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Where God just might come nearest

Is there a place you’ve experienced as a “thin place,” a place where heaven seems especially close to earth, and God, though everywhere present, somehow seems nearer? Most often I’ve heard the term used for bits of land where pilgrims have walked and worshipped and sought God for centuries. Iona, for instance. But the chair where I regularly curl up to spend time alone with God, a particular painting, a beach, a bench—I’ve known each of these as a thin place.

People can be thin places too. As Ann Voskamp observes, “Every child’s a thin place.”

I’ve been wondering: what if we experience children most easily as thin places simply because they haven’t yet learned to hide their hearts?

What if beneath all the masks every human being is a thin place, or contains thin places?

And what if . . . what if the wounds and cracks and places of brokenness in myself, those ones that I try so hard to fix, as well as the hopes and joys and longings that I sometimes feel I need to hide, are in fact thin places that I’m trying to thicken, some of God’s portals that I’m trying to block and barricade?

I sat in my counselor’s office, trying once again to conquer a particular memory from Afghanistan. I wanted to be able to sit with it without feeling paralyzed by panic or dread or helplessness. But once again I had to retreat into Jesus’ arms.

Only there, with my focus on his arms around me, was I able to sit with the memory and be okay. At first I felt discouraged. Defeated. It felt like failure that I couldn’t stand up to it myself. Then I sensed Jesus ask, “Would it be okay if you never manage to conquer it by yourself, if instead it is something that keeps you always in my arms?”

Right away I was aware of the gift in the question. I want Jesus. More than I want healing. I want to be close to him and open to him. And I know that I need help staying in that place; in my stronger moments when I’m less aware of my need for him I get distracted and run off to other things. Anything—even something painful—that keeps me every moment in his arms is a gift, nudging me toward what I most deeply want.

And yet, if I’m honest, I hesitated. My deepest self wanted that closeness. The rest of me wasn’t entirely thrilled about the way of getting it. There was a sadness in seeing the brokenness in myself, and a longing for healing and wholeness.
In my experience there are thin times as well as thin places, and for me the early morning moments suspended between sleep and rising are a thin time when my heart often understands something that my mind hasn’t yet been able to grasp. The morning after that counseling experience held one of those thin moments when, at least for that moment, my whole self grasped something that until then I’d only half-known:

Jesus’ invitation to make my home in his arms was not second best, a consolation prize when he chose not to give healing. It was healing, and the invitation into true wholeness—the wholeness that knows myself as his, safe and loved no matter what.

It was an invitation into the wholeness that, rather than insistently trying to thicken the thin places, sees and accepts them because Jesus sees and accepts them as places that keep me close to him.

It was an invitation into the understanding that “perfect” as the voices in my head define it (flawless in my independent self) has much more to do with our culture’s obsession with independence and autonomy and appearance than with God. In God’s eyes, “perfect” is about wholeness and completion, love and union. And in the wildly creative economy of grace, not only our weak and wounded places but even our sinful tendencies, those very places where our union was broken, remain thin places through which his love can most easily flow, remaking our union, and more deeply than before: “Carolyn Joy, let Me be God. Let Me be the One who makes you perfect, not by reshaping you into something whole, separate from myself, but by filling your cracks and empty places with my living, loving Self.”

I’ll still wrestle and forget and need lots of help living in this place where I can accept and maybe even occasionally, with Paul, delight in my weaknesses because Jesus meets me there.

In the meantime, maybe even my wrestling and forgetting can be a thin place where Jesus meets and fills me with his love again and again and again.

This Post Has 10 Comments

  1. sarahbmenefee

    Reblogged this on His Eye Is On the Sparrow and commented:
    I really, really like this post by Hearing the Heartbeat. “for me the early morning moments suspended between sleep and rising are a thin time when my heart often understands something that my mind hasn’t yet been able to grasp.”

  2. Bob Morris

    Be aware, too, Carolyn Joy, that your sharing your cracks and groans become thin places for the rest of us. Both text and photos demonstrated how God chooses to inhabit both the thin beautiful places (those gorgeous kids) and the thin/broken places (nature itself).

  3. Roy

    That was absolutely beautiful. Thank you Carolyn. I was especially moved by the “Jesus invitation,,,, was not second best”. We all carry hurts that need that depth of healing. Peace and grace. Roy

    1. hearingtheheartbeat

      Thanks, Roy. Yes, I guess I’m not alone in this! Peace and grace to you as well. Carolyn

  4. Carol Turner

    Hi Carolyn,
    Goodness I recognise some of the Afghan children among your photos….all so beautiful and awe inspiring.
    I do think of you often, am staying with Robert and myriam this week and am sure your ears have burned!!!
    I sort of lost this blog for a while but am back on now.
    Love Carol (turner)

  5. Bonita Grace Dirk

    Wow! Very challenging. I have been challenged lately that normally I want to figure out my problems and when I don’t understand them that really frustrates me but Julian of Norwich thanks God for only showing her what he wants her to know. I want to be happy with what I know and turn to God in what I don’t know or understand instead of trying to fix everything in my own strength.
    A crazy thought to think that God can work through our weaknesses and even our sins. I too don’t always appreciate it when it seems God has made me weak so that I have to turn to Him or spend more time with him, even though I enjoy that time.
    What you say about early morning also sounds very much like what i just read in Sacred Rhythms.
    Thank you for this reminder and the reminder that weakness and brokenness is actually a gift, amazing!

  6. Marny Watts

    Loved re-reading this post again many months after you first posted it! The photos and text are wonderful reminders to me all over again of how much God has touched my heart too in times of weakness and fear through many of these same places and people. Much love always, Mom

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