Thoughts on Silence and Intimacy

As I neared the end of this past semester, I knew that I would soon say goodbye to my sweet friend Emily, who just left for Paris for a year (!!) and won’t be back until after I graduate. So reflecting back over the precious year and a half of our friendship, I remembered an experience that Emily and I shared together, which I had intended to blog about for quite some time. So I wrote this late one night when I should have been working on final papers, and am finally getting around to posting it.

Last semester, silence was a significant theme in my spiritual life. I was reading The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. I found Nouwen’s thoughts on silence to be so profound that I began to practice it as a discipline, first in silent prayer. I wondered what it would be like to spend time with someone else in silence, but I imagined that it would be hideously awkward. Who in the world would I ask to do such a strange thing? Of course Emily was the first person who came to mind – Emily who is amazing at hospitality and quality time, who finds joy in simplicity and excitement in trying new things, whose enthusiasm is contagious, who loves me in spite of my weirdness. So I asked Emily if she would be willing to spend some time with me in silence. Instead of balking at the strangeness of the request, she gladly agreed.

So we walked downtown together to get tea and breakfast, and we spoke only to order our food. Once we had finished eating, after perhaps an hour of quiet togetherness, we broke the silence to talk about our experience of it. Here are a few of the observations I made from our time together.

First, as I had anticipated, it made me pretty uncomfortable at first. Should I look at her, or at my feet? Was I walking too fast? Too slow? Once we got to the restaurant, I wondered if other people noticed us or found our silence strange. Did our waitress think we were mad at each other? Perhaps most uncomfortable of all, I found that eye contact felt painfully vulnerable. As time went on, though, it became easier. And the moments in which we caught the other’s gaze, smiled, and didn’t hurry to glance away – those were truly special moments. It happened almost exactly as Nouwen describes his own experience in his book Reaching Out: “Once in a while we looked at each other with the beginning of a smile pushing away the last remnants of fear and suspicion. It seemed that while the silence grew deeper around us we became more and more aware of a presence embracing both of us.” The world teaches us from a young age that vulnerability is exploited. Yet when we can open ourselves up to another – and perhaps silence can feel even more vulnerable than oversharing – when we feel as though our souls are laid bare to another and we are fully seen, fully known, and fully accepted – it may well be one of the most satisfying experiences of friendship one can have.

Second, I was able to appreciate Emily’s soul beauty in a way that I hadn’t before. Because I wasn’t focused on what either of us was saying, I was free to focus on her being – her grace, the warmth and hospitality of her smile, her sense of being completely at peace in her surroundings – all the things I love most about her. I was able to absorb all of this, savoring and thanking God for these details. Unashamedly appreciating someone in such depth, I think, is in itself a prayer.

Third, as we sat together in silence, time seemed rich and unhurried. It felt like we had all the time in the world, and it was deeper somehow, as if it changed the focus of our togetherness from “catching up” – which in itself seems to imply a hurriedness, a deficit of time. Instead, we were making space just to be with one another.

Finally, the moment that stayed with me the most was our silent gesture of sharing food with one another. I broke a piece off of my strawberry muffin to share with her, and we made eye contact as she accepted it and we ate together. She began to cut a piece off of her egg and avocado sandwich. Recognizing that it was for me, my typical reaction would have been to say “Oh no, that’s ok” and then to say “thank you” when she gave it to me anyway, thus devaluing the gift. This time, I said neither. As she had just done, I accepted it silently, gratefully, and we smiled at each other in mutual acknowledgement of the exchange. Nouwen explains that words are important only insofar as they convey a concept, but in our society we tend to elevate the importance of the words themselves. There is a depth that is lost when we shorthand relational exchanges with phrases that can so easily become trite – “I love you,” “thank you,” et cetera. Slowing down enough to communicate wordlessly deepens our appreciation of the other, creates intimacy, and conveys with greater sincerity what it is that we feel. Often we try to use words as a shortcut to intimacy, but maybe they actually distract us from what it is we are looking for.

