Unhurried Is Not Un-Busy

Last Saturday I had the joy of leading what I call A Day with Jesus, which is simply a small group of people retreating together for half a day to enjoy solitude with God and to share in community with one another. Every time I do that, I am reminded by those who come of how valuable that intentional, extended time with God can be in the midst of much busyness and stress. And yet as valuable as a retreat can be, the reality of our stressful, busy lives makes the choice to retreat very counterintuitive. Especially in certain seasons of life, making space for retreat can feel impossible.

So I was encouraged by an email I received from Gem Fadling of Unhurried Living. This is some of what she shared…

Any of us in life stages where we find ourselves as caretakers can hear about an unhurried life and think, “Yeah, that’ll never happen. Not in this season. I’m just trying to take a shower and put on fresh sweatpants today.”

[Y]our cry is, “I have so many responsibilities. How would I possibly engage anything resembling unhurried time?”

Remember, busy is a matter of calendar. Hurry is a matter of soul.

[I have] a memory of sitting in a rocking chair in my bedroom. I was nursing one of my sons, enjoying the bonding that happens during that time. I remember very distinctly a small voice, whispering in my ear, “You know, this counts.”

I had been accustomed to following my good Christian girl to-do list fairly well. But all of that went out the window moving from one child to two. I loved being a mom, but I couldn’t figure out how to spend time with God the way I had before.

“You know, this counts” was God’s gentle way of saying, “I see you. I know what season of life you are in right now. This moment, with your son…this is how I feel about you. The care you are giving him is good and right. This counts. I am with you. You are with me.”

Every once in a while I would hear the whisper again, “You know, this counts.” It may have been a worship song that was playing in the background or a word of encouragement from a trusted friend. God was showing me that we were together and relating in far more ways than I was giving “credit” for.

My season of life made me tired, scattered and seemingly out of control of my schedule. But God wanted to show me that being with him, in the midst of my very real life, mattered and counted.

[M]y suggestion to you would be to make it a priority to get two to four hours per month in time alone with God in solitude. Not “me time” but honest to goodness solitude. What we call Unhurried Time with God.

Back in that season of young children, Alan and I would give each other that time by caring for our sons so the other could meet with God. We certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but we did our best to have a rhythm of Unhurried Time.

If you don’t have a spouse or relative that can help you, maybe you can swap with a friend. Or even pay for a babysitter or parent-sitter.

In order for the [moments of] “this counts” to have a solid foundation, these reservoir [longer] filling times must be included. I know it sounds impossible. But with a little work and creativity, you can make some time for yourself and God. Think of it as a holy invitation, not a luxury that you cannot afford.

So if you find yourself in a season of life where retreating for a few hours on a Saturday sounds wonderful but impossible, be encouraged by Gem’s realistic and hopeful challenge. And if you need some ideas or assistance in making it happen, feel free to email me and I’d love to walk with you in figuring out a plan that works for your situation.

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The Foundational Value of Retreat

IMG_0754In Dallas Willard’s explanation of a “Curriculum for Christlikeness” (in The Divine Conspiracy), he says that “a small number of [spiritual disciplines] are absolutely central to spiritual growth,” and those disciplines “form a part of the foundation of our whole-life plan for growth as apprentices of Jesus.” Those foundational, central disciplines–according to Willard–are solitude and silence (disciplines of abstinence), and study and worship (disciplines of engagement). 

If I had to narrow Willard’s list of four down to a single discipline that is most foundational for our growth in Godliness in this current time and culture, I would say that spiritual retreat is that foundational discipline. In one sense, a retreat is not necessarily a separate discipline, but a practical “container” that holds several disciplines together. But it is for that very reason that I see retreats as such a vital practice–retreats are a practical way in which we create space for the practice of other vital disciplines, especially Willard’s quartet of solitude, silence, study, and worship.

A retreat by definition is a significant chunk of time away from the normal patterns of our life, for a specific purpose. A spiritual retreat simply means that the specific purpose for which we are spending unhurried time away is to grow in Godliness. More and more I am finding–both in my own life and growth as well as in my shepherding of others as a father and pastor–that apart from some intentional effort to retreat from the normal pace and pattern of life, those foundational disciplines that Willard speaks of will be pushed aside as merely good ideas that we will get to someday if we have more time. But when we do make the effort to retreat, even for half a day, and in that retreat we experience silence and solitude that leads to rich study and worship, we are often amazed at what God does in us through that time.

 

10 Reasons NOT to Go on a Solitude Retreat

  1. Your life is much too busy as it is–if you gave up half a day to spend time cultivating the most important relationship in your life, you would not be able to check off as many things on your to-do list.Fountain
  2. Your sanctification is pretty much complete, so even if you did decide to spend some unhurried time with God, there probably wouldn’t be anything He would want you to grow in.
  3. You can’t imagine actually turning off your phone for a few hours in order to have uninterrupted time with God–what would happen if you missed an important message?
  4. You’re all about advancement, not retreat. Retreating sounds too much like you’re actually in need of help from God, but you’re doing pretty well on your own.
  5. The things you must do are too pressing. Besides, aren’t retreats just an occasional luxury, not a regular necessity?
  6. Your family is counting on you to be available–you want to be a model of responsibility to them, kind of like Martha in Luke 10.
  7. Retreats must be primarily for introverts who enjoy being quiet and alone, not for extroverts like you who thrive on
    constant activity and noise.
  8. If you had to choose, you’d prefer to go to a conference–at least there you could hear some popular speakers (instead of just sitting around waiting to hear from God).
  9. Jesus probably spent time in solitude because He had such a big mission to accomplish, but you’re just doing your job here, so you probably don’t need it like He did.
  10. You might actually enjoy the time with your Heavenly Father, and then you’d be wanting to have another solitude retreat and spend even more time.

