Aloneness that Feels Like Community

We are three weeks into Lent and I keep returning to Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30, specifically his offer to teach us the “unforced rhythms of grace.” The rhythm I’ve noticed lately is his rhythm of aloneness that feels like community.

Jesus spent time with people and created community wherever he travelled. He also often made time to be alone. His friend Luke tells us,

“The news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. 16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.” (Luke 5:15-16)

The “wilderness” in Greek is a place that is solitary and uninhabited by other people at the time. Put simply, it is a place to be alone. This rhythm of Jesus does not appear to be aloneness for the sake of being by himself, as in an escape from crowds. It is instead a place to be alone with the Father. As I see it, Jesus had a rhythm of aloneness that actually felt more like community than being with others.

I have experienced glimpses of aloneness that feels like community. Through developing a rhythm of quiet over the years, of being with God and God alone, something mysterious has happened. I feel a sense of communion with God as Father, Son, Spirit as I sit in the quiet in the presence of God. A number of years ago I wrote a prayer in the front of my journal that I read each morning. The prayer ends with this:

As I sit here this morning with you as Father, Son, Spirit I am simply continuing the dance, this ongoing conversation, this ongoing relationship that You have invited me into. I am engaged, all of me is here with you. Speak Holy Trinity for I am listening.

 

Begin the Day by Sleeping

I have struggled with sleeplessness off an on in my adult life. The common theme when sleeplessness sets in is worry. My mind races and I tend to try to do two main things: solve problems in my head on my own or play out possible scenarios for whatever is consuming my thoughts. As I continue during Lent to consider  the “unforced rhythms of grace” that Jesus offers, I wonder what His life has to say in regards to sleep.

The fact that Jesus slept at all is a great reminder of his humanity. He had the biggest mission statement in history and yet he slept. Maybe if part of it had to do with his Jewish outlook on when the day begins. A new day begins at sundown in Jewish culture and the first gift of God for the new day is rest. Maybe that’s it. Maybe the unforced rhythm that Jesus offers regarding sleep is to see it as a gift from God. Even Jesus received this gift from his Father.

We have the opportunity to join Jesus in beginning our day by sleeping. I believe the first gift God wants to give us each day is sleep. It’s practical surrender, and I know Jesus is very interested in us learning to live a surrendered life. When my mind begins to spin or wander as I lay my head on the pillow, I remind myself that I’m not God, I’m off duty, He’s got it. I’m off the hook, it’s not up to me. May we receive this unforced rhythm of Jesus as we learn to see sleep as a gift.

Living with Rhythms

As I mentioned on Ash Wednesday, I am exploring rest during Lent this year. Specifically, during these opening days of Lent I am looking at Jesus statement in Matt 11:29: Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. It seems Jesus is offering rhythms, rhythms that we can lean into or reject.

As I type the word rhythm it makes me think of Father Rock. He is a retired Catholic priest who lived from age 70-85 in the hills of Oregon in a private lake community. He spent his “retirement” walking with men by having them join him at “Rockhaven” (his home) for a two-day retreat. I was able to return to Rock Haven once or twice a year for ten years and it was wonderful!

One of Rock’s staple teachings is ROD (Rhythm, Order, Discipline). Father Rock’s teaches how Jesus lived his life with Rhythm, Order and Discipline. According to Rock, RHYTHM is: that which occurs regularly, what is repeated and expected. The human body has natural rhythms, thus rhythm is helpful to the accomplishment of all things human.

How do we develop Rhythm in our life? (Father Rock)

  1. Plan your day with broad expectation
  2. Set priorities from urgency, importance, helpfulness
  3. Do what needs to be done today
  4. Take care of peoples’ needs first, then work things
  5. Make prayer part of your daily rhythm
  6. Do major work when you have major energy

These insights from Father Rock are practically helpful for me to look at as I begin a new day/week.

Doing Nothing

A few years after my commitment to spend time each morning with God, I found myself longing for even deeper connection with Him. But I didn’t have the faintest clue where to start.

I remember pulling up to a morning meeting a few minutes early and doing a Google search on my phone: “intimacy with God.” A book by Thomas Keating titled, you guessed it, Intimacy with God, popped up on my search. I ordered the book and awaited its arrival on our front porch. As I read the first few pages, I realized it was speaking to that very longing in my heart! I was being invited deeper into the journey of silence and solitude with God.

