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?)

What Does it Look Like to Pray?

When I was younger, I thought I knew what prayer was. Each night as I laid my head down on the pillow, I would list all of the people that were closest to me. I would ask the Lord to bless them and then I’d slowly drift off to sleep. I was careful not to miss a night because I was afraid of what would happen to these people if I didn’t pray for them. I saw to it that they were protected by my prayers and believed that without me, these friends and family members would be in a rough place.

Over the years, my understanding of prayer has changed. While I still believe in the power of petitioning the Lord on behalf of family and friends, I have come to adopt a definition of prayer that I first learned from Henry Nouwen. Prayer is being with God and God alone. As I considered this definition of prayer, I had to honestly ask myself if there was space for that in my life. After all, this was Jesus’ model of prayer and if I was seeking to pattern my life after Him, then I had to begin to create space in my life for God to get at me. If Jesus often spent time in solitude, I believe He is asking us to do the same.

I attended a seminar in 2000 where I was encouraged to spend daily time with Jesus. At that point in my life, spending time alone with God was sporadic at best so I decided to give it a try. The presenter of the seminar, Tom Raley, was 73 years old at the time, and he talked about how daily time in prayer had changed every aspect of his life. At one point Tom told us, “I started spending daily time with Jesus 42 years ago, and haven’t missed a day.” WHAT!!! Was he serious?

Before he ended the session, Tom gave us a loose framework for our own time with Jesus and challenged us to commit to thirty days in a row. I got home and decided to go for it. My journal entry that morning was “Day 1.” After thirty days, I was in! (Like Tom, I committed to getting daily time with Jesus and haven’t missed a day since.)

Here was Tom’s framework: When you wake up in the morning say, “Good morning, Lord. Thanks for a good night’s sleep. I look forward to being with you today.” And then after that, to spend a few minutes doing each of these:

  1. Praising
  2. Giving thanks
  3. Asking for guidance – reading Scripture and praying over your calendar for the day
  4. Dedicating the day to the Lord
  5. Interceding– praying for family and those you minister with/ to
  6. Petitioning
  7. Meditating – picking out something from your time with the Lord that you can carry with you the rest of the day

this excerpt taken from Chapter 6 of 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?

The Humanness of Jesus

The apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians tells us, “…But (Jesus) emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant, and became as human beings are” (Phil. 2:7, Phillips). A lot of people have argued about what Jesus emptied Himself of, exactly. Most Christian scholars agree that when Jesus came to Earth as a human, He emptied Himself, or set aside, His divine attributes—that is, His omniscience (knowing everything), His omnipresence (being everywhere, always present), and His omnipotence (limitless in His power). As a human, He was limited in all these qualities simply because of He had a human body. But let’s set that thought aside for now.

My question is this: what if He didn’t just empty Himself, but also added something? What if that something was human nature? If that were the case, then of course Jesus would have had to limit the access He had to His divine nature. He couldn’t fully operate out of His divine nature and still have the full experience of being human. Those two natures contradict one another.

This is the really challenging part. How human was Jesus, really? He was born of human flesh, grew physically like any other human would, had veins of actual blood, got hungry, thirsty, and tired. He died a physical death. He felt human emotions including anger, despair, joy, grief, sadness, excitement, and wonder. Jesus struggled—He was tempted, confused at times, limited by others’ lack of response, frustrated, and often lonely. It all sounds pretty human to me.

If I were Jesus and had a “God card” I could access anytime I wanted, I would have certainly used it to avoid the daily struggles of being human. However, although Jesus possessed His divine nature throughout His life on Earth, He mysteriously gave up His access to this nature in order to fully possess humanness. Let that sink in for a moment. God, through Jesus, became like us. I don’t know about you, but this makes Jesus—and in turn God the Father—much more relatable and “follow-able” than a super-human, superhero-like God.

To be open to the idea that we are loved is to respond to a God who chose to be human and vulnerable. As Dan Brunner said in a lecture at Soul Formation Academy, “A human Jesus is a broken Jesus who identifies with our brokenness.” Jesus, in His human nature, completely identifies with us! He gets it—our joy, our sorrow, our loneliness, our longings. Jesus meets us in our humanity. He is, after all, the fullest expression and example of what it is to be human.

Belief On Ramp #4: Identity Statement

In this exercise, revisit the lies you realize you have believed about yourself. For some, this may mean you are recognizing for the first time that those voices in your head telling you that you are less than, not enough, imperfect, unworthy, etc., are not true, and are in fact, flat-out lies! Whatever those lies are, identify them and jot them down.

In addition, write down specific negative words or phrases that come to mind about yourself (such as for me, things like “I am a boy, not a man”). Then write down the opposite of those words. That is often where the truth is revealed about who we really are!

This is my personal identity statement that I have been reading each morning for the past 12 years:

My name is Shawn Raymond Petree, Beloved, I am loved.

I am Your chosen son. I am family.

Your Spirit is in me. Jesus is formed (and is forming) in me.

I am an heir of Your Kingdom, a prince, a saint. I chose joy today!

I am a strong, confident, warm, truthful, assertive,

creative, courageous man; a warrior.

Husband to a beautiful, godly wife.

Father to three provided children.

Friend to many.

I am loved.

Lent: Believing the Truth About Ourselves

It’s one thing to expose the lies we’ve been believing about ourselves throughout our lives; it’s another thing altogether to do something about them. The really life-changing work happens through replacing those lies with truth.

At the end of the kayak adventure with my friend Ryan, I decided to be honest with myself about the messages that were running in my conscious and subconscious mind throughout most days. I took some time and wrote down the words and phrases that described my internal dialogue. The first words that came to mind were scared and afraid. Then, worried. Then a realization that I would, at times, bend the truth in hopes that others would approve of me.

Next, I admitted to myself that I performed for others and cared a lot about what others thought of me. After that, the painful descriptive word weak. Through this process, it also came to light that I would often hang back and not take initiative. Then the kicker, just one word: fearful.

Once I got these specific words out on paper in my journal, I laid them in front of me and had a very practical conversation with God. Although I had been following Jesus for a while, this type of frank conversation with the Father was somewhat new to me. It went something like this: “God, thank you for revealing these deep lies I’ve believed about myself for many years. Only You fully know when each of these lies set in. I don’t want to live like this anymore. I know these lies are not from You, God. Show me a way out of this pain.”

After I sat in silence for a few moments, staring at this page in my journal with so many painful lies scribbled out, an idea came to me that I believe was from God. What if I wrote down the opposite of each lie? To take it a step further, I wondered what would happen if I awoke each morning and read aloud these descriptive words—words that were the opposite of what I currently believed about myself. It could be powerful! (Chapter 4 Am I Loved?)

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