It came to mind to put together a spiritual discipline involving a lot of self-searching and study of the Word of God. Not an ordinary Bible study method, but something combining Bible study, hobbies, and prayer – preferably all done in solitude. There was a primary goal I had in mind for this, and a secondary one that is almost as important.
Goal #1: Intimate communion with God. To some of us this already comes naturally, but most of us are too distracted to give God attention and get close to Him. For us, we need reminders, little things to get us back to His heart. This journey is just one possible way of doing that.
Goal #2: Under certain circumstances, the first time doing this may be usable as a rite of passage for Christian men. This is something quite lost in the western world. I have heard people address that it is an issue, but I have not heard a lot of answers on how to execute it. I hoped this discipline would be of some assistance, and for my own experience I can say that it has been. I hope it can help others too.
I’m not aware of anybody doing something like this before, so treat this as experimental. I’ve been taking notes of my own experiences, and as I hear from people trying this out for themselves I’ll take note of their input as well. In the long run I hope to get a clearer picture of what people find beneficial and not so beneficial. And since we are all made different it is expected that the journeys of each individual will look different. I’m an analyzer, so my journey involved a lot of study. Some people are more feelers, they just need to experience something. I hope they do. I’ve already used this exercise once as a rite of passage for myself, and will be doing smaller, subsequent journeys as I feel the need.
The general version requires only two things: solitude, and your favourite things. I’ll explain why.
Jesus often went to places of solitude to be with God and receive the strength He needed. The idea here is intimacy, finding alone time with God. For some people, and the kind of lives they lead, solitude is a relative word, existing only in increments. Especially if you’re a single parent, complete isolation may not be an option for you. Ask yourself in what circumstances, places, times of day you feel the presence of God most clearly, and make that your “alone” time.
List your favourite things
You don’t necessarily have to do those things, but it would certainly help if you did. The purpose is to get to know you. For you to get to know yourself. What makes you come alive?
For some of you, your favourite activities may not be possible without other people around. That’s okay. You may be a more social personality. Just keep the lines of communication open between yourself and God while doing these activities. Even if you can’t get time alone with God, at least take the time with God.
There are two sides to this: People who know you, and material to study during your times of solitude.
The mentors are mostly for when using the journey as a rite of passage, since an important part of that journey is identification – finding out who you are and receiving a name. Experienced Christians who have been walking with both God and you will be in the best position to help you find the answer to that. But mentors are not necessary for subsequent journeys, since a core element of these journeys is solitude – time between just you and God.
On the mount of transfiguration, Jesus had two people speak to him – Moses and Elijah. They spoke to him of what He must do, and afterward (and during that time) Jesus’s true nature was revealed to those around him. He was probably already aware of His own nature, though it’s nice to think that He too, learned something in the process.
Now, on this journey you are not likely to be met by Moses or Elijah. That is what Jesus needed, not you. God has provided you with others, according to your unique needs.
When doing this journey as a rite of passage, a handful of weathered Christians will be helpful as people who know you personally and have authority to speak into your life and tell you about who you are – assuming you can find some who know you well enough, and who are known to hear from The Spirit. If not, ask God about alternatives. Their words to you should be encouraging, since the Spirit is not condemning. If your mentors are putting you down then ask God where you may be able to find others.
Your time of study should include work that has spoken deeply to you before, that speak to your heart in deeper places than anything else. Books, Films, Books of the Bible, Seasons or episodes of a Television Series, Video Games, Music. I won’t put a limit on how long your journey should take – that’s between you and God. A single movie, or an entire trilogy – just go with what feels right. I would also recommend choosing two books of the Bible that have spoken to you before, and reread them. One after the other, or alternating until you finish both.
Ask yourself, what speaks to you? What dialogue makes you ponder? What moments catch your throat. Is God using these things to try and say something to you? Are you not even sure why some things get you emotional but they do anyway? Ask God what He wants to say to you.
The usefulness of two speakers is getting two different angles on your heart. It makes it easier to point out themes, common denominators. Can you identify what you love about them? Go over the common themes in the speakers you’ve chosen, compare to your list of favourite things. Is a theme starting to emerge?
Speak to your mentors about what you’re learning and get feedback. Remember, if they are not encouraging, then they are not speaking on God’s behalf.
How is God expressing Himself through you?
Identification is an important part of initiation. But how one receives their name may change from person to person. Some people hear directly from God, others hear through fellow Christians, and some through signs and themes.
