June 2, 2014

Alone Time

Every day, the neighborhood kids play a game at the pool. One child dives into the deep end, and then all the other children have to jump in and swim across while the first child tries to tag them. 

This game is exhausting for everyone. 

Sitting in my chair, watching my seven-year-old bobbing in ten-foot-deep water and then lunging with all the force of short legs and still-dimpled fingers to touch the other kids, I see myself. 

Recently, I was having a discussion with a friend who is writing a book for pastors’ wives. “The pastors’ wives I know are trying not to drown,” I told her. “We are—just barely—keeping our heads above water because there are so many needs. Casseroles to bake. Sunday School to teach. Nursery to staff. Widows to visit. Bible Study to lead. We might be a little overwhelmed.” 

Like kids in the pool, we are often treading water in the deep end and waving both arms to touch people as they rush past. And, like my young son playing this game with teenagers, we are sometimes unsure of what we are doing. Am I reaching for the right people? Do I look like I know what I’m doing? Will they ask me to play in the next round? 

That’s when, poolside, I read Marlena Graves’ new book A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness. One passage in particular was challenge and hope for this water-treading ministry wife:

“We simply cannot live our whole lives in full view of others—in the crowd. Our lives are not a peep show. Without the discipline of silence and solitude, we play to the crowds, always performing yet never being quite sure of ourselves. We become puppets on a string, easily manipulated by circumstances and the flimsy whims of others. . . .In the silent and solitary place, we hunker down into obscurity. It’s just us and God. We don’t have to impress anyone. We are who we are. Naked. Our vulnerabilities exposed. . .We force ourselves to forgo the pursuit of seeking affirmation from others.” 

Marlena is my friend and (like friends often do) she and I have our theological differences—Marlena is a student of spiritual formation and partial to quoting the desert fathers; I’m a Presbyterian in the Puritan tradition—but I am thankful for her words on the way God uses difficult life circumstances for our good and His glory. 

And Marlena’s encouragement to regular solitude, of leaving the crowd and seeking my Lord, is a reminder I need again and again. When the casserole requests pile up, when the phone rings, when I have to teach Bible study and Sunday School this week, when my own children—home for the summer—seem to demand more brain- and soul-space than I had to begin with, I am challenged to follow the example of my Jesus: 

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place and there he prayed.”(Mark 1:35) 

If the perfect God-Man withdrew to pray, at a time when "‘everyone is looking for you’" (Mark 1:36) how can I do otherwise? I must meet my God in the solitary place. Then, refreshed, I can once again dive in.

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