Here’s a thought:
Augustine once said our hearts are restless apart from God.
Calvin once said our hearts are idol factories left to their own devices.
Reader, our hearts do indeed grow restless apart from God, and left to our own devices, we rest in front of idols of our own making. Left to our own devices, we will create idols to worship, idols of our own ego, politics, pleasure, or study.
So what we really need here is to rest and stop being busy!
Have a restless spirit? Try resting in the Author of rest.
I mentioned my experience of a retreat day recently and I wanted to provide some practical steps to institute one.
I know what you’re probably thinking, how am I going to find time to do that?!
I hear you, finding time to do this is difficult, I get that. As a new parent, I know that it is also tough to take time away, especially if your spouse has his or her hands full with the kid(s). My suggestion for this is that perhaps you can rotate time with your spouse for a portion of the day away from home. If not, schedule an hour or two to do it. The amount of time is not the big thing initially; it’s good to just begin a personal rhythm in your life.
Without further introduction, here are my five tips if you’re trying to get away.
1 Get out the door. Leave, don’t linger at home or the office. Get out the door and go someplace new.
2 Turn off your phone. Set away messages and let key people know you’re out of contact for the day. My old boss used to say when he went on vacation, “Don’t call me if the place burns down. Unless I can do something about it, let me find out about it when I get home.” You might be surprised like me to find out the world is still going when you resurface at the end of your time away.
3 Go to a new area. Go to a regional park or a library. Spend time on the grounds of a free museum and soak in the beauty. Take a step into a wilderness area and cleanse your worrying mind with a fresh perspective.
4 Be present. Don’t be mentally elsewhere, even with your problems. Be present where you are at this day and see what God might have for you. Notice the clouds and trees, and try to slow down. Consider not speaking for the day (unless you are spoken to, don’t be rude!). I have found the discipline of silence also provides a different perspective on the day.
5 Bring nothing. No Bible (gasp), no journal (the horror!), no books (heresy!). Quite honestly, I’ve noticed that sometimes I use these things to pacify discomfort or to keep me occupied enough so that I don’t have to deal with my inner turmoil. I’d encourage you to spend this time talking to God. Talking to him, being open to what’s going on in your life, and bringing your emotional baggage to him. Be real with him, even about the bad stuff. Look at the Psalms; those are God honoring confessions of raw human emotions.
I hope you consider taking a day away! You never know what might happen if you slow down and be.
What has been your experience with a retreat day?
(Part 3 of 4 on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s classic Life Together)
If we are honest, most people have had a bad experience with church. While some might have been burnt by Christians in some capacity and don’t want to be a part of it (which is understandable), others might fall into the category of Christians, according to Bonhoeffer, “who cannot endure being alone.”
Community and Solitude
Let me unpack the connection between community and solitude. For a lack of a better name, those “who cannot be left alone” group have a problem. They need to have others meet their needs. Even though these individuals require others to meet their needs, they are often disappointed when other do not (stay with me!). The reason for this is because they cannot be alone. Sit with that thought for a moment.
This group is looking for a “spiritual sanatorium” in church when they really need an encounter with God alone. They’re looking for others to solve their problems when they really need God to root it out. Sounds intense, doesn’t it? Bonhoeffer, quit meddling!!
The Furnace of Personal Transformation
Being alone is something we all must face. Alone we stood before God called, alone we had to answer his call, alone we must pray, and alone we will slip into death and give an account to God. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community,” as Bonhoeffer wrote.
Before you despair, listen to this good news! “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” Into community we were called, and in this community of the called you (and I!) will struggle and pray. In death, life, and on the Last Day both of us will be a “member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ.” As Luther would encourage us, “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer they [the fellowship] suffer with me.”
Thus the tension: in fellowship we learn to be “rightly alone” and only in “aloneness do we learn to live rightly in fellowship.” Silence and speech are both marks of solitude and community, respectively. Silence does not have to be frightening. It is the stillness of the individual under God’s Word. Silence is knowing deeply that we are waiting for God’s Word and coming from that same word with a blessing.