Because the discomfort of silence forces us to confront our own insecurities, anxieties, and doubts, we often miss out on what it offers us in return. Maybe it is the solution to our hurriedness. Maybe it is a hidden door to intimacy with God and with others. Maybe if we spent time in silence, we would better know ourselves and our place in this world in which we live.

And perhaps, we might receive an unexpected gift.

Published in: on August 19, 2016 at 10:09 am  Leave a Comment  
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A Prayer for Peace

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I began writing this prayer several months ago, and only just now finished it. I was struggling to convey my desire for hospitality of the heart as well of the home, but this concept has long been dear to me. When I worked at a Christian camp a year and a half ago, I would begin every week by praying peace over the cabin and over each bed where my campers would sleep.

When I read this post by Joanne Kraft, it touched my heart even more deeply. This is the type of home I long to have, where peace reigns and dissension has no place, where the Spirit of God is tangible and everyone who enters can sense that my home and my life are surrendered to a God of peace. In the midst of the chaos, I want my home to be a place where life slows down and can be seen for the beautiful gift it is. So without further explanation, I pray peace for myself and peace for each of you:

Wherever your will leads me, Lord, wherever I travel and wherever I settle,

Let your peace be found there.

In any place in which I make my home,

Let your peace be found there.

In the spiritual highs,

Let your peace be found there.

In the dark night of the soul,

Let your peace be found there.

Grace each room of my home with your presence, Lord,

Let your peace be found there.

On the threshold, for everyone that enters

Let your peace rest there

And your presence be tangibly felt.

In the living room, where community and conversation and laughter abound,

Let your joy abide there.

In the kitchen, where meals are served around a table of grateful hearts,

Let your joy abide there.

In each bedroom, where rest brings renewal,

Let your peace be found there.

Make my home a place of healing for the broken,

And my heart an inviting place where those who need love can rest in transparency.

Let your peace be found in me.

Give me a spirit of gentleness and hospitality as I seek to bring your Kingdom to earth.

Wherever I go, Lord, and wherever I encounter others,

Let your peace be found there.

Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 11:26 pm  Comments (1)  
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An Undivided Spirit

At times I feel like I am slipping away from myself, as if my own life is a fistful of sand. My thoughts race a hundred miles an hour. I feel pulled in so many different directions, spread so thin, and the world around me is spinning like a chaotic vortex. So many things clamor for my attention. Tests, papers, presentations, bills to be paid, grad school applications looming over my head, unread text messages demanding a response. What is most important? Where do I begin?

Centering prayer makes a fool of me, highlighting my inability to be calm. If the noise is loud, the silence is deafening. For four minutes I battle anxious thoughts on top of anxious thoughts. As soon as I think I am still, I realize that somewhere deep inside I am mentally chastising myself for my inability to be still. I never knew there could be so many layers of subconscious thought. How can I possibly invite Jesus into a spirit that is so divided?

The answer is both profoundly simple, and profoundly difficult.

I can’t.

I cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. There is no room for Him there.

Rather, I must enter His Spirit. I must stop what I am doing and find in myself a unified spirit to meet with Jesus. I must focus my will to be caught up in His purpose, and there find my own. And so I must reclaim the scattered pieces of my heart and bring them to Him to be made whole.

School, you have no hold on my heart. You must give it back.

Friends, I cannot love you well by giving you only a piece of my heart. I must have it whole.

Money, you are not worthy of my stress. I reclaim my heart from you.

“Come to me,” He invites. “Leave it behind. Being with Me is so much simpler.”

He smiles knowingly and takes my hand as He continues. “You see, the Kingdom isn’t about all these things. It’s physically impossible to pursue more than one thing. Your spirit is supposed to keep you grounded, but when your very core is being pulled apart…” He shakes His head. “No wonder you can’t breathe. You can’t be fully present if you’re focused on more than one Love. Come with Me, and you’ll find everything you’re looking for without searching.”

I grasp His hand a little tighter as we leave chaos and walk towards clarity. It’s time to leave the rest behind and seek first the Kingdom.

