Gentle

It is no secret that 2018 was not my favorite year. I shared a year ago that my 2018 word was going to be “gentle.” It’s true that God has taught me about this particular Fruit of the Spirit. He deals gently with me. I am slowly learning to be more gentle with others. (Soooooo hard for me to admit that I’ve not perfected this and that it doesn’t come naturally.)

I’ve always thought of gentleness as a very calm, almost passive characteristic. Most of the people I would describe as gentle are in fact some of the most patient, relaxed, and compassionate people I know. These are all incredible attributes, but I think the “gentleness of God” has a little bit more to it.

The following definition is in fact unoriginal (thank you Pine Cove Baby Ruths), but I love it: to be gentle is to use the least amount of force necessary. This means that different situations need different levels of force.

In my own life I’ve seen how God, the perfect embodiment of gentleness, sometimes gives me a subtle nudge back on course. Other times I’ve been so defiant that He needs to practically scream. In these moments of what seems like intense force, I question God’s goodness. In the moment, it doesn’t seem like gentleness…but would I listen otherwise?

But correction is not the only aspect of gentleness.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

I love the picture created in Matthew 11. Much of this year I have felt weary and burdened. I have learned that the best thing I can do is to run to Jesus. He provides rest for my tired soul. He gently comforts and nurtures me.

I am thankful for God’s gentleness. I’m thankful that He knows exactly what I need and exactly how to deliver it. I would miss so much if He wasn’t gentle.

Below is my video from 2018. These videos each year have become some of my favorite things. I watch them and cannot help to praise God for what He has provided. So without further ado, ladies and gentleman, 2018…

Kind

Every few years God brings me almost to a halt in order to return back to the basics of my faith. In the past it’s been recognizing the hope for Heaven, His faithful presence in my life, or once was realizing the magnitude of my sin and need for a Savior.

This is not me regaining my salvation. It is practicing remembrance. When these seasons begin, I often get uneasy because I fear that my wrestling is offensive to God and that He is disappointed that I am back to something I should have already learned.

This past month has been one of those back-to-basics moments. But this time, instead of putting on a cloak of shame, I chose to walk in Philippians 2:12-13: “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

I have been working out my salvation by asking the question, “is God kind to me?” I feel almost heretical stringing those words together now, even after God and I have had some extensive conversations about that very topic. It just doesn’t feel right to say such a thing.

Growing up in the church, I’m pretty good at the whole head knowledge thing, but my heart is often slower to catch up. When I first spoke the question that had been rumbling around in the very back of my head I was simultaneously relieved and appalled. Relieved because I felt like the ticking time bomb had been diffused. Appalled because every Sunday school teacher or pastor I’ve sat under would probably ask me if I didn’t hear a word they had said. Of course God is kind!

But to be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I saw God’s kindness in people’s lives around me, but was having a difficult time seeing it myself. I’d like to think that I tried really hard to see His kindness in my life, but my heart was tired and calloused. So I probably gave up quickly.

Right around this time, I had a seminary assignment where I practiced spiritual disciplines and wrote out prayers everyday for a certain amount of time. This is when I started getting very honest with God. No more of that hiding behind “I know” business. It was time to give Him a piece of my mind. There were definitely a series of “I’m mad at You because ____” and “Why haven’t You _____” and several “I don’t like ____.” Everything centered around why I thought God was disciplining me unjustly. Everything centered around me. 

I think it was good and wise to voice where I was; I needed to hear myself to realize it was all about me. So I started studying about who God is. The Bible talks about God’s character a lot. It says that He is Creator (Gen 1:1), Savior (John 3:16), Holy (Rev 4:8), Love (1 John 4:7-12), and Life (Col 1:17), just to name a few. 

Titus 3:4-7 has been a favorite passage of mine for a long time. I had completely forgotten it uses the phrase “loving kindness” until I did a Bible search for the exact phrase. 

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

This verse is especially applicable for now for two reasons:
1. It clearly attributes kindness to God.
2. The kindness of God is the gift of Jesus. 

Fair warning: I’m about to nerd out here. 

I wanted to find a good, healthy, Biblical definition of “kindness” so I hopped over to Blue Letter Bible to see how kindness was used in these verses. Y’ALL. I LITERALLY CAN’T.

