I’ve had an increasing longing for stillness and solitude lately. Well, that’s how my coach prefers me to describe it. My exact words were more along the lines of longing to act like a hermit that doesn’t talk and just doesn’t do people.
I suppose I can see how his turn of phrase is a little more positive!
It’s not that I don’t love people. I really do. In fact, sometimes those who know me comment on just how big my heart for others is. I care deeply for people and I love to be around them. But I also know that the best of who I am, the best gift I can bring, comes from the quietness.
It always comes from there for me.
And though the opportunities for service have accelerated this year, just as God told me back in January that they would, yet I must retreat long and often to the place of obscurity, the place which is out of the way.
Lately, that has been hard. In fact, on the days that I have been in college over the last few weeks, I’ve been hotdesking almost compulsively in an effort to find the stillness that my heart craves. I so wish that I had a door there that I could shut on the world! On the other days of the week, as I’ve (often literally!) run from place to place and conversation to conversation, I have wondered how I can be getting it so wrong. The branches have been spreading yet still the heart-longing is to focus on the roots. The busyness thwarts my longing for more. And I know that right now I need to read and write, to be unhurried in thought, unstimulated by technology or the requests of others for my input. I need to go deep, not wide. To immerse myself, desisting the skimming and multi-tasking which so characterises my reading and my engaging with life as it happens. I need – as I told the level 5 and level 6 formation students in my lectures this week – to learn to be present when I’m present and absent when I’m absent. I need to operate as a whole person again. A whole, embodied person who is therefore finite. Neither the technology (e-mails, blogs and tweets) nor the pace of life has been helping me with that lately. The busyness thwarts my longing to focus on the painstaking work of tending the roots.
And I know that eventually I will have much to give. In fact, more than ever lately, I feel I might be nearing the edge of that for which God has been preparing me. The branches are growing: the call which is A&P (academic and practitioner) is coming together, slowly, in the uniqueness that God always promised.
But I also know that it’s about pacing. I still have so, so much to learn before I can live into that uniqueness. It’s still about pacing, and now is not the time.
Now remains the time for stillness and solitude. Though there are also some small forays into what this A&P could look like – teaching two spiritual formation modules at college, lecturing a Bible course for an American university, oddments of writing – now is, even so, principally the time for guarding the quietness, for retreating often to the place which is out of the way, for courting cloistered obscurity. And I need to revisit the plan which helps me do that. I need to reflect on the things which go into the rule of life which will hold me safe from the temptations of wanting to do all of it and to do all of it now.
Because, most of the time, that is what I think I want: to do all that is front of me and to do it now.
So here are some of my lifegiving rhythms, new ones and the old ones to which I return again and again in my efforts to learn the art of steering:
- Rhythms of Word and prayer fixed hour prayer and memorising Scripture have been my best practices lately
- Being with my husband I can only do what I do because of him. I don’t normally say that because I assume everyone already knows this. But, if you didn’t, now you do! I am – quite simply – a walking disaster without him
- Rhythms of study reading and writing in areas of academic and practice, especially the coffee shop trips with a spirituality kind of book and also the research thinking and conversations with supervisor
- Journalling and blogging it’s by writing that I get my head straight about how I probably need to respond to what God seems to be saying
- Saying all the Nos to release the one Yes to the A&P call but how hard that is when the opportunities seem to accelerate!
- Participation in a leadership community to be known and loved and to know and to love as we seek to lead others – the LifeGiving team is God’s gift to me
- Technology fast still working out the details of this one but it needs to happen and soon!
- Scheduling the blue sky thinking space people whose judgment I trust tell me I’m creative, but I don’t feel very creative – blue sky space is essential for practising the habits I find helpful in the ‘faking-it-till-I-make-it’ approach to creativity
- Coaching conversations six times a year so that someone else can help me reflect on how I’m steering through life!
- Ad hoc interactions with mentors because it is a time for learning the tools of the A&P trade
- Weekly sabbath I really have been rubbish about this lately – in part because days off have defaulted to becoming the blue sky days which I’ve not been scheduling
- Retreat oh, yes, five days of silence coming up next month – me, scared about it?!
- Sleeping I don’t always get eight hours but I need it to operate as a nice human being, so I am totally unashamed about catching up on sleep any morning that I can
- Something else which I can’t talk about on here yet…but I will as soon as I am free to!
If you wanted to pray for me, this is what you could pray – that I would be faithful in choosing the way of hiddenness, of stillness and solitude – because it’s there that I find God and I remember again who he is making me to become.
What about you? Do you have a rule of life to which you return again and again to hold you in the place of obedience to him?
This is a post in my sabbatical series.