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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Full

Choosing a word for the year is not a new practice. Maybe it’s safer to say it’s a new fad. Regardless, I’m a believer. Here’s why: when chosen with care, as a result of submission and asking God to reveal what He wants to teach my heart, it can function as a spiritual barometer. It forces me to be really focused on one area. It gives me a centering point for prayer. I can ask myself, “how are you doing practicing or believing [word of the year]?” Am I resisting God or pushing in to Him?

2017 was my second year to claim a word. In 2016, my word was “worthy” because I wanted to see God as worthy of my affections, what He called worthy in the world/people around me, and how I am worthy as God’s beloved.

My word for 2017: full. Because I have Christ, my life lacks nothing. I chose it because so much of my 2016 prayer life had involved phrases like, “Help me be content with…” or “Why am I not…?” or “Why is everyone else….?” I would read verses about God’s gifts and while knowing the Word of God is True, I would have a hard time feeling it.

  • “No good thing does the Lord withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11) 
  • “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:11)
  • “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

If I’m being quite honest, I felt like God was withholding things from me. I watched as friends received things I wanted. I watched as friends got their dream jobs. Got married. Traveled to cool places with their friends. Had (what looked like) effortless relationships with their families. And the list goes on.

I love what Chad Ashby shared in his article “Is God Keeping Something From You?” over on Desiring God. We make it three chapters into the Bible before we see people confused by God and convinced that God is withholding good from them. God gave Adam and Eve an entire garden and they wanted the one tree they couldn’t have. I would definitely recommend reading Ashby’s entire article, but here are two of my favorite excerpts:

“Look at your life. Is it possible that you’ve fallen for Satan’s oldest strategy against us? Are you fixated on the one thing God is withholding? Has the Serpent convinced you that God is actually wrong to keep something good from you? Is it possible that your life is really a garden full of fruitful trees, but you’re stuck on the one tree God won’t let you have now?”

“God withholds good things from us to teach us to treasure him above every good thing. When he refuses to give us the good thing we plead for, he is actually giving us something even greater: himself and his grace to us in Christ.”

When I got to the root of it, the only thing that can bring me complete, lasting satisfaction is God himself. What if I stopped trying to figure out why my life didn’t look like I thought it should, and instead started thanking God for what He had given me?

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Now let me get in front of one thing: moving to Greece did not automatically make my life more full. In a lot of ways, my life became a lot simpler. A big life change, such as I don’t know maybe moving half way around the world, can make your life feel more chaotic but when the dust settles, is still only a distraction.

Here are some questions I had to face over the last year that helped me practice seeing my life as “full.”

  • Do I believe that God is works for my good? (Romans 8:28)
  • Do I trust God’s timing is better than my own? (Proverbs 16:9)
  • Can God use suffering for good? (Romans 5:3-5)
  • Can loneliness contribute to fullness? (Luke 5:16; Hint: yes, it’s called solitude)
  • Is God’s presence what truly fills me up? (Ephesians 3:14-19)

One other way I practiced thanking God for my life being full is by recording a short video every day. Some days produced clips of groups of people together celebrating. Others were of still small moments I experienced by myself. As I watch this video (posted below) from the last year, I cannot help but stop and thank God for all that He has done and is doing in my life.

He is teaching me and meeting me here. My life lacks nothing because I have Jesus.

How full is your life?

Oh, and my word for 2018? Gentle. TBH, not very excited about it. But I trust Him to be a gentle teacher.

Different

She put down her fork and leaned in across the table. She sure had my attention. “Don’t forget this. Repeat this to yourself over and over: ‘Different is not bad. Different is just different.'”

It was purely by chance (aka- the grace of God) that I ran into this friend on one of my final days in the States. She has spent the better portion of her time since college  traveling the world for humanitarian work or once-in-a-lifetime internship opportunities. You better believe I listened to every word she said…and especially what she deemed ‘unforgettable.’

Little did she know that God had practically written the word “different” in marquee letters in my journal the week before. August’s word and focus has been on not just tolerating, but celebrating different.

Living in a different culture has certainly challenged my mindset when I encounter the unfamiliar. I’m drawn to the similar. An American brand of shampoo, foods I can easily recognize, and my wardrobe for the year is essentially the same Old Navy shirt just in six colors. You get the idea.

I wish it stopped here. I wish my pattern of familiar things stopped with objects. But the (sorry for this, but there’s not a better word) sucky reality is that if I’m not careful, I treat people the same way.

Similar hobbies. Similar humor. Similar style. Similar beliefs.

It’s easier that way.

We’re not the same. No two humans are the exact same. I have said for years that I am thankful for this, and I still am, but I’m learning to practice it. I’m facing it head-on. Why is it hard for me to celebrate people with different giftings, interests, or backgrounds? Timothy Keller would say it is pride. And you know what, I’m going to have to agree with him on that.

I love (and also cringe…conviction) what Timothy Keller says in his book The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness:

“True gospel-humily means I stop connecting every experience, every conversation, with myself. In fact, I stop thinking about myself. The freedom of self-forgetfulness. The blessed rest that only self-forgetfulness brings.”

And furthermore,

“The thing we would remember from meeting a truly gospel-humble person is how much they seemed to be totally interested in us. Because the essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.”

If my eyes are not on myself, I remember that we are the Body of Christ.

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” 1 Cor 12:4-7

“There is one body and one Spirit––just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call––one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” Ephesians 4:4-6

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:28

Suddenly, I’m not in competition against Different. I’m fighting for it. I need it. We need it.

Different doesn’t have to be scary. Different should exist. Different should be celebrated.

