Endless Busyness

Mark Buchanan is one of my favorite writers and thinkers. He is a pastor from Canada and often writes brilliant one-liners that say more than an entire paragraph!

Here is one I've been pondering this entire summer:

"Endless busyness is earwax against God's voice and a blindfold to God's presence."

So many of us wonder why we don't hear God. We complain about not sensing his presence. And yet we run around all day and into the night like chickens with our heads cut off. Endless running. Endless noise. Endless busyness.

The diagnosis is not difficult to make.

The question always is: What are we going to do about it?

We need both ...

I often hear the argument, "I am not the kind of person who engages in spiritual practices," or "I am too busy engaging in ministry and serving others for things like prayer, reflection on Scripture or prayers of examen."

I sympathize with these arguments and I struggle with them as well.

However, I still argue that all of us, no matter our personality, need to include specific activities in our lives that allow God access to our hearts, that allow space and time for our souls to "come out," and that give our relationship with God more than mere "lip-service."

The Catholic writer and mystic, Thomas Merton, said: "He [or she] who attempts to act and do things for others and for the world without deepening his [or her] own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity for love [through the quieter spiritual practices], will not have anything to give to others."

Don't we intuitively know this is true?

When I engage in intense seasons of ministry without creating space for rest and reconnection with God, my service to others often ends up being no service at all.  Especially to those poor people I am trying to serve.

Perhaps this is why, after a period of intense engagement with the world, Jesus would often say to his disciples, "Come away with me and rest awhile..."

Simon Chan, in his book Spiritual Theology, puts words to this: "A comprehensive spirituality stresses a balanced approach to the cultivation of the spiritual life. It recognizes that true spiritual growth consists of rightly balanced opposing acts."

Even the extrovert must make time for silence, solitude, reflection on Scripture.

Even the introvert must get up from the desk to serve and speak and engage others.

Is your spiritual life "rightly balanced?"

 

God is slow

I have been noticing lately that the pace around our church is... well, picking up!

Last night, after a full day's work, I arrived home out of breath, a bit frantic, wound up, anxious to get to the next day so I could plow my way through my to-do list in the hopes of getting "caught up," whatever that is. It did not feel good, and I had a pretty hard time drifting off to sleep. My mind was full and whirling with thoughts.

And then, in my reading this morning, I was struck by this quote from a 19th century writer named Frederick Faber:

"In the spiritual life God chooses to try our patience first of all by his slowness. He is slow; we are swift and precipitate. It is because we are but for a time, and he has been for eternity... There is something greatly overawing in the extreme slowness of God. Let it overshadow your souls, but let it not disquiet them. We must wait for God, long, meekly, in the wind and the dark. Wait, and He will come. He never comes to those who do not wait. He does not go their road. When he comes, go with him, but go slowly, fall a little behind; when he quickens his pace, be sure of it, before you quicken yours. But when he slackens, slacken at once: and do not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for he is God."

Well, then.

That puts all my frantic human energy in its place, doesn't it?

If God is slow, perhaps I should just settle down a bit, trust his pace, and like Faber says... "Do  not be slow only, but silent, very silent, for he is God."

Amen.

 

Stillness ...

“Be still, and know that I am God …”

How rarely we do that; just be still. Just let God be God.

It is so hard.

Because if he is God, then I am definitely not.

And sometimes that is just tough to face.

So, we run and run and run, hoping somehow to prove our worth, to find meaning, to justify our existence.

Is it too much for God to ask that one day a week we “be still?” Is it too much for God to ask that every once in awhile we simply allow him to be God?

This poem from Mary Oliver helps me do these really hard things:

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m

not saying a word.

I’m letting the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,

the bees in the garden rumbling a bit,

the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.

And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.

Quiet as a feather.

I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors

into the temple.

The discipline of being sick ...

I am a terrible sick person.

I rail against being sick. I hate it. I fight it. I try to doctor myself. I can’t rest well. I try to stay productive even though my head is pounding like a freight train.

And this tells me something about myself:

I have a hard time being human, being vulnerable, being weak.

And this tells me even more about myself:

I have a hard time surrendering to the truth of the moment; I want to create my own reality.

I have a hard time letting God be God; I want to run the show.

