Solitude and Silence

Journeys of Faithfulness, chapter 3: You Want Me to Do What?

journeys[box] Read chapter 3 in Journeys of Faithfulness.[/box] As I was preparing for our Journeys of Faithfulness study this past week, the Lord took me in a direction I was not anticipating orplanning. (I love how He does that!) As is often the case, He surfaced for me an area that I have always struggled with. You probably struggle with it too.

Noise.

As a mom, I know literal noise. I've got two boys, and they make plenty of it. But what I'm really struggling with is the silent noise. You know what I'm talking about? E-noise, if you want specifics.

I hide out in my bedroom and what do I do? I pull out my iPad and absorb myself in a story. I check my email for messages. I browse on Pinterest--most of the time, not out of necessity, but just to see if there's anything interesting. I read Facebook statuses to see what my friends are up to.

Talking, talking, everywhere talking. Only now, it's not face to face with a friend, but virtually--online, texting, blogging (yes, I know I'm adding to the noise). We are always "plugged in" lest we miss out. And we wouldn't want that, would we?

What really brought me up short is realizing how much more time I spend with virtual people than I do with real people. Worse yet, how much time I spend with God.

Because I do not live in a vacuum, who I become is largely dependent on who I am listening to the most. If my silent moments are filled with the voices of others, whether it be a Pin or a status update, I quickly begin to measure myself with those standards. Inevitably, I will feel like a failure.

When I realized this, I thought--Wouldn't it be better to let my Creator define me? Wouldn't it be wiser to go to Him to determine what I need to be doing? To do this, I need to spend time listening to Him instead of all those other voices. Of course, the obvious problem is: where will I find the time to do this?

The answer, I think, is actually very simple. You ready for this?

Unplug.

I said simple. I didn't say easy.

How do you do this? Try fasting from the computer for a day. If that's too long, try half a day or even three hours. Just turn the computer off (or simply don't turn it on). If needed, tell your friends what you are doing (and bravely resist the comments and complaints you might hear) so they don't think you're mad at them. This includes any type of screens or devices: phones, radios, computers, tablets, video games, you name it.

In this week's reading, Sarah Clarkson writes this:

“If we want to be as Mary in our own time, I think we must understand that the choice to know God is ours. The Spirit of God is alive and calling out from the very core of our hearts. We have the Bible available to us, and we can offer a prayer at any moment. But the great requirement is that we be still enough to listen. We must hush our hearts every day so that we can learn, hear, and follow.” (emphasis mine)

http://www.dreamstime.com/-image14510036Lest you think I am advocating being a hermit, please allow me to put this in perspective. I am not saying that all technology and social media is wrong. Far from it. I love being able to interact with others, even when I cannot see them. I have had opportunities to minister and speak to people across the world and people I've never even met. Our advances today hold so much potential for good.

But as with all good things, it is only one small step from good to god. Our goal is not simply to unplug, for if left alone, the vacuum will quickly be filled with other things. Instead, let's use the space that is freed up for something infinitely more satisfying--connecting with our Maker. Instead of reading words on a screen, I can interact with the Word of life. Instead of griping on my Facebook status, I can pour out my griefs to one who can actually help me. We need the silence so we can hear the whisper of His voice.

And then, when it's time, we can plug back in again. And this time, instead of being the victim, the follower, God can use me to be a positive influence, a blessing, a minister. This is my prayer every time I update, post, write or pin. When I have been quiet with God, He gives me something worthwhile to share. When I pull back to let Him fill me with Himself, I have much more of value to give to those around me.

And that's not a bad tradeoff for a little bit of quiet.

Reflection questions:

  • How noisy is your life? Step back and observe your own day from an outsider's perspective. How much time do you spend texting, surfing, socializing…?
  • What is your response to quiet? Fear? Discomfort? Awkwardness? Do these responses drive you to fill up your quiet moments?
  • Plan a day (or whatever is a stretch for you) of quiet for the express purpose of spending it with God. Journal. Meditate on Scripture. Process with Him. Ask Him to show you what He is doing in your life.

Speak No Evil--The Discipline of Controlling the Tongue

"For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so."--James 3:7-10 Before I had kids, I thought I was a pretty decent person. (I bet some of you are laughing at this point. You know what I mean.) Looking back, I didn't have continual angry outbursts. I wasn't impatient. I could be pleasant and friendly. I had things under control.

But then I became a mom. Somehow, that pleasant and friendly woman turned into a monster. It is so easy to slip into "mom-ese"---irritability, grumpiness and frustration oozed out of every word I spoke. My kids are the only people I talk to that seem to get the better of me. Can you relate?

At the moment, the words just fly out. It's like someone has taken control of my mouth and starts speaking through me. Afterwards, I wonder, "Who was that woman?" It is certainly not what I want to become. And it is definitely not the way I want my kids to remember me!

