Then immediately behind me I heard the creaking hinges of a door swinging open, and turning around I saw Jesus standing in the doorway of a little wooden ice fishing shack.
“Are you up for some more fishing?” he asked.
As I walked over toward the shack I noticed I was still dressed in sopping wet shorts and t-shirt. The angel song had raised the temperature, and a seasoned Minnesotan could tolerate shorts at 50 degrees — unless they’re wet.
“Come inside, and stand by the fire and dry out your clothes,” Jesus urged.
Over the door was a plaque with the verse:
MY SOUL LONGS FOR YOU. DEEP FROM WITHIN ME MY SPIRIT REACHES OUT TO YOU.
I stepped into the ice house and just like the Father’s cabin, the inside was larger than the outside. The ordinary 6×8 ice house from the outside became a full service arctic spa on the inside with hallways and multiple doors.
I was immediately struck by the mouth-watering aroma of pan fish on a griddle. Jesus was preparing the lunch we had caught, or rather received, just before the winter storm interrupted our pleasant boat ride.
After a most satisfying meal, Jesus brought me down a hallway into a large “fishing room” where I saw probably dozens of holes drilled in the ice, and a someone seated on a bucket by each hole with a fishing line dangling in the water.
“Should we see what’s biting?” Jesus asked, again with a wink.
“Remember, Jeremy, what the ice and water represent. We are not fishing for walleyes or sunnies today. We’re here to see the kinds of things your soul yearns for, the things your heart chases after like hungry fish chasing a minnow.
Gulp. I had never felt this exposed before, as I looked at a room full of God’s servants all peering down into my soul through holes in the ice like eyes through a magnifying glass.
Jesus began to explain what I had suspected. Each hole in the ice was a sacred pathway between my soul and God’s presence. Each fishing line was offering, even enticing, me with a different means of divine grace, blessings, soul-quenching nourishment.
A scripture painted in large red letters on the opposite wall:
THE UNSPIRITUAL SELF CAN’T RECEIVE THE GIFTS OF GOD’S SPIRIT… SPIRIT CAN BE KNOWN ONLY BY SPIRIT — GOD’S SPIRIT AND OUR SPIRITS IN OPEN COMMUNION.
1 CORINTHIANS 2:14-15
“I had a nibble over here,” yelled a scruffy angel at the far corner hole, “but he didn’t linger long and went quickly on to the next thing.”
Jesus shouted back, “Keep trying, Solitude (for Solitude was his name) he’ll be back for more soon. He’s been increasing his appetite for you since getting a taste on his daily walks this past summer. Keep baiting him with memories of warm morning sun on the back of his neck and the peaceful sounds of birds on the Gail Woods Trail.”
Now in the other direction I heard a younger angel shout, “Biting like crazy over here! He can’t get enough of what I’m offering!”
“That’s great, Sabbath, just make sure he’s tugging on your line at least once a week,” Jesus said. “You should have more activity over there on Mondays — he’s trying to reclaim Mondays for feasting longer at your hole starting next week.”
On the other wall of the fishing room was another wall plaque:
DO NOT CHASE AFTER FOOD WHICH PERISHES, BUT FOR FOOD WHICH ENDURES TO ETERNAL LIFE.
Over my shoulder there were two angels shoving each other and fighting for position over a hole. “It’s my hole!” One yelled.
“No, the Father gave me charge over this hole — now get lost!,” returned the other.
“But he keeps chasing after what I’m offering, so I’m not leaving until he stops biting!” the other said with firm resolve.
“Jesus, what is that hole all about, and what are their names?” I asked.
“Oh, those two have been at each others’ throats for years. That’s the Approval brothers — Human Approval and God’s Approval. It’s quite an active rivalry. You see, depending on the day or task at hand, you tend to go back and forth. Sometimes you do things in order to be liked and accepted, but there are other times when you desire nothing in the world but the Father’s praise, another chance to hear the words, ‘Well done — good and faithful servant.’”
“How am I doing lately with that?” I asked.
