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by Heidi S. De Jonge
Wildfires are consuming homes and lives in northern California. Tens of thousands of acres have been flattened by the flames. Several of these fires started and grew so suddenly that people had no time to think or pack before fleeing for their lives. Lord, have mercy.
People experience anxiety in the face of threats. Sometimes these threats are physical: a flying fist, an out-of- control car, a wall of fire. Sometimes these threats are mental or emotional or spiritual—threatening our psyches, our hearts. Some threats are real. Others are imagined. In the face of threats of all kinds, our muscles tighten, our mouths go dry, our heartbeats speed
up. We freeze. Or we fight. Or we flee. And when the threats are real, these can be the very God-given reactions that save us.
Several years ago, I felt threatened. Looking back, I am not sure that I was being threatened, but that is how I felt then. The image that I used to describe my experience of the threat was the image of a wall of fire – not unlike the wall of fire that chased Katniss Everdeen in the Hunger Games’ arena. The fire crackled and laughed and moved unpredictably with the wind. My muscles tightened, my heart raced, and everything in me wanted to run.
My mom, who has been spiritually directing me for 40 years, reminded me of Isaiah 43:2. “When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” I heard in this text an invitation to walk. Do not run, Heidi. Walk. Will the wall of fire reach you? Perhaps. Just keep walking. Let the flames come around you. They cannot destroy you. Keep walking away with slow and steady purpose. Keep walking in the direction that God has called you to go.
And so, I walked away. The flames were hot and bright, but I was not consumed.
Later, I looked back on the ashes of that experience with my spiritual director, Sister Lucy. I told her about the fire and the feeling, the running and the walking, the surviving and eventual thriving.
I don’t remember exactly how the next part of our conversation went—if she told me or asked me or if the Spirit opened my own heart to discover that there could have been another way to work with that fire. What if, instead of running away or walking away, what if I had turned to face the fire? What if I had walked toward the fire?
I did not experience this direction as a judgment upon the way that I left the previous situation, but rather as a possibility to consider when facing future fires.
There are fires of all kinds. Knowing how to react or to respond takes discernment. In the presence of some fires, some of you must flee. In the presence of those same fires, some of you must fight (some of you are fire fighters, after all).
But there are other kinds of fires. Isaiah 43 fires. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fires. Joan of Arc fires. Fires that must be walked toward. And through. May the Holy Spirit guide you in all your steps.
If you say go, we will go
If you say wait, we will wait
If You call us to the fire
You will not withdraw Your hand
We’ll gaze into the flames and look for You.
If You Say Go, Rita Springer
Heidi S. De Jonge is the pastor of Westside Fellowship Christian Reformed Church in Kingston, Ontario. She has been in ministry for 12 years. Her husband, Tim, is a CRC chaplain, serving in long term care, and together they parent three grade school daughters. Heidi enjoys cake decorating, cycling, and digital scrapbooking.
Image: Kent Porter, AP