I love rivers. They cut through the earth like mysterious mazes with no rhyme or reason. Buried deep in the mountains and forests, raging and full. Running along the edges of small communities, stream-like, but constant and alive. Dry beds in the heart of summer lying dormant until the winter snow thaws and swollen spring rivers give birth to the land’s beauty once more.
God meets me at rivers and shows me something about myself and something about His love that I do not seem to hear, learn, or know any other way. It is here that I am most able to fully embrace the love of God. One of my favorite artists, Nicole Nordeman, writes metaphorically about God as a river: “Rolling River God, little stones are smooth. But only once the water passes through.”
I learned to play the piano because of this song lyric. I was a senior in high school and the song “River God” had captured my soul. For months I would come home from school, sit behind the ivory keys, and torture my entire family as I searched for each and every note. No small task for a girl who didn’t know the difference between the black keys and the white keys, a girl who flunked out of piano by age four. But day after day I sat there. Searching. Hunting down notes, listening to the song on repeat, listening to a language I did not know anyone else spoke. I was sure the song had been written just for me — the girl who’d meet God at rivers since she was big enough to sit by a stream and cry over its beauty and ache over its movement. Like a prayer my lips, this lyric has guided me for fifteen years now.
At the time I had no idea who Nicole Nordeman was, but I knew she understood a language that few others seem to speak. She knew the power of a river and a God who made rough things smooth. I imagined she and I could hike down to a riverbed and sit on giant boulders, feet dangling into the icy cold current, and wait while the water made its way down and around us. At the end of the day we would be a little more holy.
The place where you intersect with Christ’s love for you, that place where you meet God time and time again — that is your river. At the river, I am unashamed to be me. I am free, known, accepted, and loved. Passed over by a current strong, made smooth by the weathering of water that never runs dry, marked by the beauty of becoming something wholly unknown. Someone Holy known. It is here, at the river, that I am most aware of my rough edges. And it is here, at the river, that I am most free. I am not alone. So many rough edges gather on the muddy banks to be made whole. We are many. Stumbling beside one another as we make our way to Jesus.
We take delight in the water washing over us and we do not live in shame of our rough edges and deep calluses if not for them, would we ever make our way down to the river to wait for holy water to wash over us? So we wait for the water to pass through. We are a people of waiting. Waiting for new life. Waiting for water. Waiting to thirst no more. And it is in the waiting that the persistent love of Christ finds us and welcomes us to be washed over, again and again, by His love.
Theologian Richard Foster says, “Under the overarching love of God we receive God’s acceptance of us so we can accept ourselves and others; we welcome God’s forgiveness of us so we can forgive ourselves and others; we embrace God’s care for us so we can care for ourselves and others…. Nothing can touch us more profoundly than the experience of God’s loving heart.”
Unmerited grace and mercy are most manifest when we find ourselves in the place where we finally understand we need grace and mercy. When I have nothing left to offer anyone and I am waiting for new life, waiting for water, waiting to thirst no more, the persistent love of Christ welcomes me to be washed over, again and again, by His love. If I learned nothing else in my season of waiting but to gather at the river and bask in the love of Christ, it was worth it.
In the midst of my perpetual not knowing what comes next, I am trying to do what my friend Shauna Niequist is learning to do. “I want to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude, of groundedness, of enough, even while I’m longing for something more. The longing and the gratitude, both. I’m practicing believing that God knows more than I know, that he sees what I can’t, that he’s weaving a future I can’t even imagine from where I sit this morning.”
When I embrace God’s love for me, I remember that I have enough. I am enough. There will be enough. That type of love makes the waiting possible and enables me to live in the tension of longing and gratitude. I am learning that when I have enough and I am grateful, even in my waiting, it’s hard to feel sorry for myself. The reckless raging fury that I call the love of God washes over me, under me, around me. In my waiting — Christ be all around me.
Hear Jenny’s story this Thursday on LIFE TODAY. Excerpted from The Road to Becoming by Jenny Simmons. Copyright ©2015 by Jenny Simmons. Published by Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group. Used by permission.