And if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of me attributing words to Jesus, don’t worry, it’s all found in Matthew 11:28-29 and 5:19-34.

At this point, I would strongly encourage you to STOP READING THIS POST, unless you have the time to work through the rest of it as a devotional, as it requires your spiritual participation. It will be meaningless if skimmed, so come back to it when you do have time.

So pause to read those Scriptures right now and underline the words or phrases that stand out to you. Read it again slowly, out loud, focusing on those underlined words. What is Jesus telling you? Pray through the text. Then continue to read below.

Soren Kierkegaard writes, “The person who wills one thing that is not the Good, he does not truly will one thing. It is a delusion, an illusion, a deception…A person who wills [a multitude of things] is not only double-minded but is at odds with himself….In truth to will one thing, then, can only mean to will the Good, because every other object is not a unity.”

And of loving others he writes, “The one who truly loves…does not use a part of his love, and then again another part. To change his love into small coins is not to use it rightly. No, he loves with all his love. It is away as a whole, and yet he keeps it intact as a whole, in his heart…. When the lover gives away his whole love, he keeps it entire — in the purity of the heart.”

Therefore, to give away our heart to any cause in any capacity, it must be whole within us. This is why we cannot invite Jesus into a divided spirit. We must come to Him, sick of our own internal division, wanting to be one within ourselves, and one with Him. And if we desire to be made whole, He must have everything we are. Seek Christ alone, and you will find simplicity.

On a retreat with my church’s college group this past weekend, our college minister led us through a guided meditation by Anthony DeMello, which I will share with you below. I encourage you to take the time to read it slowly, dwell on it, pray through it, savor the images it calls to mind, and examine your own emotional response to the exercise.

“God says, ‘Give me your heart.’

And then, in answer to my puzzlement, I hear Him say, ‘Your heart is where your treasure is.’

My treasures — here they are:

Persons. Places. Occupations. Things.

Experiences of the past.

The future’s hopes and dreams.

I pick each treasure up, say something to it, and place it in the presence of the Lord.

How shall I give these treasures to Him?

In the measure that my heart is in past treasures I am fossilized and dead, for life is only in the present.

So to each of these past treasures, those golden yesterdays, I say goodbye.

To each I speak, explaining that, grateful though I am that it came into my life, it must move out — or my heart will never learn to live in the present.

My heart is in the future too. Its anxious fears of what will be tomorrow leave little energy to fully live what is today. I list these fears and say to each, ‘Let the will of God be done,’ observing what effect this has on me, knowing in my heart that God can only will my good.

My heart is in my dreams, ideals, hopes, which make me live in future fiction. To each of these I say, ‘Let the will of God be done, let Him dispose of you as He sees fit.’

Having reclaimed the portion of my heart that was captured by the future and the past, I now survey my present treasures.

To each beloved person I say with tenderness, ‘You are so precious to me, but you are not my life. I have a life to live, a destiny to meet, that is separate from you.’

I say to places…things…I am attached to, ‘Precious you are, but you are not my life. My life and destiny are separate from you.’

I say this to the things that seem to constitute my very being:

My health, my ideologies, my good name, reputation, and I say it even to my life, which must succumb some day to death,

‘You are desirable and precious, but you are not my life. My life and my destiny are separate from you.’

And at last I stand alone before the Lord.

To Him I give my heart.

I say, ‘You, Lord, are my life. You are my destiny.'”

–Anthony DeMello, Wellsprings

Faithless Prayer

“In the morning, Lord, You hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before You and wait in expectation.” –Psalm 5:3.

This verse evokes a concept of childlike faith that seems so foreign to us realists.  How can we give God our requests and wait in expectation?  Doesn’t that just set us up for disappointment?

So often we think that way, but if we request of God something we believe is too big for Him and continue to worry, what is the purpose of prayer?