I have a hard time giving up control, dropping the reins, saying to God, “Thy will be done …”

And so today, on my second full sick day, I am going to practice “the discipline of being sick.”

It is a new spiritual discipline I just made up.

And it looks like me being kind to my very human and frail body. It looks like surrendering to the sick day rather than fighting it. It looks like resting, rather than railing against my need for rest. It looks like finding joy in the space and time away from productivity rather than struggling to be productive in the pain.

It looks like trusting that God can take care of the universe very well on His own, thank you very much, without my teeny-tiny bit of assistance.

It looks like giving in to the fact that I am human after all.

In the end, it looks very much like actually trusting God.

We do not save ourselves ...

I think one of the reasons God wants his people to take a Sabbath is so he can regularly drive home the point that we do not save ourselves.

We need practical ways to keep this truth in the forefront of our minds, lest we forget.

Stopping, ceasing, resting, recovering, worshipping … and did I say resting? These are all things God wants us to do once a week so that He can whisper to us on a regular basis:

It is not all up to you …

Trust me …

Watch me work …

Rest in me …

I got this …

I have been loving some good ol’ Martin Luther quotes lately, and he – the leader of the great Reformation – pounded on this idea hard.

I believe he pounded it because we need it pounded into our thick skulls over and over:

“The sin underneath all our sins is to trust the lie of the serpent that we cannot trust the love and grace of Christ and must take matters into our own hands.”

What matters are you trying to take into your own hands these days?

Would you consider taking some time off from work and worry to simply practice re-trusting the love and grace of Christ for yourself?

A walk, a nap, a rest, just a nice long sit … all these will do.

Let your absolute inactivity drive the point home.

A bit of travel ...

After a two full weeks of not feeling well, and a full weekend of serving, I am so happy to be taking off for a 5-day trip to see my kids.

That makes my soul happy.

I won’t be posting to my blog while I am gone.

I am just going to focus on the joy of travel, time with my husband, great food in great cities and the joy of being with my favorite people!

In the meantime, I hope you will spend some time exploring one of my favorite websites …

www.becomingminimalist.com

Some of the best writing I know on slowing down, paring down, simplifying, pursuing generosity and contentment and really living, rather than just running.

Enjoy …

The details of life ...

My husband and I have been having conversation lately about the power of distraction and getting bogged down in the details and minutiae of life.

I think it was Thoreau who said that life often is frittered away by details.

For instance, we have been frittering our lives away with the details of getting a new post light out near our driveway ever since a huge branch fell off a tree and crushed our old one.

Oh, the details!! Picking a new one. Buying it. Returning it because it is broken. Buying a new one. Putting it on. Looking at it. Deciding it is too small and looks stupid. Taking it off. Packing it up. Returning it.

And, now we need to find another new one.

I came across this quote from Epictetus, a Greek Philosopher, who lived a long, long time ago.

He describes our thoughts perfectly:

There is a time and place for diversion and amusements, but you should never allow them to override your true purposes. If you were on a voyage and the ship anchored in a harbor, you might go ashore for water. Along the way, you might happen to pick up a shellfish or a plant. But be careful; listen for the call of the captain. Keep your attention directed at the ship. Getting distracted by trifles is the easiest thing in the world.

What are your trifles?

What details cause you to fritter your life away?

How can you better stay attuned to the call of the captain?

Advent ...

What might Advent look like to the world if the church settled into a season of "expectant waiting" rather than a season of "frenzied running?"

 

It is a sin to be sad ...

If you are aware of the origins of this blog, you know it flows out of a class called “A Way of Life.” This class is a part of the Vantage Point 3 curriculum our church uses as a discipleship/leadership training process. See my links section for the VP3 website! (It is under the "About Alice" heading)

Our current class just spent 2 weeks thinking and talking about the idea of Sabbath.

And, as usual, the topic stirred up lots of dust!

Emotions, memories, ideas, rules, perceptions, misperceptions, a bent toward legalism, a hat tip to forgetfulness … the full monty.

So, I thought it might be a good opportunity to write a few posts on the topic.

I have no intention of perfectly explaining how Christians should interact with Sabbath.

I am not going to put a pretty bow on the topic and answer all possible questions.

