with me always.
Salt Lake Fellows Collaborative