The summer after my senior year of high school, I found myself on a trip to Europe with a bunch of high school students. Our tour bus brought us to Pisa, Italy to join hordes of tourists gawking at the famed leaning tower. To my surprise, the tower was considered sturdy enough at the time for us to climb the spiral staircase that traced the inside wall of the tilting cylinder.
It was an ascent like no other. Each step felt strange. As I climbed the stairs, the tilt of the tower produced a disorienting effect. Even though I knew I was ascending to the top of the tower, at times, I felt like I was actually descending. It felt like I was going the wrong way, even though every step I took was one step closer to the top.
In many ways, our own journey as Christ-followers parallels my experience climbing The Leaning Tower of Pisa. When we take our first steps as new Christians, we begin to grow. Old habits fall away. New appetites develop. We find ourselves hungry to read the Bible and connect with God in prayer. We often experience uncanny answers to prayer and learn to recognize the Spirit’s voice.
But over the years, as our relationship with God deepens, the journey often takes an unexpected turn. Things start bubbling up from our souls that we didn’t know were there. We find ourselves descending into parts of ourselves that we would rather avoid—dark, untamed parts of ourselves that were previously unknown. It often feels like we are going the wrong way.
In some ways, this descent upwards is similar to the Apostle Peter’s journey. When Jesus told Peter that he would deny Him three times, Peter refused to believe it and said, “I will never disown you” (Matthew 26:35). By his response, Peter essentially called Jesus a liar. The Son of God invited Peter to descend into parts of himself that he did not want to acknowledge. Peter doubted Jesus more than he doubted himself.
Last year, while interviewing for a church ministry position, my interviewer posed an interesting question to me. She said, “You’ve been serving with Campus Crusade for Christ for over 18 years. If you could go back in time and talk with that 22 year old college graduate just starting out in ministry, what would you tell him?”
“Great question,” I thought to myself. I paused for a moment and said, “I would tell him this: the things that you refuse to see in yourself will have great power over you. You must pursue knowledge of yourself as much as you pursue knowledge of God.”
Knowledge of self and knowledge of God: we need both of these to grow. This means that the journey upwards towards Christ-likeness also means a journey downward into those parts of our self that hinder our devotion to the Master; a journey towards an encounter with things that must be acknowledged and faced in order to be defeated.
Can you relate to this experience of disorientation? Have you discovered things about yourself that you didn’t expect at this point in your spiritual journey? I know I have. It feels so counterintutive to trust the leading of the Spirit during these times. But when I do, I find that he’s taking me to a place in my soul where he’s waiting to meet me. A place of mercy, grace, and freedom from the things still lurking in my heart that I don’t want to admit are there.