In Titus 3, Paul used the Greek word “χρηστότης” which comes from the root word of “χρηστός.” Now I do not read ancient Greek, but thanks to the little modern Greek I know some bells went off in my head…because that word for kindness sure did sound a lot like the word for Christ. LOOK AT THIS.

root word of kindness (Titus 3)
χρηστός
khrā-sto’s

Christ (New Testament)
Χριστός
khrē-sto’s

I cannot get over how close those sound. I am choosing to believe that it cannot be a coincidence that Paul, when writing Titus, chose the word for kindness that sounded so similar to that for Christ. 

At the very beginning of me examining whether I believe God is kind to me, I had a dear friend (looking at you Lizzy Cook) who encouraged me to see God’s kindness as the free gift of salvation. I can know and experience the kindness of God by walking out in the freedom and hope and grace and restoration that the Gospel brings. Jesus Christ’s presence is kindness.

And in case you’re wondering, yes, I believe God is kind to me. So much kinder than I will ever comprehend. 

Forgiveness

“How in the world were you able to forgive them?”

I was sitting across from new Greek friends at a lovely outdoor cafe. I had just finished sharing about a time when I had experienced deep hurt, caused by someone else’s decisions. They showed empathy as they sat listening, their faces kind and heads shaking. Until I said the words: “and then I forgave them.”

They were puzzled, to say the least. Their brows furrowed and they leaned in. They listed off the things I had just shared, counting reasons I should still be upset. Though this took place several years ago I can still remember making the same list myself. My new friends were right: forgiveness didn’t make sense.

I had written a paper about forgiveness the week before our coffee shop conversation. So I wasn’t caught completely off guard since I had used this same story of hurt in that paper. My path to forgiveness was fresh on my mind.

“When I think about my life, I’m not perfect either. Sure, I haven’t made the same decisions they did, but I’ve still hurt people before. I’ve been unkind with my words, shown anger, sat in jealousy, and done other things I’m not proud of. But I believe in hope.

“Because I’ve not met the standard of perfection, I’ve been separated from God. Nothing I can do will make up for that separation. I’ll never be good enough. Thankfully my future doesn’t end there.

“God sent his son, Jesus, to take my place as payment for my imperfection. Jesus lived 33 perfect years on this earth and then chose to die for me. His death, burial, and resurrection wipes my slate clean. I am eternally forgiven. Sure, Heaven is a great thing, but what is incredible is that I get to have a personal relationship with God.

“If I believe God has forgiven me for all of my wrongs, I can forgive others too. It’s such a hard process, and even years later I have to remember each day to offer forgiveness.

“By forgiving someone, I believe it doesn’t erase what they’ve done or the pain they’ve caused…in fact it’s acknowledging that they’ll probably hurt me in some way again. But every time I forgive someone I’m reminded that God is so much bigger. Bigger than their words. Bigger than my pain. Bigger than my shortcomings. Bigger than my failures.”

I’m pretty sure forgiveness will never make sense. I’m thankful that God forgave (and continues to forgive) me, especially when it doesn’t make sense.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

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Fear Not

I would not typically classify myself as an anxious person. I’m pretty leveled with my emotions overall as well as in high tense situations. In fact, it’s a joke amongst my friends that if they need to go to the hospital emergency room, they’re taking me with them. I work well under pressure and tend to be able to make wise decisions in the moment. I think that’s why I like events; I know some sort of surprise is inevitable, something will go wrong and it’ll take creative thinking to improvise. I just expect it and know it’ll all work out. But lately I’ve been more anxious.

As I shared last month, I’ve been walking through an unexpected season of depression. I can tell with each passing week that God is extensively healing my soul, exposing and excavating deep seeded doubts and fears in the process. Looking back I can see the gradual shift in my thinking, going from facing situations head-on to frantically preparing for the worst. I began dreading the unexpected and in a sense, started dooms-day prepping my emotions.

It’s true that I need to be prepared for the battle. We are living in a world where evil has a strong foothold and we are called to fight against the enemy. But I have abandoned daily putting on my Armor and instead have retreated to the corner. I feel stuck, doubting the battle will ever end and fearful that I won’t be ______ enough. That blank can be filled in with things such as: prepared, strong, wise, friendly, selfless, and Godly.

