“The gospel…has but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations. Not to make people with better morals, but to create a community of…professional lovers.” (Brennan Manning)
One definition of love is this: connecting with others at a deep level affirming their value. I believe this. Each one of us has infinite worth and it needs to be affirmed through deep connection with God and others. But really, how does this happen in the bones of what makes up each life? After all, we have a lot going on and are stretched beyond imagination with family, work, household, community, volunteer and personal growth commitments (even the list makes me feel stressed).
Many years ago, the book, Celebration of Discipline, was circling around in the Christian world. Practices that had primarily laid dormant for the 20th Century were being called to light by the author, Richard Foster. He created a buzz about subjects like fasting, solitude, meditation, prayer, simplicity, worship and celebration, things related not to the outer, visible life of a person, but rather the inner, intimate life we have with God, self and others.
Having grown up in church, I viewed these disciplines as a bunch of special, super-Christian duties that would make God happy. They didn’t really even make sense to me. They were just piled on top of the long list of things to do that would show that I was better than the next Christian (or if I speak what’s true, that they were better than me, because I didn’t practice most of them hardly at all).
Thankfully, over time, and with more of a proper understanding, albeit still limited, I’ve sporadically, with fits and starts, attempted them all at some level, with limited success. Most of the time, if I am being honest, they are done from a place of downright desperation for change in myself or others, a kind of “okay God, I’m-serious-about-this-and-I-need-an-answer-now” place. It certainly hasn’t been a life-style, patiently exercising inner life muscles consistently. It’s been knee-jerk, “help me now Jesus” and short-lived.
We all know from the tagline of my blog that I am all about hope for healing and wholeness (with some snarky humor along the way…I’ve been missing the snarky lately but I’m sure it will come back full force very soon). I definitely want healing and wholeness for everyone I love, including you, but first I want it for me. After all, I can’t give something away that I don’t have myself.
In this vein to grab healing and wholeness, I am reading Shauna Niequists’s book, Bittersweet. This past week, the subject matter reared it’s ugly (I mean beautiful) head again in the chapter I was reading for my life-giving women’s small group. We meet every Thursday morning, come hell or high water or even content we don’t want to address at the moment (told you the snarky might return in full force). Anyhow, this particular week, she spoke of how these disciplines are an “enduring way of living that has been shaping and reshaping people for thousands of years.” They do something to the inside of the people who practice them. They matter.
Being the “leader” of this small group and wanting to be prepared with some deep insight to share (embarrassing truth), I began to ask some questions. How do the spiritual disciplines (or as my good friend says, “tools”…I also like the word “guides”), these centuries-old practices, this “enduring way of living” bring wholeness and healing to me, to others, to our world? What is the real, life-changing point?
I began to think that even in the herky-jerky, sporadic times that I have allowed these to be a part of my life, they have changed me on the inside. They seem to be an outward framework that brings inner healing. We are actually seeing a resurgence of them all throughout our society. Even Google has “silence and solitude” retreats for their executives. What we have been doing for the past 50+ years, in our work-a-holic, 24/7, achievement-based culture hasn’t really worked. These things must matter and we can’t get away with having a rich and full life without them.
But why do they matter? What’s the larger story? What do they provide that the running-around-in-circles, performance, “I-don’t-have-time-for-myself, you-or-God” atmosphere does not? Here is my half-thought on the subject (that just means I haven’t fully-processed it all yet and landed somewhere completely). They just might matter because they promote an environment where intimacy flourishes! Relationship abounds. Connection proliferates. True intimacy (being fully-known and fully-loved) happens when there is space made for it and what really doesn’t matter is put aside for what really does matter.
Solitude grants room for intimacy with self, allowing for knowing and loving our complex and wonderful self.
Prayer provides space for connection with God, revealing to Him our private stories, dreams, hopes and heartaches, and receiving His unconditional love in return.
Meditation is a sacred place where it’s just us and God and neither one has an agenda, a quiet place to just “be” and not “do.”
Simplicity declutters the external “I’m-so-busy-I-have-so-many-things-on-my-plate-that -take-up-a-ton-of-time” stuff so that we have room for what truly matters in this life, which is love (see definition above). There’s no better feeling than to have undistracted connection.
Worship makes a time and place that we can tell God we love Him. Celebrate Him. Tell Him he matters to us and all the reasons why.
Fasting removes external, physical pleasure for internal, soul-level healing. I don’t know how this works. I just know that it does. Maybe it’s an “in-the-face, can’t-avoid-it” reminder that we are much more than just the physical. It is a mystery to me, and I’m really okay with that.
Celebration says to others “you are valuable, I choose you today,” not out of convenience, but actually with fierce intentionality. It’s why we have birthdays, weddings, showers, and even funerals. It says, “I really know you and love you. You matter.”
I’m not one, being the cynical person that I am, to do things just because someone else tells me to do them. Not my parents (much to their chagrin in raising me), not my husband, not my friends, not even my church. I have a mild (okay a spicy) reaction to this. If I can understand the larger backdrop, the bigger reason why it’s right and good and best, it’s much easier for me to get on board.
I am seeing something I just might have been missing. Each of these disciplines are designed by God to promote true intimacy with self, Him and others. They provide a good environment for my mission to become, as Manning reminds me, a “professional lover.” I look forward to the continued changing and healing of my heart and soul. This might just be one reason why they work and why they matter.