Advent & Leaving Things Behind

Advent & Leaving Things Behind November 26, 2018

To Walk In a Labyrinth… 

The gravel compresses below my feet, the prayer labyrinth yielding to cold compression. My steps were predetermined, laid out in advance, by ancients who came well before.

At one of my favorite retreat centers, they have a labyrinth; a Chartres labyrinth, to be specific,  modeled after the flooring of the cathedral in Chartres, France. Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual practice passed down from generation to generation, the beautiful combination of the body (walking) and the spirit (prayer).

The point is simple: you enter the labyrinth knowing that the destination is the center. This isn’t a maze, though it may feel like one. The only choice to make is to keep walking. To keep praying. You follow the path as it winds, switching back and forth, back and forth, often coming close to the center only to take you back to the outer rings.

The instructions for walking the labyrinth ask you to slow yourself, walk at a slower pace and focus on prayer. It isn’t like much of our lives – driving and deciding all at the same time. In a sense, God has laid out the path – you simply find Him along the way. In the meantime, the labyrinth asks you to lay down difficult burdens.

To put aside the weight on your shoulders with each step is to shed the heavy clothing and meet God at the center. The labyrinth reminds us that if He has laid out the path He can shoulder the weight.


On that day, I came to the labyrinth carrying something heavy. I was in the midst of leading a silent retreat in which we all walked the labyrinth, but as the leader I came with distractions and pain and irritation.

An email exchange with a partner and co-traveler in ministry had laid a gash across my spirit. I questioned his intentions, his desires. Judgments about his character emerged. I began to highlight all of his faults to try and overcome the realization that he was right about a great many things.

He had made some really critical statements about a teaching I had done, questioning me at the very heart of what I believed. We didn’t have that kind of relationship, one where the trust was built to say what he had said, which made it all the more painful.

It was the perfect storm: I have no doubt he was after the best for people and for God’s Kingdom, but the weight of the words without the safety of trust laid me wide open.

In turn, I came to the labyrinth bleeding and angry. I brought my distractions.


In the center of the labyrinth, the “pilgrim” is called to pause: to wait, breathe, and think. To listen to God, now that you’ve tossed aside everything you brought in.

I gritted my teeth the entire walk, trying to lay down the comments my critic had made. And then I heard, with clarity, a thought:


At the center, stripped bare of my concerns and with my jaw aching, God was asking me to give up. Just leave it. Leave it at the center of the labyrinth. Leave it in the presence of God.


After leaving the center, you follow the path backwards – going out the way you came in.

As I walked, the anguish and irritation made bold attempts to return. Then the words came, Leave him here. 

Much like a headstone marks a place where someone we love is buried, the physical center of that labyrinth became a place where I could bury that wound. A place where I could bury the whole thing and just leave it there. Even when I walked out, the thought kept coming – Leave him there. 

As I led the retreat – LEAVE HIM THERE.

When I drove away from the retreat center  – LEAVE HIM THERE.

As I made PB&J for my daughter weeks later – LEAVE HIM THERE. 

Even one day in the shower, when it apparently came up from the drain  – LEAVE HIM THERE. 

I could almost hear the crunch, I could see the center of the labyrinth. I remembered laying it down.

In a week’s time, we begin the season of Advent. Advent is the celebration of Christ coming to us so that we might begin to leave the things that destroy us behind.

As we enter this season, what do you need to leave behind? To ceremonially “bury” in a physical place so that when the tension rises again you may hear that voice – compassionately calling you – Leave it there? 


Whatever it is you see, in this moment, that drags you down to death, Advent is a season of coming so that you may experience the freedom of leaving.


(*This post originally appeared on, 12/1/2016)
(Photo by June Wong on Unsplash)

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