Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Lurking in the Silence

[what's brewing: something to keep me going]

“The irony of this is that I often push these aside when I don’t feel I have the emotional energy to enter into silence and solitude – as if I am simply too thirsty to invest the energy in filling my cup and lifting it to my lips. Yet without taking these steps, I can only be filled with water that leaves me thirsty again.”

These two sentences capture the real conundrum that I am faced with in this struggle to give silence and solitude the role I believe they deserve in my life. I don’t have the emotional energy to be filled up. I have been encouraged by your comments this past week, affirming that this experience is not unique to me. I know that I need to consider this tension more if I hope to find lasting change – life giving change.

I say I don’t have the emotional energy to be still before the Lord, but what does that really mean? For me, I know that I am holding my fears closer to my heart than the healing truth I need. I choose to expend my emotional energy on protecting my fears rather than addressing them in moments of stillness. And what is it that I fear?

I am fearful of losing control of my emotions, fearful of crying – fearful of losing all the ground I have gained in my adjustment to the loneliness I’ve encountered here. I spend my days focusing on the positive elements of our life here, celebrating my decreasing feelings of homesickness, and enjoying the new aspects of life in a different culture. I am afraid of slowing down enough to the point that my guard will be let down and in my honest reflections, I will be an emotional mess, sliding backwards into the pain that I am trying to overcome.

I am fearful also of being still and silent, expectantly wanting to encounter my God, and to be left empty and dissatisfied when it is done. I sometimes fear that my well is so deep and so dry from the demands of my everyday life that it cannot possibly be filled in a comparatively brief period of rest; I would rather accept that and keep going than expectantly open myself up and be left dry.

For those of you who understood the dilemma of being “simply too thirsty to invest the energy in filling my cup and lifting it to my lips,” I would love to hear more from you. Do you fear something that may be waiting for you in the silence and solitude? Are you afraid of being asked to forgive someone, to love someone, or maybe to love yourself?

What fears are lurking in the silence for you, or what specific things keep you from entering into the solitude that can fill your cup?


Missionaries in La Ceiba, Honduras said...

All great questions - and all questions that those one the field have felt. Some are from us relying upon ourselves - some are from the fear of failure. Ultimately, we have nothing to do with the success of our endeavors. God lays out our path, and all we are asked to do is be in obedience to Him and follow where He leads - whether that is in "success" or "failure" as the world sees it.

Becky Aguirre said...

Good questions...I've been thinking about it for a few minutes and it's hard for me to name the fear. Maybe the fear of facing myself or of being vulnerable? Admitting weakness? But I've tried the 'rely on yourself' route and it brought nothing but pain and a breakdown. A place I am loathe to return to, that's for sure.

I like how my sister put it, spending time in solitude and in the Word is like holding up my empty cup, waiting for my Father to fill it as He wills. Somedays it doesn't feel like anything happens and yet on other days it's obvious that the cup is filled to overflowing. My job is to hold it up. A little different, perhaps, than what you described, but the same idea.

Reminds me of the phrase, 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink'. Doesn't make sense why I struggle with this when it seems so obvious, but there you have it...

Ellie said...

Don't celebrate the decreasing feelings of homesickness too much. Yes, celebrate the feelings of being at home where you are. But homesickness, it is a real feeling, earned and valuable. You aren't home. That hurts. Allow yourself to feel your hurts - they are part of you. I think when we try to run from pain, we cause ourself pain.

There is a time to feel. This feeling of sadness over not being home is part of being a missionary. You will always feel it - even when you go home. You've given your heart to two (or more) locations, and it will always be that. It becomes less intense, yes. We learn to go on, yes, but it is always there like a constant next-door neighbor.

Good post - would love to think it through and discuss it, but this week isn't the best for me to.

Beth Niquette said...

I think I will always feel a sadness when I think of home. Home is a combination of many things. Home is not just a place, but a being.

Our joy is to live life to its fullest--life serving the Lord by faith is not easy. No. It is not.

You are in my thoughts and prayers today.

jpierce said...

For me the battle is trying to take care of myself. It is a priority thing and a pride thing. I am too busy to stop to be with God, but find I have time for TV or casual reading or.....other stuff. I may fear that I won't get refreshed if I take the time, but in looking back I see that is a lie. I am always refreshed when I spend time in prayer,dwelling on the truth of the Word, being in His presence. Maybe each person's struggle is different, but the answer is the same.
Jan, onehandfulofrice

Debbie from England said...

