I find it easy to get so busy tending to “very important” things that I forget to take care of myself. Sometimes this is a task or project that so consumes my attention that I forget to eat. Sometimes it is the mental worry about things that I know I can not fix or control that prevents me from thinking clearly about other things. I can let the good things that so consume my attention and energy that I have nothing left. All of a sudden, I notice that I am an empty shell going through the motions, sometimes unaware of my desperate need for healing and renewal.
How can we recover from, or even better prevent, this spiritual exhaustion and emptiness?
Jesus tells us that abiding in Him is the key. By abiding, we return the eternal perspective to our lives. Abiding changes the question from “Where is God in all of this?” to “Where am I in God as all of this happens?” As we abide, we hear the call of God to simply be loved, nourished, and renewed in His presence.
But, I am very resistant to abiding - I want to be in control, I want my effort to make it happen… I want to hold my breath, close my eyes, and give everything that I can to make the fruit come NOW! bigger, better, faster than anyone has ever made fruit and I want to do it all by myself!
It takes practice to learn anything. These past weeks have been very interesting to watch as my 8 year old daughter encounters learning and practicing… and resistance.
It takes practice to write
It takes practice to throw
It takes practice to ride a bicycle
It takes practice to abide
How can we practice abiding? There are 4 “S”’s which are essential practices to teach us to abide. Sleep, Silence, Sabbath, and Solitude.
The first practice is Sleep - Sleep is physiologically essential and it is also spiritually essential, but why do we not sleep? Why do we resist abiding in God for the 7 to 9 hours that most of us truly need? Instead, we work, we worry, we think, we plan, we devise ways to distract ourselves to exhaustion. Listen to the words of the psalmist, in Psalm 4 we hear after a listing of the troubles and blessings of the day, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.” In Psalm 127, After the proclamation that “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.” We hear the words that speak to me as loudly today as when they were first written, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep.” Sleep is an essential practice of surrendering the worries that burden us to the sovereignty of God and abiding.
The next practice is Silence - We are constantly surrounded by sounds and images. When silence begins to invite us, we seek some kind of noise to distract us, but it is in silence, the deliberate discipline of silence, daily or several times a week, that we learn to abide, simply abide, in God. But, how do we actually come into silence? How do we practice? Again, we can turn to the wisdom of the Psalms and in Psalm 62 we find the invitation, “For God alone my soul in silence waits.” We then hear about the blessings and trials of the psalmist, the activities and busyness of the day, before hearing the command, “Wait, oh my soul, in silence for God alone.” This is our practice of silence, to surrender our souls to God, to let our thoughts, our worries, and our triumphs come to be presented before the Lord, to be given over in trust to Him. As we practice silence, we abide and let God do the work, shaping, forming, pruning, nourishing. I have a friend and mentor who describes it this way, “What God does in the depths of our soul as we wait in silence is often none of our business.”
Next we come to Sabbath - a gift from God from the very act of Creation, Sabbath is a commandment, a way of loving God, loving ourselves, and loving our neighbor. Sabbath is a day to rest, a day to delight in the Lord, a day to trust, a day to abide. It takes planning and preparation to have a Sabbath day. For those of us who minister in churches that meet for worship on Sunday, Sunday is a beautiful day of worship, a holy day, but it is not a day of rest. We must find another day to Sabbath and guard it from the demands of others so that we may have meet those demands on the other days of the week in Love rather than in exhaustion. To Sabbath, I must order the rest of my week around this 24 hour period of rest, of grounding my temporal circumstances in the one and eternal Trinity. It takes work to Sabbath well. It takes practice. Sabbath teaches us to abide.
Finally, we come to Solitude - In addition to our daily and weekly practices of sleep, silence, and sabbath, we also periodically need extended periods of quiet and rest to reorient ourselves to the Kingdom of God and become aware again of the loving presence of God. In the midst of successful ministry, Jesus invites the twelve to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). I hear this call, but too often, I’m more like Elijah. I resist the call to solitude until I am so exhausted and burnt out that I want to go out into the desert, sit under a tree, and give up. Either way, we are all called to the practice of solitude, of deep extended abiding in the loving presence of God.
And so I invite you to consider the ways in which God may be calling you to be grounded in the Sacred, to hear Truth with a capital T, hope with a capital H and love with a capital L. Consider the ways that God may be inviting you to the practices of sleep, silence, sabbath, and solitude. I invite you to hear God’s call to abide.