Henri Nouwen wrote, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.” Intuition tells me this is true but if the whole truth is to be told, I fight solitude with all my being; I resist purposefully stopping to rest with God. Sometimes, I use excuses of all that depends on me to get done. Sometimes, I pretend that praying for others and preparing to teach Sunday school is the same as resting. Sometimes, I just numb it out with Netflix and Facebook. And I am supposed to be a “professional” at this!
We could pretend together that I am the only one for whom this ever happens, but the flocks of people who come for spiritual direction confess otherwise. Why is being alone with God so important to spiritual maturity? And why do we resist so fervently? I think, perhaps, the answer to both of these questions is one and the same.
Silence and solitude require us to meet ourselves, honestly and authentically.
Sitting alone with God, being quiet in God’s presence, strips away all the usual ego tools we employ. When our hands are stilled and our eyes are free, no longer are we able to pretend that our hearts are whole and pure. It isn’t even possible to put on a show of innocent thinking when our thoughts are so loud. And this is terrifying.
I spend an awful lot of my energy to present the “me” that I want you to know. I craft an image of a person who is smart, kind, generous, well-groomed, and above all, humble. In God’s invitation to just sit there, all that work crumbles, leaving my insecurities, anger, petty comparisons, and self-doubt to take over immediately. This self-introduction is difficult to stomach on my own and horrifying to imagine God witnessing.
I also resist silence because it asks me to simply be me. I am not a daughter, sister, wife, mother, spiritual director, Christian, Southern, white, college educated, enneagram number, Myers-Briggs type, friend, or coffee addict. I am simply beloved. The Love found in the silence asks me to trust that all the roles that have defined me and all the personality that I identify with aren’t really me. Those labels aren’t sinful, they aren’t even negative, but they are not who I am. I am God’s beloved, and that identity is enough.
Sitting down in solitude similarly requires me to face the truth that I am so much more tired than I know. I am tired from striving and pushing and impressing and doing. I am even tired from trying to hide how tired I am. The “oughts” and “shoulds” of being a Christian—especially a Southern, female Christian—have gotten too heavy for me to carry. My shoulders round under the weight of expectations that have little to do with an actual Jesus life. When I sit with God, I feel my shoulders drop back and strength return to my spine.
Likewise, I am so very tired of believing that I must earn God’s love by constantly saying “yes” to every person for every request. All those yesses aren’t from a place of joy or love, but instead from a place of proving myself. “No” is a gift from God to be used wisely and well, but when I don’t value myself, I can’t hold good boundaries around work and church and family and time.
The letting go of propaganda, roles, and proving is an invitation. An outstretched hand asks me to take hold and trust. And if I am brave enough to grasp hold, I am made whole. The wholeness is not work of my own; healing is pure gift. And so, when my defenses drop, Love pours into places that I have been hiding.
This Love is all that I cannot do for myself but what is truly needed. It reveals the canyons in my heart that I have tried to have others heal for me. Approval and admiration from others can never fill up those cracks; they are just quicksand that sucks me down. But God’s love, offered freely, causes the ground to rise back up to meet smooth edges again.
The profound truth of being beloved is both elevating and humbling. I cannot earn this truth. I cannot multiply this truth. I can’t negate the truth, even for people I don’t like. Beloved simply is.
Our next installment will continue to explore the work of God in our silence.