So I sit in the corner. Overwhelmed.

But God, being gracious, does not let me stay there.

I’ve been taught that doubt and fear (not the holy fear variety) are not honoring to God. So in my mind, if doubt and fear are bad but God is good, then they can’t all mix together. So I’ve stopped sharing them…and especially not with God.

A new song popped up on a “recommended for you” playlist (lookin at you, Spotify. You rock.) this summer that had a line I initially questioned but have grown to love. “All my doubts and fears, they can all come too, because they can’t stay long when I’m here with You.” (The Way (New Horizons) – Housefires).

God wants to hear what I am struggling with so He can meet me in my need. I need to let Him in my head so that I can get out. When I started talking with God about my doubts and fears, His message was clear: fear not. I experienced what David shares in Psalm 34. “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.” Moving towards God brings freedom.

He brought to mind many verses that reiterated this simple Truth home. I mean, how much clearer can you get than Isaiah 41:10? “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” I love the picture of God holding us with his righteous right hand. If the Creator of the Universe is holding me, I can be fully secure.

And John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” There is safety in His presence.

I also love the picture of Psalm 139:5: “You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.”

God goes before us, paving the way.

God comes behind us, righting the wrongs.

God is with us, comforting the fearful.

This means NOTHING is a surprise to God.

 

 

FreehandTruth_FearNot

Worship

In May I was diagnosed with clinical depression.

Depression looks different for everyone. I had a friend one time who described his as “walking around with a lead x-ray vest on.” I can relate. One day the lead vest is Gorilla Glued to my body…and then the next day I will be cracking jokes and asking friends to grab lunch. On the whole, I am having many more “good” days than “bad” days (PRAISE HANDS) and I celebrate the healing. I also celebrate that I get to return to a culture that similarly wrestles and share with them the hope I have in Jesus!!

When I was diagnosed, I was relieved to have an explanation for my symptoms but I also knew there was a long road ahead. My doctors and I were all in agreement that although there were many components at play, the chemicals in my brain simply were not playing nice and needed some help in ways I couldn’t control on my own. So I started medication. My doctors and I came up with a treatment plan that has additionally included counseling, more rest, wisely reducing commitments, exercise, and healthy eating.

But I knew that would not be enough. The ache in my soul was even deeper than my exhausted and depleted body. My soul needed care.

I’ve closely monitored what media I am consuming: television, podcasts, social media, movies, and music. I’m aware of my need to have honest conversations about what is going on inside my head, speaking Truth to lies. I’ve been more purposeful about the Books I read, as well as setting aside time for prayer and cracking out my journal more often. I find the most comfort in the Word of God (especially Psalm 30) and have found that my heart needs a way to proclaim this Truth of who He is.

I know worship is so much more than just the songs we sing, but in this season I’ve needed the literal psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. (Eph. 5:19).

Pause for a sec: Let me be up front about this –– I do not only listen to Christian worship music. I will debate you all day long about how a good dance party to Yeah! by Usher or Perm by Bruno Mars can be highly therapeutic. (For the record, this is my favorite performance to date.) Plus there’s so much value in being part of culture through music. There’s a wise way and a wrong way to engage with secular music and everyone has different boundaries. So I am not saying that a certain approach is better than another, but rather this is just where I am right now.

The hardest part for me has been that I can’t be all for all. My capacity isn’t what I’m used to. I’ve dropped the ball with friends, forgetting birthdays and anniversaries and other special days. I’m used to being the one giving help, not asking for it. I have no problem admitting that I’m not perfect, but when it comes to asking for help that’s a different story. I love helping other people, but for some reason when I ask for other people to help me I immediately think that I am being a burden. It’s really sad how that’s transferred over into my relationship with God.

What I love about hymns specifically, or other Gospel-centered songs, is that they remind me how God saved me and chose me when I was broken. It gets better…He keeps choosing me and won’t ever stop. My counselor this week asked me if I ever think about how God is happy that He chose to create me. It’s hard for me to ignore the subconscious mantra of “my brokenness is too much” and instead walk in the freedom that God is infinitely bigger than my brokenness. He delights in me, whatever my state.

The beauty of brokenness is that there’s that much more room for Him to shine.