Take heart--I'm just beginning to learn this and I've been a missionary for 23 years. (But how I wish I'd learned it earlier.) One thing God has used is the book 'Invitation to Solitude and Silence'(subtitle 'Experiencing God's Transforming Presence') by Ruth Haley Barton. A sideline as to how I got this book... I attended the Croatia WOTH retreat March '08 and was playing the gift game. People kept taking my gifts and I got frustrated. I liked what I had. But then it dawned on me to turn this, too, over to God. (I've had a LOT of lessons in trust over the past 2 yrs--finances, a son's biopsy for cancer [all clear], called back from a mammogram, horrific things revealed in an extended family member, etc.) Can I trust Him in ALL things? Whether that be the gift I end up w/ in a fun game, or to trust Him to fill my deepest needs in my driest times, YES! My heart rejoices that I really can trust Him. (I think that's our deepest fear: Is He really enough? Can I REALLY trust Him when I have no back-up plan, no reserve of anything left?) Back to the game, I relaxed and said 'Jesus, You choose my gift. Help me to end up w/ the gift YOU want me to have.' And I got the above-mentioned book, and it's blessed me ever since. I know this is already a long comment, but here's a bit from the book...
'When we go into solitude and silence [s & s] we stop making demands on God. It is enough that God is God and we are his... This knowledge of God progressively replaces the rabid busyness and self-importance that drives most human beings.... [S & S] are whom we have become.... We carry them w/ us wherever we go. (p. 10-11)
I could relate to this: '...see myself as the jar of river water all shaken up and then guided me into the practices that would allow the swirling sediment in my soul to settle.' (p. 15)
'It is an invitation to the adventure of spiritual transformation in the deepest places of our being, an adventure that will result in greater freedom and authenticity and surrender to God than we have yet experienced.' (p 18)
'This journey requires a willingness to say goodbye to life as we know it because our heart is longing for something more.' (p 18-19)
'We are starved for rest, to know God beyond what we can do for him. We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.' (p 21)
'The willingness to name our fear as we enter into solitude opens the way for God to reassure us w/ his presence....desire is what stirs underneath our fear--desire to be met by God, desire to be touched by God in ways we can feel and know, desire to be given over to God in utter abandonment and trust.' (p 50)
'One of the most sobering things I learned as I listened to my exhaustion and allowed God to minister to me is that when I am dangerously tired I can be very, very busy and look very, very important but be unable to hear the quiet, sure voice of the One who calls me the beloved. When that happens I lose touch w/ that place in the center of my being where I know who I am in God, where I know what I am called to do, and where I am responsive to his voice above all others. When that happens I am at the mercy of all manner of external forces, tossed and turned by others' expectations and my own compulsions. These inner lacks then become the source of my frenetic activity, keeping me forever spiraling into deeper levels of exhaustion.' (p 60)
'The point of solitude is to be w/ God w/ what is true about me right now--whatever that is. Silence, then, allows me to simply give God access to the reality of myself. With the same trust and lack of inhibition that a child demonstrates w/ her mother, I can rest against God and allow him to care for my soul as only he can.' (p 79)
'The experience of gratitude, spread through my soul in solitude, became a source of powerful energy for my ministry the next day and for the events of the next week... Creating space for gratitude rather than letting it slip by unnoticed became deeply replenishing in a way that mere sleep could not have accomplished.' (p 80)
How about a few chapter titles:
Dangerously Tired, Rest for the Body, Rest for the Mind, Rest for the Soul, Emptiness, Pure Presence, etc.
I do apologize for the length of this, but the book is just so good. I guess I've made up for the times that I've written in my head, but never got it typed!
One sideline: A counselor told us that fear is never buried dead, it's always buried alive. It won't go away or get better by ignoring it. Trust God's gentle love for you as you open your heart to Him.

Phyllis said...

Oh, this is so familiar! For me I don't so much see that fear is holding me back. Although, as I read what you have written here, I started to look a little deeper and see fear, too. For me, I'm mostly just too physically tired. I want to want God, but I can't do even that by myself. I pray that He will stir up the desire in me and give me the strength to seek Him. I do see that He's answering that. . . .

I just read a book called Satisfy my Thirsty Soul by Linda Dillow, and it was perfect for where I am. I'm going back through it now. The author spent time on the mission field and is in full-time ministry. She understands, and she spoke right to my heart.