“It’s touch and go for sure. But you’ve come a long ways over the past five years at MainStreet. You struggled a lot more with this when you first started planting the church. “There were days back in the beginning when your key motivation for not quitting was your fear of failing publicly. The fact that I had called you to this task, and could be trusted for helping you accomplish it, was of secondary importance at times. But you’re doing much better these days!”
Now Jesus led me over to a much quieter area where there was apparently very little activity. Angels were staring off in the distance, bored to tears. Some were dozing off, about to fall backwards off their buckets.
“Keep alert, boys!” Jesus encouraged, patting them on the back as we walked up “You never know when you’ll get a bite! You don’t want to miss it when it finally happens.”
I slowly mustered up the courage to ask, “What are their names?”
“That one over there is Self Discipline,” Jesus said, pointing to a strong, athletic looking angel. “His hole had been very quiet all year until you decided to start working on your diet and exercise habits this past fall. But things have begun to slow down lately, as you are again letting your baser cravings take over again.”
“How about her?” I asked, pointing to a smart, wise looking angel with long blonde hair and red-rimmed glasses.
“Oh, that’s Constructive Criticism. You rarely darken her waters; you’re afraid of what she’s offering. But that’s pretty common. Its truly an acquired taste, I admit.”
“Jesus, why am I so allergic to Constructive Criticism? Like vegetables, I know its really good for me.”
Jesus looked at me with compassion and said, “Perhaps its because we’re afraid that by going after a bite of healthy, loving criticism we might instead find ourselves caught in the unpleasant net of soul-crushing criticism. Like a fish you bite down on the worm only to get pierced by the hook.”
As I pondered Jesus’ vivid imagery, I saw the faces of a past supervisors and senior leaders flash through my mind whose critical words had cut quite deep, leaving my young emerging leadership soul nursing something comparable to a thousand paper emotional paper cuts.
I nodded and said, “So, instead of risking the pain of harsh criticism, I try to avoid all criticism — even the loving advice of caring mentors and friends that would help me grow.”
“Exactly right,” Jesus nodded, and quoted Proverbs 27:6: “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.”
Just at that moment there was commotion across the room. There was the sound of wild splashing, and all the angels leaving their posts momentarily to rush to over to see what was happening.
“Its a big one! I need some help over here!” the angelic angler cried. “Give me some extra hands on the reel!”
Just as reinforcements grabbed hold of the stressed reel in that hole, there was giant splash and panic at the hole directly next to it. Down went the fishing line faster than a torpedo. “Help over here! Another big one here!”
I stood back with Jesus watching the excitement unfold. For a moment I forgot we were still watching the desperate cravings of my soul in these waters. Jesus helped refocus my attention on the lesson at hand.
“Well, now we know you’re still alive and well, Jeremy! The tenacity of these bites and explosive movement under the ice, tells me we’ve located some of your deepest soul-cravings today.”
Holding my breath and walking closer to the action — still feeling hopelessly vulnerable in my nakedness — I asked the names of the guardians of each post.
“My name is Friendship, and I work this area with my close partner Mentor who also goes by the name of Spiritual Father.”
As Friendship introduced himself, another huge splash of icy water came spouting out of the hole soaking everyone within a 10 foot radius.
“And how about you guys?” I asked, turning to the crew working to control the powerful tugging in the very next hole. “What are you called?”
“I am Recreation and I work closely with my two twin sisters Joy and Laughter,” she said. “Wow, in 37 years with you we’ve never seen such a voracious appetite for us.”
Jesus put his hand on my shoulder to talk while the two groups of cold, wet angels sloshed around on the floor, pulling and tugging on the reels, trying to control the strong pulls on the other end of the line.
“Jeremy, you should really be encouraged by all the activity in here,” he said. “Reels spinning, Angel’s pulling and tugging the lines, and waters below the ice teeming with energy and splashing up through the holes —don’t you see? It all points to a living, longing, yearning soul beneath!”