The following are some of my favorite lines from hymns. I need these sweet reminders to replace the nasty lies. These songs remind me of how God delights in me. I am not too much. He’s got this all under control.

“I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small; Child of weakness, watch and pray, Find in Me thine all in all.””
Jesus Paid it All

“Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!”
Great is Thy Faithfulness

“All to Jesus I surrender, Make me, Savior, wholly Thine; Let me feel Thy Holy Spirit, Truly know that Thou art mine. All to Jesus I surrender, Lord, I give myself to Thee; Fill me with Thy love and power, Let Thy blessing fall on me.”
I Surrender All

“Amazing grace! how sweet the sound, That saved a wretch; like me! I once was lost, but now am found, Was blind, but now I see.
’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed!
The Lord hath promised good to me, His word my hope secures; He will my shield and portion be As long as life endures.
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, Bright shining as the sun, We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise Than when we first begun.”
Amazing Grace

 

FreehandTruth_ItIsWell

Grace

As kids, my sister and I loved doing puzzles. Our lineage is almost exclusively engineers and teachers, so we were destined to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. Whether the puzzle involved numbers, words, or pictures, we were all over it. On more than one occasion we have been known to snatch the last piece out of the other’s hand (Rebecca’s favorite trick) or to hide the last piece until the other sister was haunted by the glaring gap (my specialty). When we would go to a restaurant, we would try to stump each other with math problems. (I know, we were cool kids.) Whatever the puzzle, we saw chaos and wanted to bring order.

I treat life much the same way.

I dump out the puzzle of life and begin searching for the edge pieces to help frame the lesson God is teaching me. I write out the problem, determine the variables, and balance the equation. I talk out the situation, filling in all the boxes to the matrix logic.

Always sorting.

Always searching.

Always striving to make sense of things.

There has always been one type of puzzle though that I do not indulge in: knots. Untangling Christmas lights? Nope. Matted balls of string? Get away. Cords that have been jumbled? Send help. I think one of man’s greatest inventions has been electronics with retractable cords.

I don’t like knots because there’s no clear starting point. You just tug and hope something gives. It is inevitable that you will get the string 99.9% untangled, only to discover a small pretzel-shaped knot in the dead center of the line. There is so much doubling back and gathering and scrunching and I’m convinced that half of the time I’m just tripling the number of knots. I am only adding to the chaos.

My life is currently a knot.

I have no picture on the box or number on the opposite side of the equal sign. When I tug and pull there is no movement; I am well aware that the knot is only tightening. I am left with a clump. It feels useless.

It’s not uncommon for someone to comment on how self-aware I am. I’m grateful each time He opens my eyes to see how different aspects, events, or characteristics relate and influence one another. I like to see the puzzle making sense. But right now the only thing I’m aware of is that there’s a lot I don’t know and can’t figure out. So what now?

GRACE.

I’ve written nothing short of seven alternative paragraphs to follow that one simple word. Each paragraph gets carefully typed out only to be deleted, always falling short of what my soul longs to convey. So rather than fumbling towards what my heart is trying to express, I will lean on Truth. The phrase that God keeps bringing to mind is the beginning of 2 Corinthians 12:8: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I am very much in the midst of the beginning stages of this whole grace thing. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve tried to recruit friends to help me untangle this knot, only for them to gently urge me to accept the grace that has been given to me.

So here I stand. With a knotted, jumbled, imperfect lump of what I think at one time resembled my life. What I am quick to deem as worthless, God embraces as precious. He doesn’t expect any different of me. Why should I?

 

FreehandTruth_GraceIsSufficient

Homesick

In a few days I will hit eight months of living in Greece.

As I prepared to make the move, I had a few people mention the “honeymoon period.” Where you’re so excited and mesmerized by a place or event that there’s little that can taint the bliss. My honeymoon with Greece lasted about three weeks.

Don’t get me wrong, I love this place. A lot. God has provided incredible friendships and numerous other blessings. There is no doubt in my mind that this is where I am supposed to be, and now where He has me for next year too (eek!).

But I am homesick. My heart aches for my homeland, to be near “my people.”

I have wrestled with this quite a bit, especially over the last few months. If this is where God has me, is it wrong to feel homesick? Is it wrong to desire to be near my church family, when there is a church here? If I long to be elsewhere, am I not being content with what God has put before me?

