“Cultivating Pathways of Shalom”. If there’s a theme God’s been working on in my life the past few years, this is it. This phrase first came to me when I redesigned our front yard with neighbors in mind. But as I’ve sat with this phrase it’s really blossomed in meaning for me.
Focusing originally outside myself, I was asking, “What does it mean to create new avenues for God’s shalom to flourish in the home, in the neighborhood, in various encounters and relationships along the way”. When I looked at my yard I realized there were all sorts of barriers to community: pathways locked behind fences, shrubbery blocking access to my yard, and generally a design that made clear what was “mine” and where you could stand.
So what does it mean to create new pathways for God’s shalom? It’s a good question and it’s been a fun and enlightening journey. Meandering this path, however, God began to reveal to me how many paths within myself are not really pathways of shalom. I needed to look inward. I needed to bring my attitudes, my assumptions, my “righteous indignation” before the Lord and listen to that still small voice of God.
God was beginning to reveal those places in my heart and mind which, quite contrary to what I voiced, were obstacles to the flowing of God’s shalom through me. Cultivating pathways of shalom requires internal change. The good news is that we don’t have to figure out all our internal issues before we embark on the external journey.
What are some typical internal barriers to shalom?
Fear: In many ways fear is the root of just about all the other obstacles we face. Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear of persecution and danger. Fear arising out of past traumatic events. The list goes on and is often crippling. Shalom is the opposite of these fears. In fact, God’s shalom is the antidote to them! One of the key aspects of God’s shalom is flourishing. Fear robs us of our ability to flourish and negatively impacts our ability to work for the flourishing of others.
Take time to honestly sit in God’s presence and ask, “What am I afraid of?” Invite the Holy Spirit to embrace you. Sense God’s love and protection. Imagine the Holy Spirit as God’s protection before and behind, above and below, to your right and to your left, and deep within. Whenever you sense fear beginning to take hold, bring this image of God’s surrounding presence to mind.
Unforgiveness: This bitter root often grows up right in the middle of the pathways we travel, tripping us up again and again. Unforgiveness can be a tough one for some of us. It can be difficult because we know exactly where unforgiveness is lodged in our lives, and we’re still so angry that we do not want to let it go. But it can also be difficult because we see ourselves as forgiving and accepting but at the same time have buried some past hurt deep inside where it festers, only to erupt at very surprising and unexpected times.
Take time to sit with God and ask, “Where is there unforgiveness in my heart?” Invite the Holy Spirit to revisit with you those times of broken trust, hate-filled words, and disagreements and to bring healing. As you pray, imagine Christ standing between you and the one(s) you have not forgiven, inviting you to join hands with them and to begin to walk together down a new road paved with shalom.
Prejudice, racism, and other forms of us vs. them thinking: I like to think of myself as a pretty open and accepting person. But when I really think about my actions and reactions I have to admit that I struggle in certain areas. We don’t need to beat ourselves up about this. What we need to do is to be honest with ourselves and with others and ask God and those around us for help to change.
Here’s the challenging point for most of us. I think the majority of us are really accepting in some areas. This can make us feel proud, or at least self-satisfied, in our openness. Perhaps I’m very accepting of different races and cultures and, since that’s such a hot topic, I feel pretty good about myself. But then maybe when a woman gets up to teach I stop listening, thinking her ideas have less merit than a man’s. I may even not realize I’m doing it! I doubt there’s a person alive that doesn’t have some area of prejudice lurking within their thinking and actions. God would like to bring shalom into these areas and heal us.
We all need to sit before God and listen, asking, “Lord, reveal to me the areas in my life that betray attitudes that separate me from those around me. Show me how shalom remains not fully formed because I have counted others as somehow less deserving, less able, less capable.” Invite the Holy Spirit to tear down the dividing walls within your heart and mind and to nurture love that transcends those things that separate you from others.
Self-doubt and self-hate: Jesus commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. I’ve often been somewhat puzzled by that, since there are times in my life I’ve not loved myself very much. If I loved others the same as I feel about myself that would not be good at all! Self-doubt and self-hate trip us up along the shalom way because we bring into relationships an unhealthy perspective of God’s vision of us.
If my attitude is that God can love you but certainly not me, then my natural expression of that is to not fully enter into healthy relationship with you. I hold back a part of me, that part that I see as broken and unlovable. God’s vision of shalom is that of reconciling all things together in Christ. God’s shalom is for flourishing, healing, and a deep sense of community and belonging that we can have together in Jesus. When I am unable to love myself I exclude myself, and I’m actually refusing to join with the body of Christ. This can have a huge impact, hindering the work of God’s shalom in my family and community.
Take time to sit with God and listen. Ask God to reveal those areas of brokenness and doubt that make you feel unworthy or unacceptable. Invite the Holy Spirit to touch each of these places and bring healing and wholeness.
The Radical shalom of God is intentional. We see this play out throughout God’s story as we read scripture. God has a plan and unfolds that plan with deliberate precision. Then God calls us to walk into that shalom, to integrate it into our lives and to bring it with us into the world. It is now up to us to be intentional about this mission. Shalom is both an inward and an outward journey. Sometimes we travel these pathways of shalom internally, sometime externally, and sometimes both internally and externally at the same time. What does this look like for you? What does this look like for your community? These are questions that lead us to intentionality, to well thought out and deliberate steps to cultivate God’s shalom both within and without.
Next Thursday I’ll explore the external journey of cultivating pathways of shalom. I hope you’ll join me!
This post is part of our October Living Into the Shalom of God series.