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A Year of Beholding: noticing the thin places

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When God first gave me the word ‘behold’ as my focus for 2021, I didn’t know what I was going to find. 

All I knew was that He was calling me to behold Him in every area of my life; in the everyday mundane, in the people I interact with, and in the dreams and goals I have tucked away in my heart. He was inviting me to take Him with me throughout each day, including Him in every moment, not just in the early morning hours of my quiet time. 

He was inviting me to notice how He moves and speaks in my life and to intentionally pay attention to His ever-present presence with me. 

Before God gave me the word behold, I was walking out of a very dry season in my faith. I felt lonely, a little bit lost in what my next steps were in my writing, and shallow in my relationship with God. 

My quiet time had grown stagnant, the same routine growing stale and boring. I had been wrestling with these feelings and trying to name them in the presence of God one early December morning in 2020 when I came across David’s words in Psalm 63:1-5,

“You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name, I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips, my mouth will praise you.” (NIV)

As I read David’s plea for more of God, I felt something in me cry out, too. It was then that I realized David’s plea was my own. I was dry and thirsting for more. I was so tired of the shallowness of my faith, the surface level at which I was operating in all areas of my life. 

I had put God in a box and in doing so, had stunted my own growth. And I wanted to go deeper, just as I believe David did. He was crying out for the presence of God and it wasn’t until David noticed God’s presence and beheld His power and glory that he became fully satisfied. 

It was in David’s paying attention to the workings and movings of God, in his beholding, that he found wholeness in Christ. 

And I believe that when we pay attention and behold all the ways in which God moves in our own lives, we are made whole, too. 

Thin Places

So 2021 was a journey of beholding God’s presence and now that 2022 is here, I know that ‘behold’ wasn’t just a word to focus on or an invitation from God to notice Him for a year. Beholding God has become a way of life for me, and I pray it always remains that way. 

Another way of describing beholding or carrying out the act of beholding is noticing the thin places within your life. I heard this term last year from Cindy Helton, founder of The Daily Still Podcast. 

She introduced the term ‘thin place’ to me and explained that it’s a Celtic Christian term that refers to times and places in your life where the space between heaven and earth grows thin and the presence of God is evident.

But, of course, in order to see the thin places, you have to be looking for them. So I decided to keep in a journal a list of all the thin places I noticed throughout 2021 as a way to record and be able to look back on my own beholding. 

The list is long, and I found that the more intentional I became, the longer the list became. But I want to share with you today 7 of my thin places from 2021:

  1. Saying goodbye to 1103 East Clark Street as we drove away for the last time.
  2. Walking through our new home in Greenwood for the first time.
  3. Meeting with my spiritual director, Deb, for the very first time and noticing the words “be still & know” written on her office walls.
  4. Watching my little brother marry the love of his life and gaining a new sister.
  5. Every early morning I spent in the presence of God; whether it be Bible open, pen to journal, or simply sitting in silence with the Sacred.
  6. Writing. I believe it’s what I was created to do and every time I sat down to write, I offered up worship.
  7. Singing Amazing Grace the Sunday after Christmas and tears welling up in my eyes at the thought of God’s unmerited favor and acceptance of me.

A thin place can be anything or any moment because if my beholding journey has taught me anything, it’s that God really is within all things and all moments. A thin place doesn’t have to be this grand moment where the sky parts and an angel comes forth from the clouds! 

Although that would be totally cool, most of us don’t have experiences like that. God tucks Himself into every moment of our days. In the people we talk to; in the conversations we have with strangers in parking lots or down random grocery store aisles. 

He tucks Himself into the moments when you’re driving home from work after a really ordinary day. He’s there when you’re washing dishes, when you’re tucking the kids into bed at night, and even when you’re pouring that glass of wine after the kids are tucked in as you settle into the couch to watch your favorite show. 

There is no moment in any one of your days that God is exempt from and He’s simply waiting for you to notice Him. Not in a pushy, nosy sort of way. But in a slow, quiet uncovering kind of way. 

Because He knows that when you do start to pay attention to His presence with you, you’ll finally be able to receive the gifts He’s wanting to give you. Gifts like peace, joy, security, identity, and even sorrow. And contrary to popular belief, sorrow is a gift, for without sorrow we wouldn’t be able to recognize or receive true, lasting joy. 

When I think of sorrow being a gift, I think of a dear friend of mine who shared with me that a thin place for her in 2021 was sitting beside her dad as he lay in a hospital bed, fighting for his life. She shared with me that the presence of God was so tangible and that she finally understands what it means to be in the presence of God. 

Her thin place was a place of trial and sorrow, but it was also a place where she met and experienced God fully. 

When you begin to behold God throughout each day, something shifts within you. When God first gave me the word ‘behold’ I anticipated that it would lead to a richer, more intimate relationship with Him. 

What I didn’t anticipate was the freedom that came with it. 

What Beholding Has Taught Me

There’s a sort of slowing down that you have to do in order to look for the thin places, and it forces you to be absolutely present to each moment. So instead of striving and working for my worth, or walking into a room feeling insecure or self-conscious, or even looking ahead for whatever came next, I was free to slow down, be present to how I was feeling, to those around me, and God, and just be

I was able to receive others and moments as they came, not as I expected them to be. I learned how to sit with others fully in their grief and discomfort rather than preaching at them or offering them a solution that they really didn’t need. 

I learned how to find joy within each moment, even in the small things. I learned how to live wholeheartedly before God by giving myself permission to not be ok, and therefore was able to give others permission to not be ok. I experienced the unconditional love of Christ and I saw His faithfulness play out in ways that I never really noticed before. 

Now, did I always execute this perfectly? No, never! To be honest, 2021 was a tumultuous year for my husband and I as we struggled to find a new home in a new city. And amidst all of the change and all of the new, other issues in our marriage arose that distracted from this slow way of being and beholding. 

But even in the moments when I became rushed and distracted, God was still present. I realized over the course of this past year that there really is no perfect way to be, you just have to be and trust that because God is in all things, His grace extends to every moment. 

And God’s contract of grace cannot be broken by my imperfections, it can only be enhanced.

Because without my imperfections, without my flaws and mistakes, and all the yuck that I carry, grace would be meaningless. Grace thrives in the places of our hearts that we would rather no one see, because it’s the unseen places that Jesus laid down His life for, and everything else in between. 

Beholding As a Way of Life

So, as 2022 gently unfolds, I will continue on in my journey of beholding.

I will keep looking for the thin places, no matter how messy or imperfect they may be. Because even in the hard mess of it all, God is present and where God is present, I want to fully be. 

I silently tuck the words of Jeremiah 29:12-14 into my heart on my beholding journey, “In those days when you pray, I will listen. If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. I will be found by you,” says the Lord. “I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. I will gather you out of the nations where I sent you and will bring you home again to your own land.”

May beholding become a way of life for you, too, my friend. 

May the eyes of your soul seek out the thin places of God within your life. 

And may you remember that grace carries you, always