In John 10:10 Jesus promises His followers abundant life. This blog is about my life as His follower.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Practice

Photo from Even Rocks Cry Out
I've "tried" silence and solitude twice now.

In our bedroom, on my side of the bed, I routinely take time out first thing in the morning to praise & thank God as well as engage in my prayer list.  I also read some from the Bible and reflect a bit on what I've read.  So I've now inserted time for silence before I get into the Bible reading.

Right now I'm a bit mechanical in my approach.  I set my phone timer for 5 minutes. This time amount most likely would seem paltry to most people; but for me this is where I am at, the most I can do at this time. (I have a thought that some day I'll become one of those people who takes out long stretches of time such as half a day, an entire day, or a weekend to give God their undivided attention.  But I'm not there yet.)  Five minutes of me not talking.  Five minutes of me trying to silence all those thoughts in my head.  I start by just saying "I'm yours Lord".  I end, after the timer rings, by thanking Him that He would want to talk with me.  So far I just have thoughts bouncing all over in my head as I try to quiet down.

In Invitation to Solitude and Silence Barton writes about how it can be more beneficial to acknowledge disruptive thoughts rather than try to ignore them.  She writes about how fears, concerns, and repetitive ideas can be a glimpse into our interior selves.  She encourages the reader to bring them to God.  So far, for me, it's not really like that.  It's just that my mind is all over the place.  Being silent does not come naturally to me.

I figure that I just need to do it daily. Get myself into the routine, and eventually more will come  At the very least I think that my "time with God" each day is too much about myself.  I'm praising and thanking and asking for - which is all fine and good.  But when do I listen for what God might be wanting to say to me?  Certainly my time in the Word is that...but I think there might be more.  So, I'm thinking that God knows my heart and sees that I'm trying to set things up so that I give Him my complete, undivided attention each day.  From what I know of His character, I believe He will honor this desire.  I don't know how this will look, but I'm expectant.

After silence today I read from a devotional that I've been going through.  Then I took some time to review a book that we're going to be facilitating at church for a women's Bible study starting next month.  As I was glancing through the Bible study workbook my attention caught on a page with a photo of a woman who leads a prison ministry.  When I saw that picture a voice in my head said I want to do that. I certainly have the time right now; and even when I'm working again, I can take a few hours one evening a week or on the weekend to do something.   I have been blessed in my life to have a few people, who at various stages in my life, invested in me.  I've had some times in my life when I've been able to invest in others, but not as much as I'd like.  My heart always wants to be there for others when they are going through tough times.  But it does not naturally happen for me that I connect with people in this way very often.

So I went online and happened upon Prison Fellowship ministries.  I've been peripherally involved with them in the past through Project Angel Tree; when my children were little, some years we would buy presents to donate to Angel Tree as our family Christmas service project. I remember, years ago, reading about Chuck Coleson and his vision when starting this ministry.  As I looked through ministry opportunities on the website today I was drawn to opportunities to mentor a female prisoner directly prior to and/or following her release.  I thought about how tough it is for people to get jobs once they have a prison record.  I reflected on how some people in this situation don't have a healthy support system. I know that life is hard.  No one can take away life's hardships or pain.  But, in my experience, having someone to come along side and go through the hard times - not being alone - can be very powerful. I want to do that for someone. So I completed a very brief application and I guess I'll be contacted.  We'll see what happens.

I don't know if the silence time and this opportunity to serve are related. I do know that over the past few years I've been trying to implement what I call "immediate obedience". This is the immediate obedience thing, theory and my practice, in a nutshell:

I've often encountered Christians writing or talking about hearing God tell them stuff.  I've never actually heard a voice.  But sometimes there are thoughts in my head, that sound just like all the other thoughts, that I think are the voice of the Holy Spirit within me.  You know how when you're listening to the radio sometimes the station doesn't come in clear and it's all static-y?  Sometimes the God thoughts are like that for me.  I can't really hear them well.  I've noticed that when I spend time praising God, being thankful throughout the day, being aware of God, reading the Bible, reading books related to God, listening to uplifting Christian music, etc. that it's easier for me to hear what I think are the God thoughts. Under those conditions, these thoughts seem to come in more clearly.  Another thing that I've noticed makes it easier to differentiate the God thoughts from my own thoughts is what I call immediate obedience.

