When you can’t see the way ahead

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash. Used with permission.

Last Monday was a disappointing day. Within a few hours, a knee which had been bothering me got suddenly worse, I received a “not a good fit so have to pass” email from a potential publisher, and I ran into major complications with the new website I’m trying to set up. It seemed like in every area, the path on which I’d been running was blocked, and I couldn’t see the way ahead. Clear skies had changed to fog.

But in the fog, a picture came. A little girl faced her father, her hands in his, each of her feet on one of his. Each time he lifted his foot and took another step, she bent her knee and allowed her leg to move along with his. She was not walking on her own, yet she was still moving forward. And she didn’t have to know the way to keep moving in the right direction. She only had to keep her feet on her father’s, her hands in the hands of the one who knew the way.

That picture reminds me of Eugene Peterson’s wonderful chapter, “Is Growth a Decision?” in The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction. In it he wrestles in wonderfully helpful ways with the question of how our wills and God’s will fit together. One of several tools he offers to our imagination and understanding is the grammatical middle voice, which we have almost completely lost in English. He writes,

“Active and passive voices I understood, but middle was a new kid on the block. When I speak in the active voice, I initiate an action that goes someplace else: ‘I counsel my friend.’ When I speak in the passive voice, I receive the action that another initiates: ‘I am counseled by my friend.’ When I speak in the middle voice, I actively participate in the results of an action that another initiates: ‘I take counsel.’” (p. 103, underscore mine)

He goes on to say,

“Prayer and spirituality feature participation, the complex participation of God and the human, his will and our wills. We do not abandon ourselves to the stream of grace and drown in the ocean of love, losing identity. We do not pull the strings that activate God’s operations in our lives, subjecting God to our assertive identity. We neither manipulate God (active voice) nor are manipulated by God (passive voice). We are involved in the action and participate in its results but do not control or define it (middle voice). Prayer takes place in the middle voice.” (p. 104)

How that looks will vary from day to day. But in this foggy week when the path ahead is not clear, living in the middle voice looks to me like choosing to keep my eyes on my Father rather than straining to find the path, putting my hands in his and my feet on his, enjoying him while I wait to see what the next right step is, and then willingly bending my knee when he bends his.

It’s not easy, I’m finding. I keep trying to turn around to see the path. But fear is my best clue that I’ve stepped off my Father’s feet and am running around frantically trying to find the right path myself. And when the weight of anxiety reminds me to turn back to him and I admit to him that I don’t have a clue and see him smiling down at me, reminding me that he knows the way, that he is the way, I feel like I can breathe again. I even find myself smiling back at him.

Walking on the feet of my Father doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly or that I don’t have to do the hard work. Together we have walked into physiotherapy, researched website hosts (again!), and made numerous calls to gain technical assistance. It does mean that instead of feeling alone in the fog, I remember that I am accompanied. Instead of panicking because I can’t see where the path leads, I am able to relax (at least a little!), knowing that I am small and loved, and that Someone bigger than me is with me and is faithfully leading the way to the best and truest destination.

Photo by Daiga Ellaby on Unsplash. Used with permission.

6 thoughts on “When you can’t see the way ahead

  1. Such great encouragement from a place of vulnerability! Thank you for sharing. I keep coming back to this—that the “middle way” is the way to live in these challenging days upon the earth…I hadn’t thought of the middle voice…Of course, the Pastor Peterson did. :) Thanks for sharing the wisdom of one of God’s great teachers. I’ll say a prayer as you and your Father walk through the fog. Hang on tight.

  2. Thankful for Hearing the Heartbeat in my inbox today. As I journey through this painful season how reassuring to know that our Father is right there guiding my steps in the direction of His will for my life. As physically challenging as this is, His love is the soothing ointment that heals my weary soul.

  3. Thanks Care – what a great image a great reflection on the middle voice. This post was an encouragement to me today. Another level of this picture struck me when I realized how much I enjoy it when my kids stand (or sit) on my feet and I walk them around. I’m sure it gives our Father delight when we trust this journey of ‘taking distance’ (what’s the best middle voice between walking and being walked?) by bending our knees and enjoying the feel of his much larger legs stepping us along the path!

  4. Thanks for sharing. Do hang in there. Your thoughts and heart turned into words are a soothing balm to many. Myself included. Roy

    From Pinterest, God with us, may his presence help you to grin as she does. 

  5. Thank you for this help understanding the middle voice as we walk in step with the father. As little children our dad often gave us the fun of stepping on his big feet and walking with him. It is a helpful picture to recall as I read your helpful message today, Carolyn.
    With prayer for you in the fog ,but on HIs fee!.

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