Where I grew up in west Texas, spring time has certain hallmarks that come with it: windy days with biting cold, bluebonnets covering the hill country, and huge thunderheads that would periodically bring ranks of lightning marching across the sky and subsequent flash-floods rushing through the creeks and gullies.
In Cañon City, where I live now, it has been raining for the last two days. Nothing like where I grew up – this storm has been slow, sleepy, dreary. At times it has seemed like it would stop, only to continue again a few minutes or an hour later. It is the first time it has rained here in several months, and you can almost hear the ground soaking it up like a sponge. In a couple days this winter desert will be bursting green.
This spring has been a hard one for our staff team at the Abbey: there have been relational conflicts, issues with finances, tragedies, and uncertainties about the future. The result has been that most of us have focused on work as a distraction – we’ve allowed the busyness of what needed to be done to numb the questions we had or the pain we felt. The spring itself is a funny time for an academic program – graduation seems so far away, and it seems like we’ve been going for so, so long.
I’ve had the ability to gain some outside perspective recently that has allowed me to see our team trending this way, and hoped that renewing our vision would help us snap out of our emotional tiredness. I was able to look back through a survey that we had sent out to our alumni and find some feedback from students six months after they had graduated . We always say we are about deep life change for our students, but sometimes it is hard to keep that vision in mind when the day-to-day seems draining, needy, and immediate.
But as I began to look through the survey results, I found the following as an answer to what impacted a student most while they were a part of the program:
“I would say one of the things that has impacted me the most from my time at the Abbey is the skill (or mindset) of finding joy in the little things. At the Abbey even the more menial tasks became joyful. Going to Walmart to buy groceries became a fun adventure whereas before it was a common requirement… The Abbey taught me the values of hard work and finding joy in the completion of a job well done. The fellowship and the amazing friends are another thing that really made my year at the Abbey so much more amazing…it was amazing to me to find such a great group of students and staff that came beside me to cast vision, create friendships, and challenge me to grow in Christ.”
As I read this, I realized it for what it was: fuel. As a mentor of mine during my teen years used to call it, “heart medicine.”
The powerful point to me about this testament to the program is the fact that it was written six months after graduation. In a small way, it shows that the late nights we stay up to be with students, the seemingly endless stream of logistics we coordinate for events, and the long conversations about principles for living rather than black-and-white-rules paid off. They leave an impression; they make a difference.
In the middle of a drought it can be hard to be optimistic enough to set a plow to the earth and plant seeds. We want things now. We want rain now, we want growth to happen on our timeframe, in ways that we approve so as not to be too uncomfortable.
But, that isn’t how God operates. He brings the rain in his own time, in his own way, in the places he wants. And often times, when we want a spectacle, what is better is slow, quiet, and steady.
In west Texas, huge storms come through, but the crops are irrigated, for the most part, by underground wells because the rain comes and, just as fast, tends to be gone. Violent storms cause wind damage, wash away topsoil, and cause flooding.
In Cañon City, they irrigate from a river. Differing levels though the seasons of the year, but always constant. Fast in some places and slow in others, but always there.
At the Abbey, we pray that our growth for our students will be like a river or like a slow, sleepy storm. Growth that comes not in a flash, but slow – giving chance for seeds to take root and grow deep.
Please pray for us as we begin to eye the end of the year at the Abbey. Pray for the energy, focus, and provision of our staff, who give so much to serve students. Pray for joy, excitement, and vision for the future in our students. And pray that we would all be able to see glimpses of slow, deep growth.