Immediate obedience is when I do what the thought is.  For example, the thought may be to go give that homeless person I see some money.  Or it may be to write an encouraging email to a specific person.  It can be all kinds of things.  I'm not absolutely sure that these specific thoughts are from God - but I figure if the thought is to do good for someone, it can't but be good to do it.  I've  also noticed that those specific types of inclinations or thoughts are typically the easiest for me to ignore.  Because I'll counter those thoughts with ones like Oh I'm too busy, or, my little bit of money won't really help the real problem, or some other reason not to do the thing.  It's very easy for me to get caught up on my own agenda for the day and the flow of the tasks for daily living. But I've found that when I think it's a God-thought for me to do something, and I do that thing right away (what I refer to as immediate obedience), that I can hear the God-thoughts in general more clearly.  When I engage in immediate obedience, there is less static in my head.









Thursday, February 9, 2017

Realizing powerlessness

rope You're blessed when you're at the end of your rope with less of you there is more if god and his rule:
Photo from Makeover
One of my favorite scriptures is the portion of Jesus' famous sermon on the mount that we refer to as the beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. I'm especially delighted by the way Peterson paraphrases the first verse in The Message: 

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you  there is more of God and his rule.

My first marriage was to an alcoholic.  I became rather crazy trying to  control that poor man's drinking.  I finally got myself into Al-Anon. I'll  forever be grateful for Al-Anon because it was there that I learned about 12 step programs.  The first step that they talk about is accepting the fact that you are powerless.

The importance of recognizing my own powerlessness is the foundation for life.

When speaking of solitude and silence Dallas Willard once said that "it is a fallacy to think that one just needs more time. Unless a deeper solution is found, "more time" will just fill up the same way as the time we already have.  The way to liberation and rest lies through a decision and practice. The decision is to release the world and your fate, including your reputation and success, into the hands of God."  Willard goes on to observe that "Sin, Paul tells us, "was in the world", even before the law came. It forms us internally and pressures us externally. Hence we must learn to choose things that meet with God's actions of grace to break us out of the system. These things are disciplines of life in the spirit, well known from Christian history but much avoided and misunderstood.  For those who do not understand our desperate situation, these disciplines look strange or even harmful.  But they are absolutely necessary for those who would find rest for their soul in God and not live the distracted existence Pascal so accurately portrays. Solitude and silence are the most radical of the spiritual disciples because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing.  To be in solitude is to choose to do nothing. For extensive periods of time. All accomplishment is given up. Silence is required to complete solitude, for until we enter quietness, the world still lays hold of us. When we go into solitude and silence we stop making demands on God. It is enough that God is God and we are his. We learn we have a soul, that God is here, and that the world is my Father's world."

I appreciate Ruth Haley Barton's comments concerning the practices of solitude and silence.  In her book Invitation to Solitude and Silence she talks about her inner demons of the desire to perform, to be seen as competent, productive, culturally relevant and balanced as major obstacles to the practice of solitude and silence. I struggle with these same issues.  To "do nothing" seems crazy.  I feel anxious even thinking about it.  I get busy thinking about it to avoid doing it.

But...the desire for more is still there.  The fact that I can't seem to work out what to be doing in my life right now exists.  In my application for 150 different jobs that have not resulted in employment, I see the fact that I'm not making "it" happen.

Seeking Solitude and Silence

I really like this one. It seems lonely, but its how it was supposed to be.:
Photo from gentleman essentials
Blaise Pascal noted that "all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own room", he found that the reason for this inability is "the natural poverty of our feeble and mortal condition, so miserable that nothing can comfort us when we think of it closely". Pascal said that people turn to diversion to distract us from ourselves.  He explained that "Hence it comes to people so much love noise and stir; hence it comes that the prison is so horrible a punishment; hence it comes that the pleasure of solitude is a thing incomprehensible".

This seems true of the world I see around me. In the culture around me I see a constant addiction to cell  phones and listening devices.  When I've traveled and shared rooms with people from work, I've found that it is common practice to never allow there to be any quiet; that people turn on the TV when they enter a room even though they're not watching it.  People tell me that they do this all the time at home.  This drives me crazy.  Aside from work or to obtain information, I don't use my cell phone much.  I adore long walks at the beach, or any beautiful outdoor place, without any kind of listening device.  I want to just drink in and enjoy the silence.