I simply want to present some of the most eloquent and thoughtful stuff I’ve ever read on the topic.

I’ll leave the rest up to you …

So, to start, the classic writer on the topic must be the Jewish theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel. His book, The Sabbath, is worth your time …

In the introduction, Heschel’s daughter Susanna writes this:

“Observing the Sabbath is not only about refraining from work, but about creating menuha, a restfulness that is also a celebration.

The Sabbath is a day for body as well as soul.

It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath, a lesson my father often repeated and always observed.”

 

I don’t know when, where, how, or even if you observe any kind of Sabbath in the midst of your week, but if you do, or if you plan to start … please start with this:

It is a sin to be sad on the Sabbath …

Oh, now that is good stuff …

Collective procrastination ...

I am leading a retreat tomorrow for our A Way of Life class …

And we are going to talk about the Sabbath a bit more. But we are also going to do more than just talk.

We are going to start to imagine together what a perfect Sabbath day might look like – no rules, no legalism, no fear - just ideas about what helps us rest, what helps us remember grace, what refreshes our soul, what brings us joy, and what connects us with God and others.

We are doing this practical kind of visioning exercise because I fear our questions about how Sabbath is “supposed” to be keep us from ever getting around to actually trying it.

Our concerns about what counts and what doesn’t count, and what we should do and what we shouldn’t do act like a kind of collective procrastination agreement meant to keep us all from ever having to do the hard work of stopping our ceaseless running and our frantic working …

… and just trying Sabbath.

So, what about you?

What would your perfect (or even imperfect!) Sabbath day look like?

Have you ever thought about it?

Listen to what Ruth Haley Barton writes:

“Do not make Sabbath-keeping a weighty exercise. Explore it with delight, as though you and God are learning together how to make the day special for both of you. Then, be as intentional about protecting it as you can be, but do not become rigid and legalistic about it, which ruins the spirit of the day. ‘The Sabbath was made for human beings, not human beings for the Sabbath.’”

Have you ever thought that one of the reasons God created the Sabbath is that he would like to spend uninterrupted time with you?

To Whom does your soul belong?

Though Jesus is our ultimate “rest,” and he releases us from the Old Testament legal obligation of the Sabbath, why on earth would we exhausted, sleep-deprived, caffeine and adrenalin-addicted people thumb our nose at the gift of a day of rest?

It seems strange, doesn’t it?

We all seem to yearn for vacation …

We salivate at the concept of a day off …

We idolize the idea of sleeping in …

And yet we keep running.

It has been good for my very soul to revisit the Sabbath concept.

Again, the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel resonate 60 years after they were written:

“He [or she!] who wants to enter the holiness of the day must first lay down the profanity of clattering commerce, of being yoked to toil.

He must go away from the screech of dissonant days, from the nervousness and fury of acquisitiveness and the betrayal in embezzling his own life.

He must say farewell to manual work and learn to understand that the world has already been created and will survive without the help of man.

Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul.

The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else.”

To Whom (or what) does your soul belong?

If your answer is God, does your life reflect that truth?

Does your pace of life, your rhythm of life, reflect that truth?

Time shouts ...

Cultural anthropologist Edward T. Hall says,

Time talks.

It speaks more plainly than words.

The message it conveys comes through loud and clear.

Because it is manipulated less consciously, it is subject to less distortion than the spoken language.

It can shout the truth where words lie.

If this is true, how we use time tells us the truth about our life just like our checkbook tells us the truth about our finances. Just like the scale tells us the truth about our weight.

What does your relationship with time tell you about yourself?

How do you use the time you have been given each day?

Who is in charge of your life?

What or who is most important to you?

What kinds of time-wasters are you beholden to? Why are you beholden to them? Do they bring you life?

If you are always in a hurry, why are you always in a hurry?

If you don’t make time to rest, why not?

If you do find time to rest, why?

Consider paying attention to your relationship with time this week

… and let it shout truth to you about what you really believe.

Why resolutions are bad ...

I have been following Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, on twitter. He tweets a lot about grace.

Learning to live in grace is my one New Year’s resolution for 2015.

Then I read what Tchividjian had to say about resolutions:

“Down deep, every one of us longs to be loved, accepted, appreciated, respected, and so on. We want our lives to count.

