Flow With God
A few years ago, I sang at a worship event. A friend prayed with me afterwards, and he said something that resonated: “when you sing, you flow with God like water.” This stayed with me because it aptly described the way I feel when I’m singing—in conversation with God, guided by the Spirit. It also brings to mind the psychological concept of flow. It’s been researched widely, but was coined by social psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly. He describes the state of flow as the precise intersection of skill level and challenge level that allows for optimal engagement. When an individual taps into this state, enjoyment is maximized and time becomes irrelevant. We desire tasks that allow us to operate in an area of dexterity, but also provide enough difficulty to keep us focused and striving to improve. Csikszentmihaly explains that when skill level is too high and challenge is low, the result is boredom. Conversely, when challenge is too high and skill too low, the result is anxiety. Flow is essentially a sweet spot, where these two measures are balanced.
Although flow is usually considered through a scholarly lens, I realized it can have significance on a spiritual level. What does it look like to flow with God? How can we achieve a state of ongoing flow? Romans 8 comes to mind—the in dwelling Holy Spirit empowers and guides us from moment to moment. The Lord is always there, providing comfort and companionship. I think we can strive to develop a level of sensitivity to Him such that spiritual flow becomes a lifestyle. It’s a privilege to be in synch with the Spirit, serving as a vessel through which He can flow. The mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace (Rom 8:6).
Throughout my life, getting lost in music has been a haven. Similarly, a person may achieve Csikszentmihaly’s flow while painting a portrait or coding a video game. Often, this is a form of escapism, an opportunity to zero in on something and tune out the chaos of the world. The notion of flowing with God adds another dimension by inviting Him into the act, and seeing how He can spread into every corner of our lives. Even seemingly irrelevant activities can become an act of worship, when in collaboration with the Spirit. Flowing with God is the safest state we can be in. When we get lost in God, we have a heightened sense of His presence and accessibility from moment to moment. An awareness of His nearness allows us to say “it may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.”
A moving target
In keeping with Csikszentmihaly’s model, it’s tempting to disengage when either anxiety or boredom shows up. The challenge of flow is that it doesn’t come automatically. A child may begin violin lessons, but be deterred by the steep learning curve. On the other hand, an experienced violinist who plays elementary compositions and ceases to improve is living below their potential. Instead of quitting, each player must believe that flow is on the other side, and take the steps to arrive there. The sweet spot—flow—is a moving target. It asks us to rise to the challenge and resist the temptation to tap out. I think this also relates to cultivating relationships. I think, ideally, you grow in ability to love someone as you know them more deeply. As you learn a person, you become better equipped to love them and serve their needs specifically. This is an increase in skill. Yet simultaneously, challenge is also mounting, as flaws grow more pronounced and masquerades fall away. The default reaction is to disengage, but when we find the strength to persist in love, deep joy is on the other side. Flow is inherently kinetic. Rather than being disheartened, I think we can embrace the adventure of learning and relearning.
Infinite yet intimate
The amazing thing about flowing with God is that we become part of something bigger than ourselves. We can be intimately acquainted with God, while also tied into His infinite masterpiece. Life reminds me of jazz improvisation, with God overseeing the entire thing. He weaves our individual melodies together seamlessly. He’s the master improvisor, creating something complex and harmonious in spontaneity, in the moment. Even amidst dissonance and difficulty, erroneous notes are transformed into grace notes, so skillfully incorporated. He oversees the phenomenon, knowing the song, yet not forcing its progression. It’s a dialogue, an exchange…He hears our voices, so precious to His ear. He listens carefully, and responds. The music is alive; the music is life. We’re instruments in His grand symphony. There are so many instances of God guiding my labyrinthine path, and the pure grace that always leads the way. In retrospect, I appreciate the artistry of His plan all the more. Flowing with God is improvisational, and requires great trust. Being a part of this “symphony” is a privilege and an adventure, but it also requires surrender. We can look back and observe the ways God has caused all things to work together. He sees the masterpiece in its entirety. It’s a privilege to flow with Him, trusting that He is making all things beautiful.