Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Out of Solitude

It happened to me while watching TV. All it took was a commercial about going back to school and the corresponding shopping that needed to be done – pens, pencils, notebooks, folders (ok Michael, this is not 1987 here). Then it hit. “Oh my gosh, I’ve gotta start preparing for next year!”

A certain anxiety set in. My eyes widened. My heart seized in my chest. After all, there were strategic plans to be made, visions to be cast, chapters to be written, urgencies to be addressed. The last year brought a new job, a move, a new baby (still in utero), thousands of miles of travel, the beginning of a doctoral dissertation, and a whole new world of possibilities between Young Life and the Catholic Church. What would year number two bring? “Whatever it is, I better start preparing!”

Then I was reminded that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mk 1:35). Then I remembered the silent axis around which Jesus' active ministry whirled. Then I was reminded that ministry was not something that I could manufacture through hard work but rather something discerned and received in the quiet depths of my soul. Though my anxious heart was telling me otherwise, somewhere I knew that feverish industry was not the answer. Not now at least.

The late Henri Nouwen once reflected:

Somewhere we know that without silence words lose their meaning, that without listening speaking no longer heals, that without distance closeness cannot cure.  Somewhere we know that without a lonely place our actions quickly become empty gestures.  The careful balance between silence and words, withdrawal and involvement, distance and closeness, solitude and community forms the basis of the Christian life and should therefore be the subject of our most personal attention.[1]

In these final weeks of summer, what is it that you really need? Do you need to spring into action and try to “get ahead” before the onslaught of school and schedules, ministry and meetings, kids and calendars start taking over? Or perhaps, just perhaps, God is calling you to slow down, find a solitary place, and ask that simple yet powerful question, "Lord, what do YOU want of me this year?" 

So stop. Listen. And embrace the still, small voice of God. Pray with me. . .

Holy One,
there is something I wanted to tell you
but there have been errands to run,
bills to pay,
arrangements to make,
meetings to attend,
friends to entertain,
washing to do . . .
and I forget what it is I wanted to say to you,
and mostly I forget what I’m about,
or why.

O God,
don’t forget me, please,
for the sake of Jesus Christ . . .

O Father in Heaven,
perhaps you’ve already heard what I wanted to tell you.
What I wanted to ask is
forgive me,
heal me,
increase my courage, please.

Renew in me a little love and faith,
and a sense of confidence,
and a vision of what it might mean
to live as though you were real,
and I mattered,
and everyone was sister and brother.

What I wanted to ask in my blundering way is
don’t give up on me,
don’t become too sad about me,
but laugh with me,
and try again with me,
and I will with you, too.

~Ted Loder Guerrillas of Grace[2]

[1] Henri J. M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life, Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1974, 14-15.
[2] Taken from Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008, 33-34.

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