This was encouraging to hear. I was beginning to think all the chaos in that fishing room meant I was in deep spiritual peril, a hopeless case.
“If you want to see a troubled soul,” Jesus continued, “I could show you ice houses where all the holes have been frozen over for years and every angel has long ago abandoned their station. For some lost souls, there just isn’t any divine-human communication or connection at all. No access. Just a cold, deserted shack with nothing in it but darkness and an endless layer of shiny, undisturbed ice growing thicker by the day.”
The bleak, haunting image of a lost soul under a cold empty shack sent shivers up my spine. As I took in my own surroundings again, I was overcome with joy seeing all the activity: Hanging lanterns all aglow, the warm fire at my back, the aroma of fresh pan-fried fish in the air, the sounds of busy angel’s laughing as they go about their divine task, and the best sight of all — a room full of countless holes in the ice, each one an access point for my soul to communion with and receive from God.
“Let’s keep moving, “Jesus said. “You’ve only seen a few of the many holes in here. Over there you’ll see your soul nibbling steadily on Scripture, and you have a healthy appetite for Marital Health and Family Life. Those are some of the places where God’s richest blessings are to be found.”
I was encouraged but skeptical by Jesus’ words about marriage and family. In our current season of life, I feel like I’m falling far short of the father and husband I desire to be. Jesus was reading my thoughts and said,
“Remember Jeremy, we’re not looking at your performance, abilities or effectiveness in these things. This place reveals only what your heart of heart truly desires. And nobody can doubt that you deeply desire to be a godly husband and loving father.”
A tear had welled up in my eye, as Jesus affirmed me in this sensitive area where I know I have so far to grow.
“But what about this crazy mess over here?” I asked — looking again at the continued raucous on the other side, the strong tugging and pulling on Friendship and Spiritual Mentor, Carefree Laughter and Fun and Games.
Jesus was matter-of-fact in his response:
“Look, you’re starving for friendship — some light-hearted buddies outside the church. You are experiencing that deep isolation and loneliness that leaders often face. You’re surrounded by people all the time, but you often feel miles away, on a different planet. You’ve endured this isolation for so long that you don’t even see it or feel it anymore. You’ve let yourself drift away from even some of your closest friends over the past few years.”
The single tear had welled up into a pool of pent up emotions; the levy holding back the potential flood was in danger of bursting.
Jesus continued, “But your loneliness goes even deeper. For not only do you lack friends outside your ministry, you also long for a spiritual mentor or father to walk with you through the challenges of ministry. You’ve managed to make it this far without a true spiritual role model along the way. You need a soul-guide, someone who’s in your corner fighting for you, speaking truth to you. You’re a Timothy who still hasn’t found his Paul. It’s time, Jeremy.”
My heart warmed at the thought of satisfying this deep craving, and as I let my myself relish the thought, my eye caught another verse carved in large letters on the barn wood interior:
ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU. SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND.
“Finally,” Jesus said in a lighter tone, “Do you think you can put more effort into getting a life? How about seeking out leisure activities with family and friends? Get out with Keri and dance, take a class, travel more, see a play, catch a concert, join a league of some kind, go bowling, have a drink, and laugh until you cry.”
I was about to come back with all my list of excuses for why we don’t have time for such things right now, but I instead humbly nodded in agreement. But I did remind Jesus that if I ever take Keri bowling — who loathes every aspect of the experience — the ice over Marital Health’s hole will instantly freeze over!
By this time, I was completely exhausted from watching the various cravings and yearnings, the hungering and thirsting, of my deepest self. All the hidden, often suppressed desires and unspoken wishes, had for these moments been visible to me. My soul, as the saying goes, had truly been laid bare.
Inside the ice house, I felt like a patient on the operating table, with my chest opened up and my heart exposed to the surgeon’s scalpel. Only I was wide awake on the table, watching the scalpel move closer and closer, wincing and hoping and praying that the Good Surgeon had a steady hand.
Putting his hand on my shoulder, Jesus again said those familiar words, “Follow me. There’s more.”