Sunday, August 5, 2012

Following Jesus: We Seek Solitude

(A sermon based on Luke 5:15-16 for Sunday, August 5, 2012. Sixth in a series.)


A few weeks ago the New York Times published an editorial by Tim Kreider entitled “The ‘Busy’ Trap.” He wrote,

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.


He’s right, it seems to me, and I doubt that many of you who live in the “working for a living raising a family trying to be a good citizen being active in the church” world would argue with what he says about how busy we are and how a good bit of our busyness is self-inflicted.

We might, though, want to give some careful consideration to this line in his piece: “They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.” What is it that we dread we might have to face if we stop being so busy? Kreider later says, “I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”

In other words, Kreider suggests, perhaps we immerse ourselves in busyness so that we won’t have to face up to the meaninglessness in our lives.

I imagine there’s a great deal of truth in what he says.

But I want to come at the matter from another angle. As Christians, we believe and have the chance to know that everything in our lives is vitally important. Sure, there may be some things of which we should let go and sure, there may be vocational and personal changes that we should ponder, and sure, we may at times struggle to find our place in Fitzgerald, much less in the cosmos. The bottom line nonetheless is that we are the children of God and we are the sisters and brothers of Jesus; we are citizens of God’s kingdom and we are missionaries of God’s grace in all of our situations and settings.

Seen from that angle, everything we do is important, so how can we not spend all of our time doing it? How can we stop and take some time to ponder? When I was in college I had a picture on my desk of a chimpanzee sitting in a chair with the caption “Sometimes I just sits and thinks. And sometimes I just sits.” Who has time to “just sits” when there is so much to do and when all of life, from the Christian perspective, is so important?

Well, no one ever had more work and more important work to do than Jesus did. No one ever lived a life that was more filled with purpose, meaning, and vitality than Jesus did. And yet Jesus was very intentional and regular in taking time to be alone with his Father.

Another good example for us is the great 16th century reformer Martin Luther: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.”

What we do as Christians is so important that we dare not not spend time alone with God; the spending of such time needs to be as much a part of our routine as is eating meals and going to sleep—and it is just as necessary!

What will we find in solitude that is so important?

First, in solitude we find God. It is not that God is not there until we are alone; it is rather that we need to be alone to develop our awareness of the presence of God.

To love someone is to be in a relationship with that person; to develop a relationship with someone requires the spending of time together, just the two of you with nobody else around. Jesus had a relationship of love with his Father and so he would regularly go off to spend time alone with his Father.

The more time you spend alone with someone you love the more you find yourself absorbing her presence, the more you become aware of who she is and of the wonder of her identity. Then, when you are with her in a crowd you maintain that increased awareness. That’s the way it works with God.

Second, in solitude we find ourselves. Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world but he still needed time alone with his Father in order to find and to form his identity. Think of the forty days that he spend in the wilderness after his baptism and before he began his public ministry. That story also demonstrates the pain and difficulty that can come with finding ourselves; Satan tried his best to get Jesus to be other than who he was and to live in ways that ran counter to his true identity, but Jesus persevered and emerged more fully formed on the other side.

As Christians, we find our true selves not by contrasting ourselves with some imagined ideal or with other people; we find our true selves rather in communion with God and as we grow more and more in our state of being in Christ.

Third, in solitude we find purpose & direction.
In the editorial from which I read earlier, Kreider wrote, “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.” Only God can see the whole picture of our lives, of history, and of the universe, but we need time alone with God to gain the best insight we can get.

Perhaps we can learn something vital from our children in this area.

This much I know: I have never felt more at one with God and with the universe than I did when I was a boy lying in the clover in the shade with my dog Ruff...

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