Short answer: no.

My team has been studying 1 and 2 Thessalonians this semester. Multiple times Paul pours out his heart and shares just how desperately he wants to be with the church in Thessalonica. And he never apologizes for this longing. In Romans 15 he shares too that he wants to be with the church in Rome so that he can be “refreshed in [their] company.” I can relate.

So if my homesickness is not sinful in nature, what should I do with it?

Friends and family, Tex-Mex and Chick-Fil-A, vibrant sunsets and driving with the windows down…these are all things Texas holds. I intend to fully embrace all of these things during my 81 days Stateside this summer and I am confident that I, like Paul, will be refreshed by the company of familiar faces. But I also know that no matter what, I will not be satisfied.

My longings for satisfaction and comfort run deeper than my Texas heritage.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (Hebrews 13:14, NLT)

I long for Heaven home.

My Home is promised. Jesus reminds us of this perfect home in John 14:1-3 when he encourages the disciples: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” This place I long for is a reality, not a figment.

I’ve also found great comfort in these verses in the midst of my homesickness.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” James 4:8

“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” 2 Peter 3:13

CS Lewis wrote “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither.”

So Jesus, let this yearning serve as a holy reminder. I know that I yearn for Heaven. I yearn to see you face to face and see with my own eyes, without hesitation or denial, just how in love you are with me. I yearn to be in your presence for all of eternity.

 

Psalm91_FreehandTruth

A note about the art:
I knew I wanted to use watercolors because there is something soothing about how the colors mix and the end product often has a serene aspect. As I was painting, I just wasn’t working. The first attempt was cool, but it was at odds with how I was feeling. I needed more Princess Diaries and less Bob Ross. When I look at this one, it just fits.

Surrender

Every summer in college I worked at a summer camp. Each summer would begin with a few weeks of training where the year-round staff would prep us for the delightfully exhausting season ahead. During one of these staff trainings, my director put an interesting spin on a a common illustration. Whenever it comes time to make decisions or face something difficult, I feel like the phrases “open hands” or “offer it up” are uttered nothing short of eight billion times.

If you have said this to me, first of all, I want to thank you. Because as someone who is prone to want to control everything, I know that by you saying this you are trying to get me to remember that I need to let God take His rightful place in my life as Ruler and King. He controls my life; I need to be faithful with what He’s given me.

Back to my camp director’s challenge. All of the ladies on staff were outside enjoying the cool breeze of the afternoon. (Which, who knew there was a place where you could be outside in May and not be sweating buckets? Don’t get me wrong Texas, you’re still my favorite. But sometimes your summers are the worst.) My director bent down and picked up a rock. She told us to think of something in our lives that we are protective over (family, a relationship, grades, etc) that the rock could represent. We often think that by opening our hands, we’re submitting that to God. Which is true to some extent. But think about it, if the rock is still in your hand, you control how high, where the rock goes, and sometimes you close your fingers right tight around it again. What would happen if you took your rock in your palm with your hand open, and then flipped it over? The rock would fall out of your controlling grasp.

I think I’m fairly good at opening my hands to surrender my “rock,” but totally letting go is a different story. I profess with my mouth that I trust God with _____, but my heart and my mind are a lot slower to get on board. I’ve known God for most of my life and been walking consistently with Him for almost 15 years, so why is it so hard for me to let go? I’ve seen and experienced Him being there for me in the darkest of hours, experienced Him provide for me abundantly. But hesitancy still has roots deeper than I would like to admit.

I don’t have any profound revelation or earth shattering point. This isn’t a fully resolved lesson or something that is in the past. It’s not a ‘one and done’ approach.

Surrender is daily obedience.

With each day, let my soul cry “All to Thee, my precious Savior, I surrender all.”

Peace

God has frequently been bringing to mind the story of Mark 4:35-40. Jesus and the disciples had a long day of ministering to people so they loaded up a boat to go to the other side of the sea. A storm came upon them and the disciples were TERRIFIED. They were literally caught on a sinking ship. Meanwhile, Jesus was peacefully sleeping. The disciples were pretty frustrated and “woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And [Jesus] awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?””