Henri Nouwen would call this the furnace of personal transformation, since we would be alone before God. It forges the individual not only in right hearing, but right speaking as well.
Being alone offers the opportunity to intercede for others. Intercession is a lynchpin for Christian fellowship, the fellowship lives and exists by the intercession for one another, or else it collapses inward.
You might be asking yourself what about those really annoying people. Even for those who might repel us, bringing him or her to God’s presence will shift our focus and the reality that they are a poor human in need of grace will come into clearer focus. The repelling nature will fall away and we will see that person in their need.
Setting aside time to be alone will transform us. It is through those times that we will receive strength and blessing. The blessing of aloneness will then lead into blessing of fellowship. The strength of fellowship and strength of aloneness is done solely through the strength of God’s Word. As you can see, both being alone and together are so essential to life in the community of faith.
Now that we’ve walked through the intensity of being alone, now we get to the good stuff next time. Until then!
Have you tried a time of solitude?
For one of my classes about Christian Spirituality, we were assigned readings about some of the great men and women of the faith. Monks, nuns, preachers, and theologians were all introduced to us and their spiritual practices were explained. While all were very impressive and they challenged me to take my faith more seriously, one of the men in the book stuck out to me. St Benedict of Nursia was a monk who created a monastic order that was centered around discipline and rules. Benedict saw the disorderly conduct of those within monasteries and tried to bring some order to the situation. Instead of allowing the monks to live disorderly lives , he wanted to cultivate a community centered around order and discipline through, what is now called, the Rule of St Benedict.
The rules promoted a balanced life, one that is centered around prayer, work, meditative reading of Scripture, and community. Benedict understood that we are creatures of habit and that if everyone (including himself and future leaders of the monastery) lived under these rules, then they could encounter God more distinctly.
The idea of discipline and balance could be used today. What is nice about Benedict was that he sought to help forge a path for many people to be more intentional in their spiritual growth. For me, I must set up a rhythm where I do certain things at certain times. Being disorderly and random when it comes to creating good habits (secular or sacred) rarely works. In fact, it is the purposeful choices that I make that will shape me to become a better person. Just as going to the gym is tough the initial few weeks, the more one does that act, the easier it will become since it is transformed into a routine. This routine and focus will help quiet those obstacles that frequently drown our dreams and goals for a more balanced, spiritual life. As Henri Nouwen called our minds a “banana tree full of screaming monkeys” when it came to silence and discipline, these disciplines will help overcome those unruly pests with the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit.
*A word of warning: Routines can become stale. But more on that in next week’s post.
A year ago while I was learning about spiritual disciplines and silence, I was presented with the idea that for me (a Westernized person) embracing silence is like trying to ignore a tree full of screaming monkeys. With that in mind, I heard on the radio awhile back about a recent book on Willpower. The authors were discussing the necessity of developing habits and how discipline in one area will help form people holistically across the board. For example, discipline in exercise will help form people in such a way that they would perform better in other areas, like writing. Good eating habits leads to development in disciplines of writing. Developing self-control will help make the person better in their life endeavors across the board.
The lessons of the book correlate over to the spiritual side of humanity as well, but more on that in next week’s post. Suffice it to say for now, I can testify that when willpower has been diminished, my life typically slips into a muddy mess. However, if I become a more disciplined person in my life in one area that typically helps in other ways. Delayed gratification and focus are two areas I am trying to currently cultivate. I find that when I have a vision and work towards it with tenacity that I develop happiness and peace. Stuff gets accomplished and I can sleep peacefully that night. The trick is to learn to quiet the tree full of screaming monkeys that so frequently occupy the space between my ears! Silence is hard and being intentional in our own formation is very difficult. Yet, I am confident that it can still be done, depth of character and spiritual transformation is possible.
Being disciplined, that is something that must take root and then I can actually get stuff done. Now, it’s time to develop that habit. Sooner, rather than later.
How do you develop self-discipline in achieving your goals? This might be a good question to consider for your New Year’s Resolutions.