If you struggle with this too, I feel your pain. And yet, at the same time, I also know that we do not have to put up with this or shrug our shoulders and give in. My words can either give life or it can bring death. I still have control over that.

Even as I write this, I know this is a message I need to hear just as much as the next mom. Though, as James says in the passage above, no human being can tame the tongue, he also tells us it "ought not to be so." Implying? Even though we cannot tame it, we have a choice in how we use it. I have a choice to use my words destructively or constructively. I have a choice to wound or bring healing. I have a choice to tear down or build up.

Over the past couple of weeks in Sunday school, we have been exploring the area of communication in marriage. The Lord keeps bringing Ephesians 4:29 up: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." (NIV)

In this single sentence, Paul gives us a simple four-part test for our words: 1. Is this word helpful? 2. Will this build up the hearer? 3. Is this word appropriate? Is this what they need at this time? 4. Is this beneficial to them?

Usually, if I am honest, my words fail one of the four questions. If I apply this verse, I would get rid of a lot of criticism, gossip, put-downs, sarcasm, scolding, ridicule, lying, and a whole host of other "tongue sins." When Paul talks about "unwholesome talk" the Greek word refers to food that has "the scent of death" in it. It is rotten, putrid, and well, unwholesome. If you don't want to ingest it, it's unwholesome. And yet without control of our tongues, that is what we're dishing out to the people around us.

However, Paul is not just about telling us what we are not to do. This doesn't mean we are to be silent as the grave either. Words have the power to give life, healing and blessing as well. Yes, it can be a fount of salt water, but it can also be a spring of fresh water that breathes life to its hearers.

This all depends on what is stored up in our hearts. Jesus tells us that "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." (Matt. 12:34) In some ways, this discipline flows out of a careful cultivation of other disciplines. When our hearts have been filled with the Word, we can use our words to teach and admonish (Col. 3:16). When we are praying continually, the Spirit reigns and rules in us and helping us to choose what we say. When we are at rest in our souls, when we have time to pull aside for silence and solitude, we slow down internally, which helps us not to speak without thinking. When we practice the examen, we then know what types of situations really get our goat and are able to develop a plan for such situations.

In today's journal, we will continue with these thoughts. Check in on this page for practical ideas and more thoughts on this topic. May our words reflect what God is doing in us, for His praise and glory and for the blessing of others. 

P.S. The journal pages will be up until April 1, less than a week away! See previous posts in this series on how to access the password and page.

Unplugged--The Discipline of Solitude and Silence

"And he said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.'"--Mark 6:30 What do you think of this invitation from Jesus? I have a feeling that some of you would jump at the opportunity. Come away? Desolate place? Rest? Sign me up!

But I also have a feeling that there are some of you that would also think: Come away? Desolate place? Rest? No way! I'd be buried alive!

This particular discipline is one that is near and dear to me, not because I am more spiritual and better, but it is through this discipline that God has done His deepest work in me. In fact, I don't think I would be here today, writing to you, teaching, and speaking if I didn't discover this. Here's my backstory. Pardon me if you've already heard this.

Back in 2003, I was a mess. (Okay, so I'm usually a mess, but this year was messier than the rest.) I was working part time hours, which as you know in ministry, is never just part time. I had two young children and had just made the decision to homeschool. I was involved in a small group, leading another small group, discipling young women, and helping my husband train leaders. On top of that, I had a small business teaching paper crafting classes. Oh, and of course, there was the regular work to do, like laundry, dishes and cleaning!

I would go to bed late and get up early, driven by my schedule. Every spare minute was spent trying to get ahead...but most of the time, it was just trying to keep from being swallowed alive. I was constantly stressed and my poor children were taking the backlash. There was an edge of anger in me that I had to work very hard to control. I did not like who I was becoming inside and felt like such a hypocrite.

It was at that time that my husband was invited to join a 2-year leaders' training program with The Leadership Institute, based in Orange County. Over the course of those two years, the group would meet six times, three times a year, for a few days of solitude, training and mentoring.

It sounded great, but my first thought was "One more thing!" He even invited me to go and my first thought was "No way!" I was overwhelmed as it was. To take that much time off from my schedule to get away? It made absolutely no sense.

I don't even remember what happened, but by the grace of God, I found myself at that very first retreat. Dan sensed that I needed it more than him and sent me off. On our first full day there, we spent most of the morning and afternoon in solitude and silence. "That's an interesting way to start a retreat," I thought. I expected lectures, talks, etc., which we did have...eventually. But the first part of the retreat was carved out to just be with God.

All I can say is WOW. It had been so long since I had an opportunity to just be, not do. I didn't realize how deeply exhausted I was, not just in body, but in soul, until I stopped. I didn't get anything done. But at the same time, I realized that life can and does go on without me.