Thorns that Choke

Last week I had the opportunity to spend extended time alone with God up in the mountains near Idyllwild. On the final morning before heading home, I was reflecting on Jesus’ parable of the soils, and in particular the soil that produced thorns which choked the plant and made it unfruitful. When Jesus explained the parable to His disciples (Matt 13:18-23, Mk 4:14-20, Lk 8:11-15), He said that the thorns represent the “cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things.”

I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, so I have seen blackberry bushes or other types of fast-growing, thorny plants that grow wild in that region. Though as kids we loved picking and eating the blackberries, my father hated it when they started growing in our backyard, because they were very invasive. No doubt it is thorny bushes like that which Jesus is referring to in this parable–bushes that gradually crowd out other plants by taking up the soil and sun and water that is needed for the other plants to grow and reproduce.

This soil that produced thorns is something I recognize in my own heart, and that I see most often in the comfortable church culture in which I serve. It represents the sincere believer who intends to follow Christ and serve wholeheartedly, but gets sidetracked because life is so busy and full. But what makes this so hard to address or even recognize as a problem is that the activities filling their life are good things: education and family and ministry and friendships. The problem is not that they are engaged in a bunch of sinful or meaningless activities, nor even that they are doing the wrong things, but rather that there simply are too many things. And thus the result is that all of those good things crowd out the nourishment that is needed in their souls in order to be truly fruitful.

That reality is the very reason why an extended time of solitude is so necessary and profitable. Solitude clears away all the thorns and creates space for sun and water and nutrients from the soil to be soaked up by the plant–solitude sets aside the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things in order to be deeply nourished by God. But as wonderful as solitude can be, it is not meant to be an end in itself, but rather a means toward a greater end–that of entering back into the busyness and fullness of life and relationships and work and ministry, with the thorns cleared away so that the seed of God’s word can go deep and bear much fruit.

In subsequent posts, I will be exploring each of the particular types of thorns that Jesus mentioned in this parable: cares of the world, deceitfulness of riches, and desires for other things.

House of Solitude

I have the opportunity and gift to spend the next 48 houImagers at Hilltop Renewal Center’s House of Solitude, up in Idyllwild. Why spend that amount of time alone with God? Isn’t that a waste of productivity?

Here’s a couple of my favorite quotes on the value of solitude:

“We must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives. This does not mean we will never be busy. Jesus often had much to do, but he never did it in a way that severed the life-giving connection between him and his Father. He never did it in a way that interfered with his ability to give love when love was called for. He observed a regular practice of withdrawing from activity for the sake of solitude and prayer. Jesus was often busy, but never hurried.  Hurry is not just a disordered schedule. Hurry is a disordered heart.”  –John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted, pg 79

“…Think of silence and solitude as complementary Disciplines to fellowship. Without silence and solitude we’re shallow. Without fellowship we’re stagnant. Balance requires them all.”   –Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, pg. 176

I withdraw from words and busyness and community SO THAT I can then enter back into community and communication with a heart that is connected and refreshed by deep communion with Jesus.

A Day with Jesus

Spiritual disciplines are simply exercises that we can engage in which help to open our hearts to God’s work of transformation and change. Disciplines do not earn us favor before God–nor are they magic formulas which force God to bless us. Rather, they are training exercises whiFountainch put us in a place of dependence and receptivity to God’s sanctifying work in our hearts.

Solitude and silence are what I consider “primary disciplines”. They are not primary in the sense of having greater importance or significance than other disciplines. But they are primary in the sense that they lay the groundwork for other disciplines.

We live in a time and culture in which there is constant noise and constant activity, and we easily succumb to the lie that the level of activity in our life defines our level of worth. Then in church culture there is an added layer of self-righteousness attached to that, because surely if we are constantly busy in the work of God’s Kingdom, that must make us better Christians. So it is only when we intentionally break away from that constant busyness and clamor that we are able to engage more deeply with God in other disciplines like the study of Scripture and the practice of prayer and the cultivation of thankfulness.

That is why I believe solitude and silence can be so transformative in the life of a Christian. And this is not just something that I believe theoretically, but something which I have experienced in my own life and seen in the lives of many others.

With a little planning and forethought, it is not too difficult on your own to set aside a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon and find a quiet park or cafe to be alone with Jesus for a few hours. But I have also found that withdrawing in solitude with a small community can help enhance that time even more. Toward that end, I regularly plan what I call “A Day with Jesus“, where a small group of fellow Christians gather together at a location I reserve ahead of time, enjoy some time alone with Jesus, then come back together to share about our time of solitude. If you’d like to join me in one of these solitude retreats, you can find out more information and register here.

NOTE: I’m anticipating a ministry sabbatical this fall (Sept – Dec 2015) so I don’t have any retreat dates on the calendar for summer or fall, but if you’d like some help in setting one up for yourself or your small group, please contact me and I will see what I can do.