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A Spacious Place

with Rob and Ellen Braaten

"Looking back, we just walked through something that would potentially send someone into a bit of a tailspin… It’s windy, the boat is moving, and the waves are crashing. Except now, maybe we aren’t exactly sleeping in the boat, but we aren’t standing right up front in a full-blown panic. We truly believe that it’s going to be alright...”
Join our conversation with Rob and Ellen as they reflect on a year of a pandemic, a sabbatical, and new freedom in their faith.

What do you feel God is doing in our midst?


I think often about Psalm 18, about how God brought me into a broad, spacious place. He rescued me because he delights in me. That theme has come up over and over again this year. He continuously brings me into wide open spaces, removing all of the usual obligations and expectations. He delights in me! He just loves me, because I’m his daughter.

For us there’s an important little backstory to this year. I’m on a sabbatical and Rob is working remotely, so Covid has brought no huge changes for us [that we weren’t already experiencing]. We had already made a plan to uproot everything this year. We lived in Montreal for a few months, we’ve done some travelling to Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and Europe. Now we’re living in Vancouver. We wanted  to shake up our lives, and we had the flexibility to do it. That being said, Covid has probably felt different to us. We’ve been on our own for much of this year, but we’ve been seeing God at work in different communities.

I have a huge amount of freedom in my life. Freedom to make choices, freedom to do things I want to do, all the while trusting he has put things in me that make me fit for it. It's not just me doing what I want, or being self-centered. It’s this realization that he has made me intentionally who I am, and as I figure out who I am, I can step into the things he wants for me and for my life.

But, I have choice in it all! That’s probably been the coolest realization, personally. I have always been a rule-follower.  I’m very comfortable with structure and knowing what's expected of me. It’s partly how I was created, but I also can get caught up in rigidity and performance.

It's been really amazing for God to bring me into these broad spaces. I can do anything I want: be it art, reading, walking, or just getting outside. Or I can do things that are more ‘sensible’.  It’s a very freeing space, but also a very challenging space. I'm not comfortable with so much freedom, so I’m learning what to do with it. I’m giving myself permission to be free.

A big part of it is figuring out who he’s made me to be. I’m learning about all of the things he has put inside me! Psalm 37 says delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. I’m learning that the desires of my heart are from him, but they are also birthed out of who he’s made me to be.


Broad, wide open spaces have truly been a recurring theme in our lives. When we first thought of going to Montreal, it wasn’t like we heard God say: “Thou shalt go to Montreal!” It was as simple as, “I love Montreal, and I want to live there.” And I convinced Ellen to come! My motivations were quite thin, honestly. It was the draw of amazing restaurants, and beer, and new places to see! But I really believe that had we chosen Ottawa or Kingston or Halifax, God would have met us there.  He would have put us in the path of people that we could interact with, love, bless and be blessed by. I don’t mean to be cavalier about it;  we don’t just walk around randomly doing whatever we  want. But as his children, when we walk, he walks with us.

How do you connect with God differently? (Now versus earlier in your walk with him?)


The first thing I think of is in John 7, where Jesus is talking about the good shepherd. We see how the sheep know his voice. For us, the biggest shift is the idea that I can know and be known by my Father. As opposed to being ‘pleasing to him’ or  in ‘right relationship’  as the only or final goal. Those things aren’t inherently bad, but it comes down to knowing him, vesus reaching some mark of acceptance. That change in mindset sets a lot of things to the side that used to be more important: all the measuring sticks we used to use.

“How is your relationship with God going?” becomes a less common question. Now we tend to ask things like, “What are you learning about your father?” Or, “What is he saying?” It’s less about discussing what is absolutely right versus absolutely wrong, and more asking what we’ve been learning about him recently.

I think it’s extremely helpful these days, with so many voices saying what is absolutely right or wrong. It seems there’s always someone we ‘should be’ listening to or protesting against. There’s a constant barrage of information. I think our natural predisposition is to filter out the things we don’t agree with or that don’t resonate with us. Being in the space we’re in now, I’m more inclined to ask, “Is my father in this?” Or, “Is he interested in this?”

It allows more freedom to not worry about correctness, especially when it comes to decisions! Knowing him: that’s what it’s all about. Jesus said that eternal life is knowing the Father.

There’s a scripture that's not very popular, it’s the one about the sheep and the goats: separating the bad from the good. The accusation at the end is, “I never knew you.” That statement, to me, is central. We can get involved in all the right things and the correct behaviours. But, to be in a  place where you know him and he knows you is true eternal life. That is a well so deep you can't reach the bottom.

All of the things we thought we needed to do to know him aren’t necessary. That’s what he is revealing in our midst.