When I went home after that first retreat, I was hooked. In the space of that time, God had touched and ministered to me in such a way that I have never been the same again. I became addicted to these times and craved being with Him more and more. While I was still busy, He removed my addiction to activity, the praise of other people, and the delusions of my own importance.With time, I completed the two year training, and my whole outlook has changed.

Have you ever wondered how Jesus, busy and wanted as He was, was able to walk through His life here on earth so confidently, serenely and purposefully? I have a strong suspicion that it was because He had periods of solitude and silence in His life. The first 40 days of his ministry was spent in the wilderness (check out the video below of what He might have done during this time). He spent regular times early in the morning, before the start of a busy day of ministry, to be with God. And He invited His disciples to take that same kind of rest at the end of the day. Jesus knew the value of pulling aside and just sitting with the Father, doing "nothing."

In today's journal, I'll be looking more into the whys and the hows of this discipline. Just sign in on this page for the journal using your password. Where's the password, you ask? Well, it is given out to newsletter subscribers. Just sign up in the boxes on the right and look for the welcome email. It'll be in the "PS" section.

Moms, we of all people, who are often so busy, at the beck and call of every person, need this discipline. It is not an option. It is an essential. Solitude and silence is counter-intuitive. It makes no sense. But when you take that step of faith, you'll find that it makes perfect sense.

Come away with Him. You'll never regret it.

[jwplayer mediaid="3008"]

Taking a Break--The Discipline of Rest

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."--Matthew 11:28 This weekend was probably one of the more relaxing ones we have had in a long time. The only stress I really had was the lesson that I was to teach on Sunday morning! It still wasn't completely written (the truth comes out!), though I had a good idea of the direction and purpose. But it was one of those weekends where we didn't have a lot to do. Instead, my husband and I had an opportunity to have some leisurely time looking at countertops and deciding on cabinetry for our new kitchen.

Unfortunately, that is not the way it is for us on a regular basis. I tend to be a workaholic by nature, always working on something. Part of it is because as a mom, there's just a lot to do. Managing a home and juggling the needs of five (soon to be six!) people is enough to drive me batty at times.

But to be honest, if I were to look deep down inside, I think I keep working because in my very heart of hearts, I don't trust God. I don't trust that if I accept His invitation to stop and rest, I will get overwhelmed with all that needs to be done. All I can see is the stress I'd be under if I just took a break. Do you feel that way too? And so out of fear, I keep plugging away.

Not only that, I am basically telling God that I know better. But rest is not an option. If we really think about it, taking a break, resting, observing the Sabbath, is a command. Exodus 20:8 says to "remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy." We have six days to do all our work, but the seventh is meant to be a Sabbath, a rest, set aside for Him.

In our home, weekends are not restful. As a pastor, Sundays are work days for my husband. But I don't think the issue is the day of the week that we choose, but the fact that we stop to take a break at all. I think the point that God is making is that out of every six days of work, there should be one day that we should take a break. And yet, there is a drivenness in me that keeps me moving. And the faster I'm going, the harder it is to stop!

But the thing is, I am not made for that kind of lifestyle. Neither are you. We have limits, though we don't want to admit it. And sometimes if I fight against it, the only way God gets me to slow down is by allowing me to get sick. Then, I have no choice but to surrender and stop.

Wouldn't it be better to just take regular breaks? It seems that some way or other, we will need to take one. Why do I insist on running myself to the ground so that I am forced to take it? Maybe I'm just a glutton for punishment, or just plain foolish.

Our culture prizes productivity. I know that I have bought into that value, thinking that the more productive I am, the more valuable I am. All it takes is for me to be out sick to see that this is simply not true. Life keeps chugging along, even without me.

On the contrary, when I learn to discipline myself to stop, to take regular breaks, it then allows me to not only respect my limits, but also get some breathing space, find restoration, and renew my perspective.

Sometimes life does not allow me to stop for a full day on the weekend or even during the week. What I have been trying to do then is to make space in my day for a break. As a stay-at-home homeschooling mom, this is not just for my sanity, but to keep my children from being scarred for life! When I run myself from morning to night (I try to start my day at 5:15 with exercise and usually go till about 10:30 p.m.) without stopping, I can hear the edge creep into my voice.

I have learned that at this time, the DVD player is my best friend (horrors!). I usually set up my youngest with a pre-approved program and sneak off into my room to take a break. There, I read or take a nap. Lately, it has been a nap because I have not been getting enough sleep! This little breather has helped me to get my energy back and finish the day off in a much more pleasant manner.

How about you? Are there spaces in your life for rest? Whether it be Sunday or Wednesday, whether it be an hour every day or a day once a week, do you have spaces for rest? Our Lord invites us to come to Him to find that rest. Once you taste and see that He is good, you won't want to turn back. I know I don't.

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