Day 22 – Embracing Silence to Draw Close
As we have examined the admonition about sexual immorality, you may have noticed that we have not dissected the issue of sexual immorality but have instead looked at the issue of intimacy and locating our desire for intimacy in the context of our life with God. While there may be other factors in play, sexual immorality is primarily an intimacy issue. At the end of the day, sexual immorality is not the problem … it is a perceived solution employed to deal with an intimacy problem.
When we experience isolation and loneliness, our needs and desires for intimacy come to the foreground of awareness. The invitation in loneliness is to remember that you are not alone. In the repentance pattern of reflect, release, and remember, we reflect on the experience of feeling alone or lonely, we release strategies to meet those needs on our own terms, and then remember that we are not truly alone. This is simple but not easy, especially if we have developed and habituated strategies from decades of life experience. As we reflect, we have to feel the loneliness and stick with it … seeking God in it in order to meet Him there and let Him love us and reassure us. As we do this, we are developing an orientation of listening to His voice as the way we interact with the loneliness and isolation of a wilderness season.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic Life Together, offers this counsel: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.” This describes the push and pull of loving God and loving others. The greatest commandment, which is to love, contains both the love of God and love of neighbor for this reason. We can’t love others unless rooted in and fueled by a loving relationship with God. Without this grounding, we will likely experience significant unhealth in relationships because we will need people to be who they can never be … the source of eternal life. On the other hand, as we grow in our comfort with and commitment to being alone with God, the love we experience needs to be expressed and poured out to others.
We have a tendency in difficult relational seasons to scan the landscape and imagine the worst … to feel overwhelmed. For the people of Israel as they were leaving Egypt, Pharoah and his army came against them at the edge of the Red Sea. Observe their reaction: “the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away into the wilderness to die? What have you done to us?’” (Exodus 14:11) When confronted with challenging human relationships, we often respond with some variation of “I’m going to die … this is just too much for me.” Notice Moses’ response: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (v.13-14)
Moses clearly names what can happen to us in relational wilderness seasons: fear. The encouragement is to look into the eyes of God … to see Him in all His glory. He affirms that the Lord is present with them and they don’t have to run. The only thing required: be silent. Incorporating silence into our regular rhythms is a gift that we learn to appreciate in the wilderness. David Vryhof, SSJE, reflects on this: “Seek the gifts that come from time with God alone. Develop the inner quality of solitude of heart. Learn to abide in the hermitage within. Love your cell. ‘The cell will teach you all things.’” One of the desert fathers commented that if we discipline ourselves to spend time in our prayer cell, we can begin to take our prayer cells with us. This is the pattern that Jesus modeled for us: embracing silence in order to draw close.
For Jesus, there were times when the demands of the crowd became incredibly significant. In Mark 1:33, we read that “the whole city gathered together at the door.” The next “morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” (v. 35) We see this pattern in Jesus over and over again. He would withdraw to quiet and solitude so that He could then return to be close to others … to engage with them, teach them, heal them, love them. This was not always understood by those around Him. In the following verses, the account suggests that the disciples searched for him and in bewilderment said, “Everyone is looking for you.”
Living into the fullness of human relationships without demanding more than they can offer and also not letting them demand more than you can offer necessitates that we embrace an intentional rhythm of retreat and engagement.
What might that look like for you? The rhythm of retreat/engage can be a gift in moments when a simple ten-minute retreat with God could offer the needed centering in various relational circumstances. And certainly, a larger rhythm of retreat is a vital aspect of relational, spiritual, physical, and emotional health.
Questions for reflection: sit quietly with what we have considered this week. What stands out to you? What has resonated? What is the invitation you are sensing?
Prayer: Lord, I confess that You are what my heart desires. Thank You for Your grace in meeting me again and again and inviting me to connect with Your heart and look into Your eyes for what I most need. Amen.