I can definitely relate to the disciples. I’ve felt like the storms are viscous and that my boat is flooding and going down. Fast. I’m trying to get the water out as quick as I can but I’m not making a dent in it. My panic seems justified. I have a hard time believing that anyone on a sinking ship would just sit there quietly. There has been more than one time this month where I wanted to walk right up to Jesus and say, “Hello. You might not be aware but my boat is about to sink and someone is going to have to pull my body from the bottom of the lake. AND YOU’RE DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT!!”

I’m sure Jesus would get a kick out of that. His response would probably be the same to me as it was to the disciples: “Why are you afraid? Don’t you have faith in me?”

Peace and faith are closely intertwined. At church a few weeks ago we talked about Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Our pastor talked about how peace is founded in faith. From the moment we began believing in God we were given peace. He posed a simple question: what keeps us from living in peace?

No matter how big the storms seem or how unsettled I feel or how much anxiety seems like an appropriate response, that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is bigger.

Do I believe that the Creator of all can command all that He has created? Yes.

Do I believe that He cares about me and is alive and working for my good? Yes.

Do I believe that He will use suffering to produce endurance, character, and hope? Yes.

I believe that Jesus’ command to the wind and the sea is the same command He gives to me. “Peace! Be still!”

Solitude

If you had asked me two months ago to name the spiritual disciplines, my list would have included prayer, Scripture memory, reading/studying the Bible, and accountability. Turns out there are a good number of additional practices. One of those additions is something called “solitude.” And turns out that it’s not just for monks.

Y’all. Over the past 6 weeks, the longest I’ve gone without hearing some mention of solitude has been three days. NOT KIDDING. Books for fun, books for a seminary class, friends, podcasts, more friends, sermons, more books…everywhere I turn, there has been some nugget about the importance of solitude.

I’ve also had the exact same “it’s showing up everywhere” experience with a new-to-me author, Henri Nouwen. (And also with Chick-fil-A…but I still have five months left of my CFA fast so we don’t talk about that one.) Would you believe me if I said that it took me two weeks of these “solitude” and “Nouwen” bombardments before I realized Henri Nouwen has a lot to say about solitude? And here I was thinking they were two separate occurrences. Ha.

By that point, there was no denying that God had my attention. If everyone (including this Nouwen dude) is claiming solitude is so essential, why was this the first I was hearing of it?

Solitude is counter-cultural. In a world that demands go and do, solitude demands that we stop and sit. 

This nugget was from a seminary book:

“The practice of contemplative prayer––learning to quietly sit in God’s presence, gazing upon him, and allowing him, not our worded response, to fill our consciousness––is a transforming discipline for Christians more accustomed to prayer of the head than prayer of the heart.” (David Benner, Care of Souls)

Not only that, but I would venture to say that we also live in a world that demands we have a response to everything. We are trained to have a thoughtful opinion, witty rebuttal, or insightful analysis. If we don’t, well…you just failed 10th grade English, or you’re the laughingstock of the dinner party. Solitude can be super uncomfortable because it forces us to stand, unmasked, before God.

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self.” -Henri Nouwen

Nouwen is adamant that even though solitude is hard work (I’ll affirm that claim), when we set aside time and space we will undoubtably be inundated by a thousand distracting thoughts as we are face-to-face with our inner chaos, but the result of perseverance is hope in the presence of God. We are reminded that God is bigger than we are.

But here’s what really got me: Did you know Jesus practiced solitude? Matthew 14:23 gives us a picture of Jesus practicing solitude in the middle of His ministry, “And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Did you catch that? Jesus left the crowd. Went by himself up the mountain. Where he prayed. By himself. For a long time. He also practiced solitude after hearing about John the Baptist’s death (Matthew 14:13), after healing many (Mark 1:35), before choosing the Twelve Disciples (Luke 6:12), and the night he was betrayed (Matthew 26:39). One last verse to drive home this point: “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16 NIV)

Here are some questions that helped me begin to practice solitude:

  • Where am I trying to use outer distractions to shield the inner noises?
  • When was the last time I stopped to listen to the quiet whisper of God?
  • Am I persevering, pushing into solitude?
  • What is my attitude toward solitude?

“In solitude we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness.” -Henri Nouwen

Sometimes we choose solitude and other times God plops us down in the middle of it. Regardless of how we got there, God will always, always, always use those times to teach us about who He is.

Solitude is not just for monks.

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