In the book, the author, Father Thomas Keating, describes a silent prayer practice that helped him (and me!) more closely experience God’s presence. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. It’s called “centering prayer.”

Now, if you think it’s an arduous task to commit to occasionally spend a day away with God in a culture that screams out that you are as valuable as you are useful, try doing nothing for 20 minutes a day. It will either make you crazy or . . . you just might discover the secret that Jesus often leaned on: silence and solitude in the presence of the Father.

(Am I Loved? Chapter 8 Introduction)

Hearing the Voice of God

After a number of years of spending daily time alone with God, I have realized that perhaps the most significant thing we can do in our time with Him is listen to His voice. You may be thinking, What? Come on now, Shawn. How do you do that? What does that even mean? I hear you. Developing the discipline of listening for God’s voice did not come easily for me. In fact, in the early days I would get distracted by a thousand different things in one sitting. I was annoyed, impatient, and constantly looked at my watch to see when the pain was going to end. Yet slowly, over time, as I continued to return to this place of listening, I began to hear the voice of God.

Now, it wasn’t an audible, booming voice that shot down from Heaven. Sometimes it was simply through Scripture, a passage in a book I was reading, or journaling. Other times it was through the still calmness that overcame me in the moment. But surely and incrementally, over the past 17 years of consistently showing up to listen each morning, God has given me the ability to hear Him. He gives direction for my day, wisdom in decisions, discernment in the moment, and assurance that I am His son. And more than anything, His quiet whisper assures me that I am loved.

Give it a try. Do you best sometime in the next few days to sit with God. Maybe just repeat a verse in your head to get the time started like, “The Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I shall want.” (Ps 23) Pay attention to your breathing. Breathe in calmness and peace, breathe out worry and fear. Allow yourself to just be.

Embracing Solitude

Solitude is so counterintuitive to our culture. It takes a lot effort to learn to cultivate this spiritual discipline, but we can see in the Gospel accounts that time alone with God was very important to Jesus:

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. (Mark 1:35, NASB)

 So Jesus, perceiving that they were intending to come and take Him by force to make Him king, withdrew again to the mountain by Himself alone. (John 6:1,5 NASB)

It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God. (Luke 6:12, NASB)

We don’t know what happened between Jesus and the Father in these times of solitude, but we do know that quiet, reflective time with the Father was a priority to Jesus.

By the world’s standards, some might have said Jesus was “wasting” time. Not being “productive.” Not “accomplishing” anything. The truth is that Jesus was operating on a completely different value system, one that we are wise to consider if we, too, want to draw close to the Father.

The Psalmist David also experienced this, saying, “My heart has heard you say, ‘Come and talk with me.’ And my heart responds, ‘Lord, I am coming’” (Psalm 27:8, NLT). In that place, he could open himself up to the Lord and commune deeply with Him. David wrote of this practice: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23, NLT). When we sit quietly in the presence of the Lord and invite Him to search us, we join David and a long line of spiritual giants who have experienced this before us.

(from Chapter 8 Am I Loved?)

Do You Believe that You too are God’s Beloved?

In his talk “Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry,” Henry Nouwen said,

“God has become so vulnerable, so little, so dependent in a manger and on a cross and is begging us, ‘Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you really love me?’ That’s where ministry starts, because your freedom is anchored in claiming your belovedness. That allows you to go into this world and touch people, heal them, speak with them, and make them aware that they are beloved, chosen, and blessed. When you discover your belovedness by God, you see the belovedness of other people and call that forth. It’s an incredible mystery of God’s love that the more you know how deeply you are loved, the more you will see how deeply your sisters and your brothers in the human family are loved.”

Let this sink in: as we consider the offer of intimacy— true, meaningful intimacy with Jesus— it changes the way we carry ourselves. All of the subconscious questions most of us ask when we enter a room are already answered: Will I be accepted? Noticed? Does my presence here make any difference? Does anyone care that I am here? Will I be true to my conviction? Am I loved? Am I known? Am I understood? All of these questions are already answered by the only One who has authority to truly answer them.

If we don’t get these question(s) answered from God, nor come to believe in a deep place that we too are God’s beloved, we will keep asking others to answer these questions for us. The only question worth asking is, “Am I loved?”—and the answer is unequivocally YES!

How do you answer this question?