Several years ago my wife and I were hiking an ever-narrowing canyon in Arizona when we got to a place that, although I had never been there before, was quite familiar to me. After being reduced to single file we turned a blind corner and suddenly came to what looked like a dead end. But, if you look again at the picture perhaps you can see a glimmer of light coming through what appeared to be a crack in the wall that blocked us. Examining this carefully I judged that this opening might be passable with a bit of crawling. It was. But passing through this crack we came to an absolute impasse – that is, unless we were willing to slide 12 – 15 feet down a smooth rock face and then take our chances on getting back up. My wife, being more sensible than me, simply counted it a dead end and was ready to turn back. I desperately wanted to push ahead but my fear of not being able to get back up blocked me.
Sound familiar? It certainly is familiar to me – and not just from hiking. It’s a place that I know well from my spiritual journey. And it’s a story I often hear from others as people tell me of being blocked by fears that keep them from going forward and feeling that for one reason or another there is no way they can go back.
The most common fears I hear from those who feel at an impasse on their spiritual journey are fears of judgment, rejection, and exile. I have experienced all of these in spades – not simply the fear but the associated experiences. They tend to be inevitable if you are in a spiritual community that constrains growth to fit some preexisting framework rather than supporting and genuinely welcoming it. Authentic transformation will always be seriously limited in these contexts and you will inevitably be misunderstood and judged by people who fear the implications for them of the journey you are making. The things that are beginning to change in you threaten the small safe places in which they have taken refuge.
Don’t underestimate the costs of the transformational journey. Jesus certainly never did. Although he invited people to follow him, he also actively discouraged followers unless they had counted the costs (e.g. Luke 9: 56-62). But also don’t underestimate the costs of damage to your soul that come from compromising your journey – particularly as a result of fear.
But, let me go back to the canyon story. It took me 2 hikes back to that spot before I finally had the courage to slide down that rock. What enabled me to do so was that I met someone who told me that he had gone past that point many times and that, although toe and hand holds were not visible from the top, they were easy to see from the bottom. The third day I took the plunge, slid down the rock, and immediately saw that there was an easy way back up. But I also discovered that the canyon opened up to a pool of still water that was my reward for taking the risk of moving through the impasse.
Don’t be distracted by your fears. But also don’t accept any minimization of the costs of walking the transformational path. Be led forward by your heart and your deepest longings. They are gifts of Spirit given to keep you dissatisfied with anything less than sliding down that rock in front of you and moving out into the spacious place on the other side of it.