In Acts 12, while Peter is in prison and awaiting trial for his faith, his friends are gathered together praying for Him.  God answers their prayers; He sends an angel to miraculously rescue Peter.  The chains fall off his wrists, the iron gates are opened, the guards are struck dumb, and an angel leads Peter out.  Once out of prison, Peter makes his way to where his prayer warriors are gathered in a house.  When he knocks on the door, a servant girls opens it, only to close it promptly in his face, not daring to believe it could possibly be him.  The others in the house show the same level of disbelief, telling the servant girl she is out of her mind, and explaining away this phenomenon by assuming that Peter has been martyred and his angel has come to visit them.

Think about it: they’re trying so hard not to believe their prayer has been answered, that they have to come up with an even more ridiculous theory to explain Peter’s appearance!  Why?  Were they so afraid of hoping, that they had to explain away God’s power when it was staring them in the face?  Had they really spent all that time praying without believing?

Obviously, God can still move in response to faithless prayer, so be careful what you pray, or He just might come through when you least expect it…maybe even if you don’t want it.

But at the same time, how often do we lay our requests before God, only to pick them back up again and carry the weight of our concerns with us because it seems impossible that He would actually move on our behalf?  What kind of prayer is that?

It’s fruitless prayer, that’s what.  It’s faithless prayer.  It’s “heaping up empty phrases” (Matthew 6:7).

If we pray without believing that God is big enough to respond, perhaps we need to reevaluate why we’re praying, or who we’re even praying to.  If it’s the God who parted the Red Sea, who made fire fall from heaven, who made the deaf hear and the blind see and the lame walk, the God who created the universe and raised Jesus Christ from the dead, stop this half-hearted, weak-willed nonsense and believe that He can still move mountains.

Published in: on February 25, 2013 at 11:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Dear Grace: On Wrestling With God

There is nothing more intimidating than being asked a deep theological question by a 13-year-old who looks up to you.  But there is also nothing I love more.  Sometimes I flounder a bit, and sometimes I have to admit that I don’t have all the answers.

Tonight, in the middle of a crowded and noisy restaurant with the youth band playing Christmas carols, struggling to be heard over the noise, Grace asked me one of these questions.

“I just learned the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Was that…okay? I mean, is that a sin?”

Instead of answering, I simply asked Grace this question: “Have you ever wrestled with God?”

She thought about this for a moment. “You mean mentally? Yeah…yeah, I have.”

“Do you think that was a sin?” I asked her.

“I’m not sure,” she answered. “If it is, I guess I’ve sinned a lot.”

“Do you remember from the story what Jacob said to God?  Why he wrestled with Him?” I asked. “He said he wouldn’t let go until God blessed him.  Sometimes we have to doubt before we can believe, and sometimes we have to wrestle with God before we can receive blessing.”

She considered this. “I feel like the concept of doubt has been showing up in my life a lot lately,” she responded. “My mom and I were talking about it the other day, and now you just mentioned it.”

I shrugged. “We all go through doubt.  Some of the greatest people of the faith are the ones who have wrestled with the hard questions. Try reading through the Psalms and see if David didn’t do some of his own wrestling with God.”

Long after the Christmas party was over that night, I continued to think about her question.  Is it a sin to wrestle with God?  I pretty much told her no, but do I act like that’s true?  I’ve done a lot of hiding the past week because I’m afraid to voice some of my frustrations.  So my Bible has sat in my backpack for a few days, sadly neglected, because I can’t seem to read it while ignoring the elephant in the room.  So Grace’s question made me do a lot of thinking.  And praying.  And wrestling.

So, Grace, if you ever get a chance to read this, here’s my answer.

Dear Grace,

It’s okay to wrestle with God.  Don’t be afraid of messing up by wrestling with Him.  Sin is a far deeper problem than just messing up, than thinking or saying or doing the wrong thing.  Sin is disconnectedness from God.  Sometimes we have such a tiny view of sin that we think it’s something we do, something that we think we can manage or fix, but we can’t.  The very second that humanity chose to turn away from God, we lost the beautiful intimacy with Him that we were meant to have.  Sin at its core is just the gap between us and God.  So sometimes I think we try to pretend that we have a relationship with God by doing everything right, but pretending can’t bridge the gap.  We don’t want to get into fights with Him because that must mean we don’t love Him, but that’s not the way real relationships work.  Real relationships don’t pretend like there aren’t problems or miscommunications; they work through them. They wrestle with them.

