When I was young, I wanted to be able to spring instantly into being good at the things I knew I had some talent. But I didn’t want to do the painful learning process, the trial and error required.
It was a classic symptom of what Life Model Works calls “Trauma A”. I did not have enough secure attachment to give me the anchor of intimacy, the safety of unshakeable trust, and the courage to fail. I was failure phobic. As I got older, my fear took its toll.
Externally it looked like I was doing all right, but my anxiety level was so high that it sapped my strength and held me back. I was achieving but not by any means thriving.
How I Learned About the Knothole
I think I’ve been in God’s grad school of growth for a long time, and I’m very grateful. He enrolled me in his school before I would even give him the time of day, so I know his radical grace to one so dangerously unattached. Many bumps and bruises have gone before as God, my perfectly competent Father, has crafted whatever level of maturity I’ve crawled to by now. But I think the hardest part of the growth journey was that I didn’t understand the knothole.
Through the years of walking with God, and progressively being able to give him more and more permission to work me over, I began to see a pattern. I would have periods of relative peace and be in harmony with the spiritual community and context within which I was operating. His radical grace would be allowing me to feel I was in the right place at the right time and even to be useful, right up to my current level of maturity. But at each point, I would think I had arrived at IT, that imaginary place where the hard part is over and it’s easy from here.
When I was a therapist, folks would come in saying, “I just want to deal with this thing about my past and get it over with so I can get on with serving the Lord.” Believing in IT. Believing that growth and healing is a once and done, an arrival.
Probably most of us would say that we know it’s a process, but we never expect the Knothole. When we find ourselves smack up against a solid wall of unwanted change, challenged values, fears and doubts we thought we’d dealt with. And there’s only a small opening the size of a knothole to get to the other side.
Hitting the Wall
When I hit the wall, I feel thrown out of the boat into a stormy sea. I’m unsettled, and overwhelmed, I blame myself and dive into my insecurities, I’m confused and afraid. The wall seems insurmountable, and all my efforts to defeat it aren’t working. I just want to go back to where I was before but I can’t. Things have changed. I want to move forward with God, but forward is through the wall.
I used to think that this couldn’t be God’s doing. In fact it never occurred to me that it might be. I just fought it believing it was my job alone. My job to do the impossible: to go through the knothole.
I’ve been at the wall and through the knothole many times now. The big ones seem to come about every decade. I’m grateful for many decades of being parented and counseled by the Lord, of learning to live the Immanuel Life, relaxing a little more into the process no matter how scary or painful.
God Pulls Us Through
Learning the concept of capacity has helped a great deal. God, my Creator, Father, and Counselor perfectly understands my capacity for joy and suffering at each stage of my life and ministry. I’ve seen that he carefully, creatively builds the capacity needed to respond to the next opportunity with its inevitable challenges. Often, I’m up against that wall staring at that knothole because I’ve fervently prayed and believed for the fulfillment of a ministry vision. I’ve wanted it, but I haven’t anticipated the journey, the wall and the knothole, the preparation required.
Only God can pull us through. Only he knows where he’s taking us. Only God knows what issues, habits, concepts, weaknesses need to be refined and what strengths need to be built for us to move to the next level without hurting ourselves or others. Too often we push into or are pushed into roles, responsibilities, and challenges that we haven’t been prepared for by God.
I still don’t like the wall. It hurts to be pulled through a knothole, but now I get the process. I recognize it and embrace it to the best of my ability as I’m treading water in a stormy sea, as I’m confused and frustrated by the wall blocking my progress.
I’ve been through it before. I’ve seen the loving, gracious work of God in those times. I’ve seen how I could never have stepped into the next opportunities and challenges if I hadn’t gone through the refining, capacity building, healing process of the knothole.