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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Filtering by Tag: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun


4:59 a.m. Andrew wakes up, protesting that Colin won't move over. They're sharing a double bed this week that we're spending in Chicago, and Colin is stretched horizontally across the mattress, dead, sleepy weight unresponsive to his twin brother's tugging and pushing. I pick Colin up and move him, readjust the blankets, and soon Andrew is breathing heavily again. I lie in bed another half an hour, knowing that these quiet morning hours are some of the most valuable of my day. I get up finally.

My father-in-law has prepared the coffee maker the night before. An angel, that man. All I have to do is flip a switch, and coherence will soon be mine.

I settle into the couch with my new book given to me by a great friend: Invitations from God: Accepting God's Offer to Rest, Weep, Forgive, Wait, Remember and More by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. I only read the Introduction. I must force myself to read a book like this slowly, letting myself hear, consider, and respond.

"Learning to listen and respond to God's invitation is the path to real freedom."

The past many months, especially since our move to Toronto, have helped me see the ways in which I am not free and long to be more deeply free in Christ. I want to be free to hear God and respond to Him without fear that others will misunderstand. I want to be free to resist the expectations of others which want insistently to shape me or move me away from God's invitations. I want to be free from the dominating forces of greed and idolatry. I want to be free of the ambitions that corrupt me with notions of my self-importance. I want to be free to serve and surrender more fully to Christ. I want to be free to live my moments, my days, my years (as many as God grants) full to the brim with life and purpose and joy and vitality.

"The truth, however, is that when we say yes to invitations that keep us compulsively busy, we may be exhibiting a lazy ambivalence that actually keeps us distracted from the invitations that matter most. . . Ironically, our many yeses to invitations keeps us stressed, drained and inattentive to the divine invitations that bring real freedom and belonging."

Distracted. Inattentive. Yes, I live like that. And it's the story of my own invitations from God I haven't purposefully committed to remembering and understanding until more recently. I know it's my own story, as it bears out the truths of the story of Scripture, that will remind me that God is present. When I open my eyes wide, I see Him. In the good and ordinary gifts of today. In the seasons of disappointment and uncertainty. In the movement of my own heart toward Him. In the familiar faces of my world. My faith is strengthened in direct measure to my purposing to see. Ann Voskamp taught me that.

"Do our yeses to invitations simply divert or stroke our ego? Or do they nurture and grow body, soul and spirit? Do they build connections within the body of Christ and bring health to our marriage and family? Do the invitations we accept make us more free or less? Which invitations are shaping your world?"

Having an invitation doesn't confirm it's from God. We've been taught to pray for open "doors," as it to say that if a road is easy and opportunities available, that surely God is in it. But I'm finding more and more that opportunities abound and invitations multiply, and it isn't as easy to identify where God is leading me. There is a greater need for discernment, for listening well to the quiet voice of the Spirit and determining when I'm to say yes and no.

"Jesus learned how to discern between invitations. He learned discernment by first saying yes to God's invitations to rest, wait, pray, forgive, remember and love. Time with God was not a luxury that got squeezed out when business picked up."

I am desperate to grow in this kind of discernment. It feels more and more urgent as life complicates.

And I know and believe deeply that it's time alone with God that shapes us and reforms us and reorients us to truth.

It's why I got out of bed this morning.


The air is crisp, the nights have cooled, and the fields and forest are aflame. We drove north on Canadian Thanksgiving, a last minute plan, and with the help of an iPhone and google maps, found our way to a quaint little island reachable only by ferry. And of course any outing is spectacular to a kid when it involves a ferry ride. In the car, I was reading from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun's book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, and found my way to an appendix at the back of the book entitled, "Seasons, Stages and Ages of Transformation." Here, I found some answers to questions I've been asking the last many months.

Months of spiritual barrenness. Months of mechanical spiritual disciplines. Months of questions like, "Why do I feel so exhausted?" "Why do my capacities feel so limited?" "Why isn't it that I don't want to do more for God?"

As I'm inclined to do, I looked to lay blame. I dumped a muddy load at Ryan's feet. If he were only more helpful, more romantic, more attuned to my needs, that I wouldn't feel so dead inside.

And I tossed myself a few savoury blame bones. If only I weren't more disciplined, less materialistic, cared less about what people thought of me, were just simply more committed to Christ, then I wouldn't find myself in this desert.

And then, epiphany.

Winter. My soul was wintering.

Adele describes this spiritual season as a time, "when the well runs dry and we feel we are running on empty."

She lists specific signs of the season:

  • Feel stuck, angry or distant from God
  • Doubts and crises of faith
  • Longing for new directions, and encounter with God
  • Face personal limits and identify inner brokenness
  • Find God in my weakness
  • Begin to realize the link between weakness and fruitfulness, between being and doing
She names the temptations of the season:
  • Depression, fear of being found out, naval gazing
  • Rationalization, denial, blame
  • Pretense
  • Bitterness, isolation
And she commends the disciplines of the season:
  • Journaling
  • Devotional Reading
  • Detachment
  • Solitude
  • Labyrinth
  • Fixed-Hour Prayer
  • Spiritual Direction
  • Healing Prayer
  • Unplugging
  • Discernment

Hope in winter snows? Yes. I suddenly realized that my spiritual listlessness, my "deadness" was not the final word. Spring is coming. And spring is the promise of something new and beautiful growing. I was His, and His plans were good, and there was more to come. More intimacy with Him. More passion for His purposes. More joy. More patience. A pulse for the dead, a blossom for the barren.

What to do when your soul is wintering? Pay attention. God is growing something. He's at work, but in winter, that growth is imperceptible. Hang on.

I've decided hope might be one of the fiercest of the virtues.

So I'll stay fiercely hopeful this winter, watchful for Him.

I'm finding my pulse.