Diane said...

only Jesus can satisfy our thirst...you meet with him every morning no matter the sacrifice....and the ebb and flows of culture shock will get less pronounced. Culture shock as defined as homesickness , loneliness, frustrations....God meet Elijah with a quiet whisper... be still and know that I AM God.

kimom said...

Dear CG, I can echo Jan and Phyllis. Fear blocks a lot of what I could do or be as God's daughter in this life. But I also love that naming fears steals some of their power! I think one fear for me is that if I draw nearer to God, He will ask more difficult things from me. I have trouble trusting his goodness.

These are issues we dealt a lot with in burnout counseling last furlough, and God used Peter Scazzero's 'Emotionally Healthy Spirituality' to teach me a ton! Sorry to suggest yet another book. Fighting fear is the essence of fighting the 'good fight' maybe.

Press on dear one! Name those fears!

Libby said...

Nothing much to add but to say thank you to those who have commented! I needed to read these today. I relate to so much of this.

Ellie said...

Thanks for the comments on silence and solitude. There are times I feel guilty for "not praying" when I am not saying something to God. But at times, when life is really tough, I find I have no words. But I still go to sit quietly, to look up quietly into the heavens and be silent in front of Him. Letting Him see me and my hurts. I am praying. Just without words. Being with Him.

I needed that encouragement today.

I also relate to the wanting to want to spend time with God. There are times when I am frustrated with myself for not "wanting" that more. I've learned to ask Him to make me want it.

There is a verse that says "He took me by the hand and led me to His house." (sorry - no reference - Psalms, somewhere.) I ask God sometimes to take me by the hand and bring me to His house - bring me whether I go willingly or a bit like a objecting two year old held by the hand! Just make me want You.

Tim and Richelle said...

"I am fearful also of being still and silent, expectantly wanting to encounter my God, and to be left empty and dissatisfied when it is done."

I identified with your words - what if I come to God, empty - and I don't leave filled up? And if/when that happens, is it me... or is it God? I'm afraid of the answers to those questions, so... like an ostrich with my head buried in the sand, I try to avoid discovering the answer. It isn't an intellectual thing for me - I know the right answers. It has much more with believing in God, who He is, what He does, what He chooses for me...

Amy said...

I think i'm sometimes afraid of coming to Him and having him tell me to do something more than I am already doing, to go even more beyond my comfort zone than i already have and i want to say, Can't this be enough?

Alan & Beth McManus said...

The times I have been the most empty and the most dry and the most unwilling to come to God, it was not fear that kept me away. It was a sure knowledge that He would require of me something I was unwilling to give. It was sheer rebellion. I was full of anger and hatred and was unwilling to forgive. I was telling God that He needed to curse when He wanted to bless, so I kept away like a little child, sulking and sucking her thumb.

When I finally gave up my "self" and obeyed, the refreshment was so amazing that I couldn't believe that I'd waited so long. The voice inside me crying for vengeance got quieter and quieter until I can barely hear it at all now.

Susan said...

I think it is my pride that keeps me from spending that oh so needed quiet time with God. In my foolishness I think I am fine on my own strength and just plod along till I am SO empty I just HAVE to come to Him for filling or I will die.

Donna said...

(I still don't know how to change my husband's gorilla picture... oh well.)

Thanks for sharing your post, and for all of the comments.

This has been one of the harder of the 11 we've been on the field, and somewhere along the way, I just gave up and put myself in neutral, allowing myself for the first time to just be driven along by all that was swirling around me, rather than planning, directing, and taking responsibility.

I was so very tired, and in calling out over and over, 'Oh Lord, help me to just seek you' he was there.

The year got harder - these last two months especially - and even in the midst of looking to him and calling out, I couldn't help but feel that my heart longed for the fairy tale/movie ending, and it just wasn't happening. It still isn't happening, and it's still hard, but God is still there, and he is enough. The circumstances will eventually change, just by virtue of the passage of time, but to see how I had defined 'his provision' 'his care for me' was eye opening. Finally, I have just had to say, 'for your glory, Lord, for your glory' even when there's not a wonderful or even pleasant or resolved ending.

I have learned somewhat to be quiet, to spend time with him, but hearing what he has to say when it is quiet... yikes. Thankfully, he has promised to finish this work he's begun, with all the hurts and hard things liberally mixed in, and for his glory first and foremost.


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