You see, sin is anything that keeps us away from God.  And if you wrestle with God, you’re closer to Him than you’ve ever been.  You’re making physical contact, skin on skin, looking Him right in the eye, saying that you’re not letting go until He blesses you.  When you grapple with the God of the Universe, you’re being more open and transparent and vulnerable than ever before.

But if you leave your Bible in your backpack and hide because you’re ashamed of your feelings, the gap just got that much wider.  God bridged that gap by sending Jesus to experience life the same way we do.  He understands our feelings.  And He’s big enough to handle our questions.

So I think it was okay that Jacob wrestled with God.  And I think it’s okay if you do too.



Praying to Know Him More

Ephesians 1:17 — “[I pray] that you may know Him more…”

It seems that most of our prayers are centered around two things:

1) Our own (usually physical) well-being. Example: “Lord, be with Joe’s 98-year-old grandma who is in the hospital, and heal her and give her many more years on this earth.” Or, if we’re feeling bold and sharing our emotional problems, it’s something more like, “God, I’m really stressed, just help me to relax.”

2) What we want. Example: “Lord, I desperately need a new car, please provide.” “Father, help me ace this test.” “God, make him ask me out!”

Not that there’s anything necessarily wrong with those prayers. I’ve prayed them myself. But the problem with that is that we’re making prayer all about us, when prayer is about a relationship with God. So what better request is there than what Paul prayed for the Ephesians?

Materialism is such a deeply ingrained part of our culture that it has infiltrated our faith. We want, we need, we deserve. But God must love answering the prayer, “Let me know You more, Father.” How it must touch His heart when His children ask only for more of Him!

Try setting everything aside just to talk to God about your relationship with Him. Ask Him to be with you. Ask Him to reveal more of Himself to you. Pray for Him to use you as an instrument of revival wherever you are… and see if it doesn’t change your life.

Published in: on November 14, 2011 at 11:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #2: Selfish Prayers

Written December 23, 2010.

I’ve come to realize that my prayers are incredibly selfish. I suppose that I don’t want to relinquish control of what I want or what I think is best for me. Living in a world of lesser dimension than the unfathomable infinity of God, I see circumstances as though through blinders: narrow-minded, ignorant of what lies beyond my scope of understanding. I tell God what I need, as if I know better than He does, rationalizing my selfishness by hoping that it’s His will too. Yet I know deep down that He has something so much better in store. It’s almost embarrassing to admit this childishness; I hold on the imperfection that I see, afraid to let go and reach out for something of which I have no concept.

There’s a scenic little spot at a fork in the road in the middle of nowhere that I pass every time I’m headed to I-24. I always stop and get out of the car; standing in the middle of the road, watching it branch off in two different directions, seeing the vast golden fields all around me and the blue canopy of sky over me, I have to admire the beauty of God’s creation. It feels almost like a representation of the proverbial crossroads of life; I look down the road to the right, wondering what lies past the curve. Yet I always get back in my car and go to the left, either to clock in at work or return to school after a much-needed break; either way facing again the busyness and stress of life.

Today I stepped out of the car with a thousand thoughts swirling madly around in my head. I hardly saw the scenery around me as a frustrated and desperate prayer came from my lips: “God, you know how much I want–” But then, as if an invisible hand was placed over my mouth, I stopped. And it hit me: how small and foolish I must look, shamelessly begging to get my way when I haven’t even seen what is around the next corner of life. I take the road to the left because it is familiar to me; but down the road to the right may be the answer to all my futile prayers.

That may sound really obvious. I’ve been told that very thing all my life, and I have even told others. Yet as I stood quietly in the presence of God, absorbing all of these thoughts, I truly understood it for the first time. I caught a glimpse of His goodness. I surrendered to His perfect will. And I knew I need ask no more. There remained but one thing that could be said:

Thank You.

Jeremiah 29:11“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 2:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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