God expresses Himself through His people. You can ask some people (you trust) what message God speaks to them through you. What do they hear from God whenever you are around them? You can ask God directly the name He has for you, what you mean to Him. The answer may present itself in unexpected ways.
Recognising the significance of the messages.
A word of caution: it will likely hurt. On Day 2 I was taken right into the heart of one of my deepest pains, and I knew I had to deal with it before moving on. This kind of a journey will not just spotlight God’s blessings on you, but will also expose some deep, personal wounds. The Enemy has a habit of attacking us in our areas of strength, areas God wants to bless, in order to prevent us from living in our strengths and blessings, or even mistrusting them. When God brings up an old wound, ask Him what He wants to do with it.
Some thoughts I had to deal with regarding feelings of loss: God is Healer and Provider. Whatever wound He brings up is something He can heal. Whatever need He brings up is something He can provide.
Why are we focusing so much on ourselves?
A common part of a rite of passage is to travel to a specific location that is regarded as being particularly significant, holy, the dwelling place of the one you worship. Back in the day, God’s dwelling place was the temple in Jerusalem. Then Christ died and the curtain was torn. The temple was no longer appropriate and eventually was completely destroyed. But the Spirit of God has a new dwelling place – the Christian heart. If we want to go on a journey, we don’t have a geographical location to get to, we have something more intimate – our hearts. That is where God has chosen to dwell in this world, and we have to go there with Him in order to be where He is.
Jesus stands at the door and knocks. He wants to go deeper into your heart, to your core, but He will not force His way there unless you accept His invitation to go there together.
The primary goal here is still to get close to God – to get intimate with Him. As I said before, to some of us this already comes naturally, but some of us need help finding the bridges between our heart and God’s.
The first time doing this, it is useful as a rite of passage as well, and I would recommend Christian men trying this at least once.
Is it necessary to do this kind of thing more than once? Is it necessary to do it often? Well, it depends, how easily can you get into that place of intimacy with God? Can you jump right to it, or does God need to find ways to allure you to Himself? That’s really what this whole journey is about. All those things written on your heart, they were hand-written by God. All those books and stories that speak to you on a personal level, God is using them to woo you to Himself.
My own examples
My list of “works that speak to me” pretty much also covered my list of favourite things, so I got off easy in that sense. Although I didn’t just go and watch the movies I most enjoy watching, or the games I most enjoy playing, but went for the ones that I knew had spoken deeply to my heart before.
My choice of Christian speakers were John Eldredge and Andy Stanley, so I reread Wild at Heart and rewatched the Breakaway DVD series.
My two choices of Bible books were Ezekiel and Job.
I enjoy movies, so I chose The Two Towers and Labyrinth as the two I should watch, and watched a few others as well.
I only played one video game, Skyrim, but I selected two main quests to complete.
I could have only chosen a couple episodes of a TV series, but I decided to go back and watch the entire 6th season of Dragon Ball Z.
The top most recurring themes for myself were…
Pain of losing, not finding, or not being able to be with my companion.
Desire for restoration.
Desire to protect loved ones, even at great cost.
Unveiling, Revelation, Transformation.
To go on a journey, and feeling the weariness of the journey.
To return home, find a home, or be brought to a place of rest, and to have a time of rest.
I can speak in greater detail as to some of the revelations that came to me as a result of my own journey, but I think that’s for another blog post. I offer the above example as how I chose to take this journey, according to my own personality, but this process is really about you, and how God has chosen to express Himself to the world through the person that you are.
WOW Ben, This is intelligent and very deep. This is exactly what I needed to read today but I’m going to have to read it several times I think to totally grasp it all. Thank you for this blog Ben.
Thank you, Larry. I hope you find it helpful. 🙂
My goodness, that was an amazing post, Ben. I’m going to follow your guidelines to see where God will speak to me and lead me closer to Him. I’m not sure we women have a ‘right of passage’ exactly, but I see how God can speak to everyone this way. I think our modern society is sadly lacking in mentorship and leaders, and has produced generations of disconnected people. We’re disconnected from God, faith and each other at the core of our being, in our hearts. I can see this evolving into something much more than just a blog. Thank you.
I know rites of passage are different for women, but that process is still a mystery to me, and I don’t know how to speak into it. A journey like this can still help with identification though, which I believe is a universal need.