Wednesday is known as the middle of the week for many. For Jesus, it was no different. On Wednesday he found himself halfway to day of his death, most likely due to this, we don't see much happening on Wednesday in Scripture, so often the church has made this a day of rest and silence as we prepare ourselves for Good Friday. In that tradition, Pastor George Velarde composed a devotional to help us see in the call for silence and rest in our souls.
I am an addict. Not in the traditional way you would think of the word addict, but if I am truly honest with myself, then I must admit that there is something that has me completely hooked. The thing that I am addicted to is ME. I am addicted to what people think about ME. I often feel like I am at the mercy of everyone’s demands and expectations, endlessly trying to please everyone around me. I am addicted to control, which is all about ME getting what I want. I feel like I’m always trying to anticipate the next bump in life and then try to come up with a plan to avoid (or at least minimize) the damage it will cause. I am addicted to activity. It feels like there is always something I should be doing, so I can never be at peace. Even on my days off, there are chores and projects to be done, which keep me busy. However, because of this constant activity, I then look for ways to escape the pressure and demands of life by distracting myself with TV or wasting time on my phone.
Do you share in my addiction? Like me, do you ever feel like Martha in the Bible?
“Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42)
Like Martha, are you distracted, anxious and troubled about many things???
Like me, are you tired of your addiction???
Perhaps then it is time for you to “choose the good portion” and do the “one thing that is necessary,” which is spending time with the Lord. As I write that sentence however, I can feel your objections rising to the surface. “Yeah, I know I need to spend more time reading my Bible and praying, but I’m just too busy.”
Well, I am actually NOT proposing that you read the Bible more or even pray more (though those are essential disciplines in the Christian life). What I am proposing is that you, “Be still and know that [he] is God.” (Psalm 46:10)
However, being still and opening up yourself to the presence of God is an incredibly difficult thing to do. It is what is known as the contemplative discipline of Silence & Solitude. Silence is the act of freeing yourself from the distraction of noise so as to be totally present to the Spirit of God. Solitude is the effort of freeing yourself from the distraction of people so as to give yourself completely to God. The goal of this discipline is to quiet your soul so as to clearly hear from God.
Picture being up at Lake Tahoe early in the morning as the sun is rising. The lake is like glass and as you look out across it, you can clearly see the reflection of the mountains, the trees and even your own reflection. But then as the morning progresses, more people get out on the lake, boats begin passing by and the beautiful reflection you once could easily see is now lost in the the ripples and choppiness of the water. The discipline of silence and solitude is the effort of calming the waters of your heart allowing your reflection to reemerge where you can see yourself and God clearly.
What makes it so difficult is that when we try to quiet our soul, we are often met with what we call “monkey-brain” where our mind swings from thought to thought much in the same way that a monkey swings from branch to branch. Another difficulty is that when we try to quiet our soul, painful and powerful feelings surge to the surface. Thoughts of our inadequacies, feelings of not being good enough, memories of rejection, the pain of loneliness all come flooding in. To make matters worse, when you are done spending a few minutes in silence and solitude, it can feel like it was a complete waste of time. After all, you accomplished nothing, your problems are still there, those pesky feelings are still nagging at you and it’s not like God parted the clouds and spoke to you from Heaven.
But as our friends at CrossPoint Ministry say, “If you and I can’t be still, we can’t hear. If we live as distracted souls, then we will live within a very narrow frequency band for relational intimacy with God and everyone else. If we decide for distraction we feed our addiction and we will never know our truest self.”
So what do you do? How do you benefit from this contemplative discipline?
- At least 3 times per week for 10-15 minutes each time, practice silence and solitude. Simply be still and open yourself to the presence of God. At no point in this exercise are you interested in creating anything or thinking about what you need to accomplish or thinking about what you need to get out of this exercise. Just be still!!!
- Establish a comfortable position with your body in a place that feels comfortable and safe. If you feel comfortable doing so, close your eyes so as to silence visual distractions.
- Focus on your breathing. Often as I breath, I’ll repeat a prayer that comes from Psalm 119:94, “I am yours, save me.” As I take a deep breath in, I pray “I am yours…” and as I exhale, I pray, “save me.” Use either that prayer or find a “breath-prayer” of your own and use it to anchor your thoughts.
- When a distraction comes into your mind (family, work, etc.) don’t fight them; just let them go and come back to your breath prayer. I have a white-noise app on my phone that I use to silence all other audio distractions and simultaneously use it as a timer. I’ll set the white-noise app to play for 15 minutes and then put my phone face down so that I’m not distracted by wondering “how long have I been at this?”
- Notice your physical condition. Are you tired? Offer your weariness to God. God’s presence is with you in your weariness. Christ at times was weary. If you fall asleep that’s okay, you’re tired. Honor what your body is telling you.
- What thoughts dominate your mind? Offer them to the Lord. Are there deeper issues underneath you haven’t tended to? Are there self-protective ways of being you that have wearied your soul? Offer your whole mind to God, all your thoughts. Let you mind rest before God.
- What feelings are most pronounced? Whatever they are, let them be. Anxiety, let it be. Anger, let it be. Sadness, let it be. Happiness, let it be. Loneliness, let it be. Imagine God entering your feelings and being with you in your feelings. Be still with God in your feelings. Don’t try to change or fix anything, just acknowledge them and let them be before God.
- Be aware of God’s desire to be with you, and your desire to be with God. God is NOT disappointed in you! HE LOVES YOU! “The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
- Simply close your time with a simple prayer of thanksgiving. Express to God your deep love for his love.
- Repeat this discipline for the rest of your life.
I leave you with the words of Henri Nouwen from A Cry for Mercy, “Every day I see again that only you can teach me to pray, only you can set my heart at rest, only you can let me dwell in your presence. No book, no idea, no concept or theory will ever bring me close to you unless you yourself are the one who lets these instruments become the way to you. But Lord, let me at least remain open to your initiative; let me wait patiently and attentively for that hour when you will come and break through all the walls I have erected. Teach me, O Lord, to pray. Amen”