Jan Johnson
Jan Johnson

WisBits Archive

July 2010

Pushing the River

In what situations do you try too hard to make something work?

Several years ago, I worked at not trying too hard when I was speaking on a platform - I stopped trying to be clever or funny or deep.  I stopped trying to keep people awake.  I was inspired by the example of Jesus, which is one of sheer genuineness and being present to people.  I didn’t have to “sell” Jesus.  In fact, it worked better if I stayed “hidden with Christ in God.”  But there’s still one venue where I try too hard. I can feel it in the days afterward. It’s because I particularly love this group, and I love the person who heads it up.  I want to do well for that person. Yet I notice this person often doesn’t look at me when I’m presenting. Am I distracting because I’m trying too hard?

About a month before that event, I read this quote by Franciscan Richard Rohr:

    Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river.  It is flowing. We are in it.

He continues in his book Everything Belongs to talk about how the river is the Spirit. So I meditated on these words Jesus cried out:  “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive;  (John 7:37-39).

I sensed Jesus inviting me:  If you are thirsty, Jan, come to me.  If you trust me, drink.  Don’t push the river - let rivers of living water (my Spirit!) flow out of you. I will do this. Don’t try too hard. Relax in me.

So for several weeks before that venue where I still try too hard, I kept meditating on this idea and when the day came, I was able to rest in God. In worldly terms, the first presentation and exercise were a “hit”;  the second was not.  They didn’t engage as they did in the first one and they told me afterward they felt as if they disappointed me.  But I gently and naturally replied that none of this was about me;  the Spirit would work in ways none of us understood.  We needed to trust that. And, the person in charge didn’t look away this time while I was teaching. I left sensing that God had ministered to people and that I had learned a great deal.

As I’ve pondered this idea of pushing the river, I’ve thought about other situations in which I’m tempted to go “over the top”:  trying to win over a new colleague; interrupting instead of listening when I get excited;  trying to make sure my extended family loves and welcomes our new kids-in-law.  I did this a lot as a parent when my kids were young. I tried to do all the right things when my children really just needed my genuine presence and delight in them. When I was first married, I tried too hard to be a good wife, reading a lot of marriage books until it dawned on me that what I needed to do was say to God, “What would it look like to love my husband today?” and then do it.

Each case has become another session of “soul school” in which I learn to trust the Spirit to work - to float in the river/Spirit, instead of trying to push the river. May you find great joy and peace today floating in the Spirit of God.

Grace and peace,
Jan Johnson




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