In my former life, when I served as a conference president, the pastor of one of our churches that was predominantly Ghanaian, called me frequently at home. He would call at about 7:00 in the morning while I was preparing to leave for work. The conversation between the pastor and me usually went like this:
Pastor: “Hello Uncle.” I: “Hello Pastor.” “How are you, Uncle?” “I am well. Pastor.” “And how is Auntie?” “She is well.” By this time, I am saying to myself, “get to the point, Pastor. I have to go soon. But he just continued calmly and asked again, “How are you, Uncle?” He later learned the names of my three children and would inquire about each of them by name. After asking about each family member, he would say something such as, “Uncle, one shepherd cannot care for the sheep; you need to visit your children, and when you come bring a gift.” Paraphrase: “My church needs an additional pastor. Please visit us soon, and when you come, please announce that you are giving us an assistant pastor.”
While I was all perturbed about getting out of the house on time because I had to do this and that, the pastor took his time to build relationship in an unhurried manner. In fact, there is much that people from his part of the world could teach us Westerners about slowing down the pace of life in an effort to pay attention to some things that may be more important than those things that occupy our lives and attention daily.
In Psalm 46:10, the Psalmist in expressing the thoughts of God says, “Be still, and know that I am God…” No doubt, you have heard a number of sermons and devotionals on this verse of scripture. Preachers and writers have had different emphases or nuanced interpretations of this invitation. For some, “Be still” means “Don’t worry.” For some, the emphasis is on knowing that God is whom He says He is and that He will do what He says He will do. And still for some, the emphasis is on the contrast between our limitations and the immeasurable vastness of God. But one interpretation that is as valid as the others is just being still at times – away from work, chores, social media and even those whom we love. It is important for each one of us to have a period of solitude during the course of each day.
Chapter 15 of Kent Nerburn’s book, “Letters to my Son,” is titled, “Loneliness and Solitude.” Writing to his son, Kent says, “You should spend more time alone. I don’t mean just minutes and hours, but days and, if the opportunity presents itself, weeks. Time spent alone returns to you a hundred-fold, because it is the proving ground of the spirit…. You quickly find out if you are at peace with yourself or if the meaning of your life is found only in the superficial affairs of the day. And if it is in the superficial affairs of the day, the time you spend alone will throw you back upon yourself in a way that will make you grow in wisdom and inner strength.”
For the past few months, we have been teaching the essential place of community in the lives of our Sligo members, and we will keep doing so. But at the same time, we must remember that the Christian life is lived not only in communion, but also in solitude – time alone with God, time alone with ourselves and our thoughts. Jesus is our supreme example.
“The priority of Jesus’ solitude and silence is everywhere in the Gospels. It’s how he began his ministry. It’s how he made important decisions. It’s how he dealt with troubling emotions like grief. It’s how he dealt with the constant demands of his ministry and cared for his soul. It’s how he taught his disciples. It’s how he prepared for important ministry events. It’s how he prepared for his death on the cross.” Bill Gaultiere, Soul Shepherding, Jesus’ Solitude and Silence, February 27, 2013.
“To be truly happy in life, you must learn the lesson of solitude. It is not hard to learn. You must only learn to be still. You must resist the restlessness and the chatter and the clutter until you can break free into the space where time has no measure and longing ceases to exist. Be patient. Be accepting. Solitude is a place you reach, not a decision you make.” Nerburn.
Perhaps Blaise Pascal was right when he wrote, “All man’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
Don W McFarlane