I agree. If I know him, and I understand how he knows me, then it naturally comes out around other people! Instead of being concerned that I’m saying the right things or being faithful to my calling, I'm just bringing him with me. Wherever I go, Holy Spirit goes with me. It's so simple.

As I consciously invite him to go places with me, then however he leads me in that time is doing something he intended. In a funny way, it happens kind of in spite of me.

Where has he brought freedom into your lives?


I think as people, we’re always drawn to that ‘Cain and Abel’ kind of moment. We’re always trying to do something to be pleasing to God. If we can just bring a good enough sacrifice it’ll get him off our back until the next harvest.

In the book of Galatians we see an interesting letter where the Galatians are called out for giving up their first love. I was just reading Gal 4:8 this morning, where it says, “You were slaves. But now that you know God and are known by him - how is it that you turn back to weak and worthless things?”

For us, walking with God is understanding that first and foremost he wants a relationship with us! But there is this constant pull to go back to those worthless, elemental things. Those questions we want answered, all of the daily stuff we get wrapped up in. We wrestle with little things like, “Can we celebrate Halloween [as Christians]?”

We always want answers, but it comes at the expense of knowing him. That verse in Galatians really stuck with me. It reminded me that we've truly been set free, but if we're not actively engaged in a relationship, these things start calling out to us. We become tempted to hold onto something other than what Father is saying.

That mindset has prepared us for things we’re working through in our daily lives. Quite honestly, if God hadn’t brought us to this point of freedom, we may have walked away from the church.

Listening to him allows us to love people we would have shied away from before. We accept things and then rely on him to interpret him. What does loving the LBTQ community look like? Honestly, 10 years ago it would have looked different for us. Now, I’m less worried about those elemental things of the world; the black and white. I’m more worried about what my father says.


I see the freedom in being able to love people freely, and in being able to walk into situations without having everything sorted out. There’s no need to have a judgement of what’s good or evil already prepared. It feels really free to walk with God now, because he goes into these situations and relationships with us. It’s not up to me to sort it all though, I just listen to his voice and respond.

I think that's given us real freedom.  It’s given us the ability to have and build relationships we wouldn’t have before. We don’t agree with everything someone does or believes, but we can have this great relationship with them, and truly love them.

We have this place of peace: God is there in our midst. Sometimes he’s there for hard conversations, but lots of the time he’s just there for enjoying one other. That feels like a free place to me.

What is in your heart right now?


Recently, I got a call from my boss. Basically the company made some changes and I got moved to a whole different side of the company. My current position became redundant, so I’m learning a totally new job. Nothing else really changed for me, but I had some anxiety pop up as it all happened. But even that was pretty minimal, because I know God has led us through way worse things before.

Looking back, we just walked through something that would potentially send someone into a bit of a tailspin. It was kind of a tumultuous thing in my career. But what’s God doing? He’s brought us to the point where this kind of moment doesn't shake us!

It’s windy, the boat is moving, and the waves are crashing. Maybe we aren’t exactly sleeping in the boat, but we aren’t standing right up front in a full-blown panic. We truly believe that it’s going to be alright. He has changed our hearts so deeply, so that we can walk right through this and not have it throw us. It's not like we're in a perfect place, but it's a good place. And if we look for it, we get the chance to see the things he’s doing for us every day.


In keeping with the theme of this whole year for me, he’s been showing me more and more aspects of what it is ‘to be’ instead of ‘to do’. The isolation measures [with Covid] and everything, it’s all just another chapter in what my year has been all about. He’s bringing me deeper and deeper into what it really is to rest. Being ok, just ‘being’. For the first time in my life I have nothing to do, so I can't get any sense of accomplishment from what I’m doing.

How do I become a person who rests? Who is ok with just being?

It’s a new season. I’ve watched God take me deeper as I’ve had “nothing to do.” I’ve seen the struggle in my own heart. I’m curious what will happen when I go back to work. How do I carry that sense of rest with me when I have things to get done?

It’s the knowledge that I’m pleasing to him. He rescued me because he delights in me; he actually just delights in me! It’s the same way I delight in my kids; I loved them from the second they were born. So whether or not I have nothing to do, or a lot of things to do… he just loves me. Almost everyday there's a new depth that he’s leading me into.

In Deuteronomy 31:8 it says that, “The Lord is the one who goes before you and will be with you...” He’s just settling my heart into that truth. This is my life, and he goes ahead of me. He’ll always be with me, he will never forsake me! I don’t have to fear or be dismayed. He said that to a group of people who were about to face a war.

The temptation is to believe that God says, “It’s all going to be easy.” He doesn’t say that. He says, “As you step through terrible things, I will be there with you! Don’t fear. It’s the promised land! There are really good things coming.”

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