Pascal also observed that people are driven to diversion and develop the confused idea that rest is attained through excitement. He wrote that people "always to fancy that the satisfaction which they do not have will come to them if, by surmounting whatever difficulties confront them they can thereby open the door to rest".  I can see that in the frenzied vacation pursuits of so many.  Not that exciting vacations in and of themselves are wrong; in fact, that might be very right for some one.  It's just that I don't think these excitement laden activities will produce the peace, connection to God, and rest for the soul. As long as exciting vacations are pursued for what they are, they can be great.

Pascal believed that people have "another secret instinct, a remnant of greatness of our original nature, which teaches that happiness in reality consists only in rest, and not being stirred up". When I think about these words of Pascal I'm reminded of these Bible elements:
  • In Genesis we're told that man was created in God's image
  • In the Garden of Eden there was not sin and man had perfect communication with God
  • In the old testament I read about the sabbath and a rest.  In the Exodus story God provided manna for His people and they only collected enough for their daily needs.  But on the 6th day they collected enough for that day plus the sabbath rest day.
  • In the new testament Jesus made His famous statement in Matthew 11:28 - 29 about how He'll give us rest.

I  recognize that, although I'm not as addicted to the noise agents of my culture, I have my own barrier.  It's something I developed during my lonely childhood in my crazy family.  I write scripts in my head.  Sometimes it's about what could or might happen in my own life, but frequently it's a story about someone else in a life with such and such going on.  It's like I read a fiction book of my own making in my head while I'm walking, cooking, or engaging in some other life activity which doesn't require concentration. This thing that I do isn't bad in and of itself, but sometimes I use it as a barrier from the pain or questions in my head that I don't know what to do with.  Sometimes I use it as an escape.

 I think that Pascal, and all the other mystic and contemplative writers, were onto something.

So, it is with this in mind that I've determined to embark upon a quest to understand and implement what many refer to as spiritual disciplines of solitude and silence.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Adrift

Explore petervanallen's photos on Flickr. petervanallen has uploaded 4362 photos to Flickr.:

Right now I'm a bit lost.

I'm jobless and looking.  I've applied to 150 positions, engaged in phone interviews for 9 jobs, made it to face to face interviews for 3 jobs, and mentally tried-on-and-got-excited about 4 positions that never panned out.

During this time I:
  • Completed 2 required courses for the MA program I'm working on
  • Came upon a free treadmill and started walking 4 - 5 miles daily while watching TV (mostly Taiwanese dramas)
  • Spent bunches of time cooking for, and visiting with, my 92-year old mother
  • Hosted all 3 of my sons + girlfriend + wife + girlfriend's daughter + grand daughter for the Christmas and New Year holidays
  • Been blessed to make numerous beach trips to HB that included long walks at low tide with John at Bolsa Chica or Sunset beaches
  • Read numerous fun, fiction, books
  • Visited my oldest son, wife, & granddaughter in Texas
  • Engaged in numerous discussions with my youngest son regarding his dreams, goals and future
  • Prayerfully tried to provide requested advice to my middle son regarding his relationship with his girlfriend and his finances 
  • Started learning Spanish using a free phone app (Duolingo)
  • Prepared to help facilitate the new women's Bible study at church
  • Engaged in lengthy theology and/or political discussions with John

I know that God has a plan and I choose to trust Him.  Sometimes my emotions are right there with me, and sometimes I struggle with feeling like a failure.  One thing I have noticed is that my job and my identity and way too strongly linked together.

Right now I'm especially feeling adrift because I only need 3 more courses to complete this MA program and none of them are offered right now. I feel as if I've applied for every possible job for which I can think of and am a bit lost as to what to do next.  I'm grateful that John's income makes it so that all our needs are met so I don't have a lot of financial pressure.

But I want more.......

I want to do more
be more
experience more
help other people more
and I'm unclear where to start

Gather me to be with you

I came across this prayer from Ted Loder in his book Guerillas of Grace; it echos the words in my own heart:

O God, gather me now                                                                                                                                
to be with you
as you are with me.                                                                                  

Soothe my tiredness;
quiet my fretfulness;
curb my aimlessness;
relieve my compulsiveness;
let me be easy for a moment.

O Lord, release me
from fears and guilts
which grip me so tightly;
from expectations and opinions
which I so tightly grip,
that I may be open
to receiving what you give,
to risking something genuinely new,
to learning something refreshingly different.

O God, gather me
to be with you
as you are with me.
Amen

Photo from My Quiet Place

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