This weekend I attended a Wholeheartedness retreat with speaker, author, teacher, & therapist Chuck DeGroat. On Friday night we began our time together with Chuck asking us to consider “scarcity” and also “wholeness.” Yesterday we spent the day considering what wholeheartedness may look like, and asking the question that was ever on Jesus’s lips:
“What do you want?”
We spent time discussing barriers to wholeheartedness and knowing we are known (a concept I and so many in my field—like Brene Brown, Curt Thompson, etc.—have been thinking about a great deal the last few years). Chuck invited us so beautifully into deeper consideration of the necessity of practicing 5 C's that may lead us to greater wholeheartedness: curiosity (toward our hearts and the hearts of others), compassion, connection, contemplation, and communion.
Throughout the weekend, I kept remembering that, as a staff member at a graduate school, I gave a talk on something like this to our counseling students at our fall retreat last year. Following the talk I gave, all 55 of us practiced silence & solitude for the next hour, drawing our thoughts toward who we are innately, simply because we are God’s children, and drawing our thoughts away from the “performance game” (as Chuck called it yesterday) with which we busy ourselves, believing this is what makes us "beloved" and accepted. So...I thought it was appropriate to post this talk given the deeper consideration I was invited to give it this weekend. (On a side note: please forgive the strange formatting; I decided to post it exactly as I wrote and spoke it.)
If you feel moved by this concept and want to know more, please consider reading Chuck DeGroat's new book Wholeheartedness: Busyness, Exhaustion, and Healing the Divided Self. Also, as always, feel free to contact me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I would also invite you to practice silence & solitude after reading this, even if just for 15-30 minutes. There are a thousand excuses to not practice this, but I would invite you to consider that those excuses are worth ignoring. This is a healing practice that offers time to practice a very different way of being, a way that I have found healing and wholeheartedness-giving in my life.
So come join me, if you will.
We are afflicted with the disease of doing.
How many of you, when you look back over the last week of your life, spent more time in silence and stillness than you did sound and motion? Our culture demands it. The lives we've entered into have begun to demand it. Our coursework demands it. In fact, we're so busy that we usually don't even slow down enough to notice that we're so busy.
Busyness feeds on itself. We speed up, get things done, feel our accomplishments sink into our identity, and get stuck in a cycle where what we do gets confused for what we are. So we start the next thing. Our speed feeds our inner world, however toxic it may be. Speed and accomplishment become how we are known...or so we tell ourselves. We then express anger toward anyone that gets in our way of speed and accomplishment. Think of road rage: yelling at slow drivers when there's no way to pass, because we automatically forget that if we don't get to where we're going exactly when we need to, someone will actually NOT die! We then sometimes find ourselves in a place where this cycle becomes so ritualistic and "normal" that we fail to realize the kind of toxic power we have given performance.
Let me ask you this...
When was the last time you took your time doing something?
When was the last time you strolled somewhere, looking up at the trees, birds, clouds, and sky instead of looking down at the sidewalk with your eyes and inside your head with your mind?
We often don't pay much attention to the things around us––how leaves and acorns crunch under our feet as we walk, how it feels in our noses to breathe in cool air, and how sunshine feels on our skin.
Our minds and our schedules are cluttered with more things to think and do than we have time to think and do them. And yet, how often do we consider what will actually happen if we don't think or do them? Have you ever thought about that? Ever think about what will ACTUALLY happen if you don't read every word of the reading for one of your classes?...
NOISE and MOTION are the gasoline of our culture.
ONE REASON FOR THIS MIGHT BE: FEAR
Fear of what?
Here are a couple of things we might fear...
HAVING TO SEE THINGS WE'D RATHER NOT.
Silence and stillness require us to pay attention to what lies UNDER the noise and motion of our lives.
I invite you to contemplate this: What might make it hard for you to see what's under the busy noise of your life?
I'd imagine some of the difficulty has to do with the scripts and stories about ourselves that start running through our heads--whatever those may be for each of us.
Maybe it's "I'm not enough."
or "Why didn't I get that opportunity?"
or perhaps "I'm obviously not as ________ as that person over there."
Or maybe it's even, "I am so exceptional...why doesn't anyone else see it?"
It's true that by their very nature, STILLNESS and SILENCE bring to the surface the things that we are usually far too uncomfortable to face, let alone accept.
That brings us to another possible fear...
FEAR OF RELEASING.