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Moving 6,000 miles away guaranteed some change to daily life. Knowing that I’ll be here for longer than a few weeks, I’ve tried to approach daily life with the mindset of “this is what I do now” by choosing to celebrate what’s different. Without further ado, here are a few of the differences I’ve encountered in my 2.5 weeks of Greece so far:

  • Cash is how you pay for everything. Bills, restaurant meals, shops. A good Greek memorizes ATM locations. The supermarket, IKEA, and H&M do accept cards though.
  • If you ask for a Coke, they think you’re asking for drugs.
  • Walking is the #1 form of transportation. I hit my 10,000 step goal every. single. day.
  • Meals:
    • Breakfast: a pastry, cereal, toast…but no meat. Pick up a treat from the bakery on your way to work or eat at your house. According to one Greek friend, it is “weird” to eat breakfast at a restaurant and certainly not brunch.
    • Lunch: anytime between 2-4pm. But not before 2. To eat earlier would again, be “weird.” Lunch is the family meal of the day so most schools release around 1 so that everyone can eat together. With the exception of restaurants and supermarkets, shops close down for “quiet hours” from 2-5:30.
    • Dinner: 8pm is pushing it…so 9-11 would be more culturally acceptable. Most Greeks use this time to go out for drinks and munch on the free appetizers that are brought out.
    • Coffee: consumed at all hours of the day. If you sit and drink it at a cafe (coffee shop), you’ll most likely get a complimentary treat.
  • When driving, do not turn right on red. Just don’t do it.
  • Motley’s is home to the greatest “cookies pasta” known to man. Here, pasta could describe one of three things: noodles, cakes, and something else that I can’t remember. All that’s worth remembering is that cookies pasta (cake) is the reason my jeans will need an expansion pack by the time I return to the States.
  • Motley’s is also home to a billion cats. I watched a cat straight up snatch an unattended sandwich quarter off a plate this afternoon. I have the video to prove it. The Greeks didn’t even flinch.
  • Pita gyros are manna in the modern form.
  • Greeks don’t know how to respond to the walking boot I wore at the beginning. They would literally stop in the middle of the street and stare. The Yayas (grandmas) were the most intrigued.
  • Toilet paper is not to be flushed.
  • Trash is taken to community bins located every couple of blocks.
  • I can walk to the lake any day that my heart desires. At the lake, there is a castle, incredible views of the mountains, and an abundance of waterfront cafes. Much to my hearts disgust, I discovered today that the lake is also home to a few snakes. Booooooo.
  • Greeks have cell phones, but they don’t use them like Americans do. Believe it or not, if they’re with other people, they’re not on their phones.
  • Your house is too warm? Open your windows. Our apartment has A/C units, but I have yet to turn it on. I love opening my windows every morning!
  • Everyone smokes. Ash trays are on pretty much every table. But surprisingly it’s only overwhelming in a few places.
  • Everyone might smoke, but only a few use deodorant.
  • What Americans call “Greek Salad” is just “Salad” here. Our Greek friends have gotten a good laugh out of us asking about the “Greek Salads.”
  • Marco Polo is the best app out there. Take that, 8 hour time difference.
  • Clothes dryers are totes not a thing here. Also, our washer is in Italian. 3 points to Sarah for navigating that one.
  • Hot showers can be taken approximately 30 min after turning on the hot water heater. Be sure to flip the breaker back though before showering to avoid electrocution.

 

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Friendship

The saying, “it takes a village” has never been truer. And let me just say that I have an incredible village.

I saw someone recommend a book called Messy Beautiful Friendship by Christine Hoover. After glancing at the table of contents I immediately purchased it. I’m the kind of person who continually has a list of books to read, so it was interesting that this one didn’t sit on the list for a few months before I decided to dive in.

Let me admit right here that it is going to be hard for me to not just copy her entire book below. You can thank Copyright laws for that one 😉 But really and truly I was so encouraged by her words. Over and over I just kept being reminded of how great of friends I have.

Here are some of the main takeaways I had from her book:

We need to ask for help. I love how Christine points out that “relying on the help of friends is one of the greatest catalysts for deepening friendship.”

We need others to remind us of Truth. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together (go read it!!) says “the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged. And that also clarifies the goal of all Christian community: they meet one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

We need to be faithful. And here’s the big one (thanks Christine): “The goal, ultimately, is faithfulness rather than friendship, but our faithfulness to God is evidenced by how we love others, and this love of others inevitably attracts people. Friendship is a happy by-product of faithfulness.”

Support raising has provided lots of opportunities and experiences. I’ve had to trust God to provide in ways that simply seem too impossible. I’ve quickly learned that I cannot do much of anything on my own. I’ve packed up and moved 31 times in 19 weeks. But I’ve also gotten to catch-up, reconnect, or meet y’all. Thank you for sharing your time with me! You have encouraged me in countless ways.

Romans 12:10 says “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” When we are seeking the good for others, we bless them immeasurably.

Whether you’ve prayed with and for me, opened your home to me, or taken me to lunch: thank you. Whether you’ve sent me a random text, listened to my tearful phone call, or shared a funny YouTube video with me: thank you. Whether you’ve simply sat with me, written me thoughtful notes, or pushed me in a wheelchair: thank you. You love me well. I am blessed immeasurably. You have reflected Christ to me and have been examples of selfless friends. You have shown me honor.

But there was one line specifically from Messy Beautiful Friendship that just really rang true for me right now: “And if you truly don’t have people yet because you’ve just moved to town or you’re in a new situation, go be the people for someone else.”

 

It’s time to be the people for Greeks.

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