And we conclude that if we’re going to experience these things, we have to make it happen by doing more, trying harder, losing weight, behaving better, etc.

In other words, underneath our New Year’s resolutions is the drive to save ourselves by generating our own value, significance, meaning, and security by what we do and by who we can become.”

New Year’s resolutions are a burdening attempt to fix ourselves and make ourselves more loveable.

But here’s the good news: God loves us as we are, not as we should be.

I just bought his new devotional – It Is Finished. Every day, for 365 days, he is going to push me on grace.

Do you think a resolution to live more fully in grace counts as kind of an anti-resolution?

I think so.

Too much ...

It is the time of year when all kinds of bins and boxes and organizational supplies are for sale.

They are meant to help those of us who have way too much stuff BELIEVE that with just the right equipment, we can really, finally, get organized.

Here’s the dirty truth:

If you have too much stuff, you will never be able to organize it and keep it organized.

It is bigger than you.

The only way you are going to ever be able to organize your stuff and keep it organized is to get rid of A LOT of it.

Why is this so obviously true and we constantly fail to see it?

Here is an even better question:

How does this principle apply to your spiritual life?

If I just get more organized, I will have time to spend with God…

 Once I am done watching Game of Thrones I will make time to read the Bible …

 As soon as I am through with school I will really start to pray …

 Once soccer season is over we can spend more time together as a family …

You know how it goes … We think if we can just learn how to be more productive, how to squeeze more and more activities and obligations into our already over-crowded schedules, we can finally become organized, effective and focused.

The problem is, we simply have too many obligations …

And no amount of planning, multi-tasking or organizing will help us …

Our only hope is to get rid of some of our obligations so we have the time, energy and focus to spend on what really matters to us.

Don’t go buy the new bins at Target … just start giving your stuff away.

Don’t buy a new planner … just start saying NO.

The disease of being busy ...

My daughter, Hannah, majored in Anthropology and Sociology, with a minor in Islamic Studies... 

She had some amazing professors, and learned so much about the Muslim faith outside of the daily news cycle and the histrionics of the media.

In many ways, Muslims and Christians have more in common than we know... mainly, that we are human beings, all trying to figure out how to live.

Hannah sent me this post yesterday and I thought I would share it with you...

Mainly because it is really good, but also because it is humble and right to learn from people outside our normal circle of influence.

It is almost a form of "hospitality."

http://www.onbeing.org/blog/the-disease-of-being-busy/7023?page=1

Enjoy!

 

I do know how to pay attention ...

I don't know exactly what a prayer is.


I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down


into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,


how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,


which is what I have been doing all day.


Tell me, what else should I have done?


Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?


Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

(Mary Oliver, 1935 - )

 

 

           
                                                                                       

  

Mind over mattress ...

As spring rolls in, and the birds start to chirp earlier and earlier each morning, I am reminded of a Stephen Covey quote that always inspired me and my early morning walking friend of over 15 years.

Here it is:

"If we can overcome the pull of the flesh to arise early in the morning -

putting mind over mattress -

we will experience the first victory of the day.

We can then move on to other things.

For by small means are great things accomplished.

Such an early morning victory gives a sense of conquering, of overcoming, of mastering --

and this sense propels us on to further conquer difficulties 

and clear hurdles throughout the day.

Starting the day with a private victory over self is one good way

to break old habits and make new ones."

I so believe this is true.

Except for this morning... after decades of "having" to awake before dawn, every once in awhile, I find great joy and pleasure in sleeping in.

So, with grace for yourself sometimes, consider rising a tad earlier than normal... and start your day with a "private victory." 

 

You must have a room ...

Sacred space is an absolute necessity for anybody today.

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you.

This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be.

This is the place of creative incubation.

At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.

(John Campbell)

Unless you say no ...

I wonder how much our lives would improve...

how much the QUALITY of our lives would improve,

if some of us said no more.

Not just so we can "say no,"

but so we can say a really big YES to the things we are sure God is calling us to.

What might your life look like if you said "no" a bit more often?

"You've got to keep control of your time, and you can't unless you say no.

You can't let people set your agenda in life."

(Warren Buffett)