What's it like for you to "pull out the chair from under your busy mind and busy life and watch them fall onto God," as one Christian writer, Richard Rohr, calls it? When we invite God into this conversation, this quickly reveals our own personal theology of surrender. It's pretty easy to talk about surrender and instruct our clients how important the practices of release, acceptance, and surrender can be. But we vote with our feet, don't we? Our actions--what we choose to practice ourselves--are the windows to our hearts. We can talk about surrender all day, but in what ways do we truly practice it?
I think we might value "understanding" (the actions of our minds) and "doing" (the actions of our bodies) as much as we do because they are a lot easier than surrendering our wills and our hearts to a process. And a heck of a lot easier than surrendering our loyalties. I have found, however, that the things we find "easier" to do tend to be a lot more costly over time.
What's another reason we may avoid silence & stillness?
FEAR OF FEELING INADEQUATE.
I remember this one morning I spent with one of my mentors while I was a student in this program. I remember sharing with her my struggles of feeling like I was "falling short." She said, "Falling short of what, exactly?"
She was quite good at using the skills of silence, I assure you. Then after waiting a while, she said one sentence that I'll never forget:
"Remember, Heather: when it comes to the Kingdom of God, appearances are very deceiving."
She had recently pointed out to me Acts 19, which is a GREAT chapter to read when you believe that NOTHING you're trying to see through is actually happening...
But here's something to consider:
Whenever we are spending most of our energy CLIMBING the ladders of this world (the "success" ladders, the "achievement" ladders, performance-based things like this), we end up missing JESUS, because He is always going DOWN the ladders of this world. When we spend our efforts trying to make a NAME for ourselves in a performance-oriented world, we miss out on the names He--our loving Father--gives us.
When we practice silence and stillness,
we are forced to stop DOING being, and commit ourselves to STILLNESS being. We begin to pay closer attention to what and who we are, not what we do.
Still sound scary?
Let me encourage you with this: as you choose to practice this (which we're about to do) and you get past the burning fears, I believe that --just like Jesus when HE practiced silence, stillness, and contemplation-- you will begin to find that you have nothing to prove or protect about yourself in His presence, and that it costs so much less than performing.
Colossians 3 says that your life is now hidden with Christ in God. You've got nothing you have to prove or protect.
Here's what Paul says there...
Colossians 3:1-4 (the Message translation):
If you're serious about living this new resurrected life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don't shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things that this world is concerned with. Look up. Be alert to the things going on around Christ -- this is where the real action is. See things from his perspective.
Your old life is dead now. Your new life --- which is your real life, even though it may be invisible to spectators! --- is with Christ in God. HE is your life. When Christ, your real life, shows up again on this earth, you'll show up, too -- the real you, the glorious you. In the meantime, however -- to get there -- you must be content with obscurity, like Christ was.
"Content with obscurity..."
Anybody feeling comfortable with that?
Who here is thinking,
"I WANT TO BE OBSCURE!
I WANT ALL THE GREAT THINGS I DO TODAY TO BE HIDDEN FROM THE PEOPLE AROUND ME!
I WANT TO NEVER BE NOTICED EVER!
I DO NOT WANT ANYONE TO TELL ME I DID A GREAT JOB AT MY LIFE TODAY!"
That's what obscurity is: it's getting no attention for doing "the right thing."
And Colossians 3 asks us to be content with obscurity, like Christ was, knowing that your REAL life that you're being born into is invisible to spectators... He asks us to be OKAY with being invisible because Jesus appeared pretty invisible (maybe even irrelevant?) by the world's standards. But let me remind you: appearances are very deceiving.
You know what's obscure? Silence and stillness are obscure.
STOPPING -- stopping the sound and motion of our lives -- means the cessation of all the things in life that gets other people's attention. That gets YOUR attention. And yet in the STOPPING, in the STILLNESS and the SILENCE, this is a place where we are finally able to recognize more fully that we are hidden with Christ in God, that we don't have to spend any energy PROVING and PROTECTING ourselves --- BECAUSE HE SEES US --- AND HE ACCEPTS US. When we stop proving, protecting, and hiding we get the names and inheritance He gives us, which make us more precious than anything in existence.
This morning is about the practice of silent prayer, stillness, and contemplation. Being still in the presence of God, I think, can be like looking for your keys when they're already in your hand. We're so busy looking for God or His attention (maybe with our good deeds our striving AGAINST obscurity) that we don't realize: we already HAVE Him. OR...we're so busy looking for US (or who we think is US) that we miss the fact that who we are is already there...in our hand.
So go receive from God for the next hour. Fall into Him. Stop the motion and listen.
I heard that a visitor once asked Mother Teresa, "What do you do when you pray?"
She said, "I listen to God."
The visitor asked, "What does He say?"
Mother Teresa said, "He listens."