(I have been home from this time of silence and solitude for weeks, but am only just now posting it. Sorry for the timeline confusion.)
"Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." - Genesis 1:2
I am two weeks into my annual 3-week sabbatical from my regular duties and routines that I perform on behalf of the Southwest Church of Christ.
This is my fourth one of these. It was given to me by the good and gracious people of the Southwest Church of Christ, who enable and support me in my attempt to live the life of Christ in their world here in Amarillo.
Each year, I have included within these three weeks, among other things, 3 days with a mentor of mine, 3 days with my kids (one full 24 hour period exclusively with each one), and 3 days of silence and solitude.
I began my silence and solitude today.
Of all the things I do, I most look forward to this. But I also find it the most difficult.
I look forward to it, I think, because my intention is to have nothing to do but be with God. It is a romantic thought, to be sure, and one I can't let go of. I long to be with God (although sometimes I have to settle for longing to long to be with God), and retreating "away from it all" with the intent to be with Him just feels right. Also, it always seems to be costly and inconvenient for me and those around me, enough so for me to be tempted to see it as an impractical luxury. It's almost like something is opposing my practice of it every year, which anyone who knows me knows that that just makes me want to fight for it all the more.
But the biggest reason I'm so attached to it is because of Jesus. He did it.
After Herod beheaded Jesus' cousin John, Matt 14:13 says that "when Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place."
After a full day of ministry and the people were coming and the demand for Jesus was growing, it says in Mark 1:35 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."
From the beginning of his ministry to the end, he modeled this for me. There is the 40 days of solitude and prayer that Jesus had after his ministry-initiating baptism, and there was his desperate, night-time retreat into the Garden of Gethsemane for a some intense solo time with God at the end of his ministry.
And even if I didn't have all the examples, I have Dr. Luke's summary observation in Luke 5:16 - "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed."
When I'm at my best, I'm retreating often, too, to lonely places and praying. At my best, I go out to the Palo Duro Canyon weekly for extended time with God, in addition to regular "retreats" into myself wherever I am in my busy day, finding that lonely spot where I am most aware of God.
But this annual 3 day event always tests me. What do I do? What part should the Bible play? Should I study? Should I read? Should I sit in the lotus position all day and meditate? Should I fast? Should I organize each day with a theme? Should I spend the time interceding for people? For my family? For the church I serve? For the lost?
Each year, regardless of my plan, it seems I spend much of my time trying to NOT do things, more than figuring out what I'm going to do.
So today, I spent hours just sitting on a bridge, by a lake, in the rain (it's a covered bridge), surrounded by incredible landscapes of threatening clouds and rumbling 10-second long surround-sound thunder...calling my thoughts away from my regular distractions, calling my body not just do something, but stand there.
It was way hard. I've taken a special interest in prayer, and feel like I've prayed a lot in my life, but I still found myself uttering the words, with very real humility and confusion, "Jesus, teach me to pray." I found myself agreeing with something I read once, "when it comes to prayer, we are all still beginners."
I prayed the Lord's Prayer, sort of empty, hoping for some magic to pop out of them. I did several other things as I was straining to hear God's direction for me, and as uneventful as it was, I just feel good and like I'm where I'm supposed to be.
So, this first half day is pretty typical of what I've experienced each year doing this...it could be described quite accurately as "formless" and "void". Which took me right back to the beginning, to the quote from Genesis above...and it struck me! Both the "darkness" and the "Spirit of God" were present there over the formless and void earth.
So I'm right where I need to be...getting out of "planning" and "thinking" and "git-er-done" addictions and just being in the darkness of the void of activity that I'm here to practice, expecting once again for the Spirit of God to be there.
Flare up my love for You, O God.
Ruin my life.
I have built a life of loving others in Your Name,
And would trade it all for oneness with You.
I love You more than I love my work for You,
but, oh, how I love to work for You.
Where I am too comfortable, disrupt me.
Where I am ignoring You, hurt me.
Get my attention, once again.
Mold me into the image of Your son, Jesus Christ.
Let your Kingdom come and will be done,
Here in me as it is in Heaven.
Let me live in the present alone, O God.
Save me from my past! From my future!
Only let me be still and know You are God.
That is enough for me.
Enjoy me, O God, the creation of Your hands!
And open my eyes to be aware of your delight,
That is enough for me.
Here I am, I am Yours.
Examine me and find every offensive way.
Help me not run from your refining fire.
Help me not run to the noise of the Olympics,
Or the hiding place of helping others in their needs,
Or the avoidance tactic of "doing your work."
Help me not run to the priority of "family" if it is taking me from You.
Give me the nothingness, the emptiness, the darkness
That so many of the prayer master's write about.
Give me the unlearning that I need,
The detachment from the slavery of needing to please men, or myself.
Give me total apathy for the politics and ways of this world,
enough for me to be Yours alone.
And then, Jesus, make me useful in this world,
For Your Fame, my joy, and Your son's glory.
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.