Chapter 2

From Boredom to INVITATION

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“Boredom is rage spread thin.”

Paul Tillich

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Truthfully, many of us are bored. We come by it honestly. We don’t mean to be bored but we live in a world that does not root us in the context of a larger story (or, dance) that can give our lives meaning. In a book written decades ago, the great evangelist Billy Graham wrote:

“America is said to have the highest per capita boredom of any spot on earth. We know that because we have the greatest variety and greatest number of artificial amusements of any country. People have become so empty that they can’t even entertain themselves. They have to pay other people to amuse them, to make them laugh, to try to make them feel warm and happy and comfortable for a few minutes, to try to lose that awful, frightening, hollow feeling – that terrible, dreaded feeling of being lost and alone … no other living thing except man can ever be bored with itself or its surroundings. This is very significant, for the Creator never does anything without a purpose, and if he gave man the capacity for boredom, he did it for a purpose. Boredom is one of the sure ways to measure your own inner emptiness! It’s as accurate as a thermometer for telling just how hollow your inner spirit really is. The person who is thoroughly bored is living and working in a vacuum. His inner self is vacuum, and there is nothing nature resents more than a vacuum. It is one of the unfailing rules of the universe that all vacuums must be filled, and filled immediately.”

The primary reason that we have lost our grounding is that we don’t have a vision for a life that is bigger than ourselves. If we have an inclination toward the things of God, we often invite Him to join our “dances.” Because of His gracious nature, He chooses to be present with us like a dad kneeling down and playing on floor with his children. However, there comes a time when we long for more than playing with toys and this is when we have a choice to make. When desire begins to stir in our hearts, we can get up off the floor and follow God on to the dance floor or we can continue to take the problem of unfulfilled desire into our own hands.

In Renovation of the Heart, Dallas Willard comments, “In the absence of meaning, boredom and mere effort are all that is left.” For many, this is the tragic reality. We can find ourselves in a place of trying and trying and trying but still finding things to be relatively empty. Whether we are trying to make our way in the world of career and acquiring more things or we are trying to make things happens in our personal world of relationships, all our efforts fall short. Even in our relationship with God, we can import the paradigm of doing more and trying harder but are left never being able to fill the vacuum.

We come to a place of thinking, “there has to be more than this.” The good news, the Gospel, is that there is more than a life of trying to make things work. God invites us into His life. The life of God and our participation in it is anything but boring. So, if we are bored or angry or in despair, it means we haven’t learned how to dance with the Trinity.

In the Message, Eugene Peterson describes Jesus’ call this way,

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The unforced rhythms of grace? Sounds like the movements of a dance which is anything but boring. In the original Greek writing of this passage from Matthew, Jesus describes Himself as gentle and humble in heart. He says that His yoke (or, teaching about how to live life) is gracious. What is at the core of this life into which we are invited? It is grace and love and humility. This is how the Trinity relates to one another and Jesus says that entering into this life brings freedom and rest and joy.

While He initiated the relationship and made it secure through His death on the cross, participating in the divine nature requires a response on our part. All the obstacles were cleared away so that we can dance. However, we still have to move toward this life and learn the rhythms of grace. Our old ways of relating have to be set aside so that we can relate to God on His terms. Thankfully, His “terms” are the same as our created design.

In 1 John 4:8, we are told that “God is love.” It’s not that God is loving as an adjective but His very nature is love. Because God exists as Trinity, His essence is love. All of His other attributes are derived from this foundation. In Genesis 1, humanity is described as being made in God’s image. So, what is the image of God imbedded within mankind? It is love. Dancing with the Trinity restores us to our created design.  We are going to examine six responses or movements toward the Trinity from Ephesians 4 and it all starts with the movement from boredom to invitation.

So, two core questions spring from this first movement. What is the nature of the invitation? How do we accept the invitation?

Thomas Torrance, in his book on the Trinity, put it this way:

“The doctrine of the Trinity is the central dogma of Christian theology, the fundamental grammar of our knowledge of God … because the doctrine of the Trinity gives expression to the fact that God has opened himself to us.”

He has opened Himself to us as He offers His love to us. God, in Trinity, is continually loving and being loved. That way of life is the invitation. In Ephesians 4:1, we are challenged to “walk (or live) in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” When we see the word “worthy,” we can mistakenly think that the call is to live up or become worthy of something. However, God’s invitation is pure grace. The idea of “worthy” in this verse means to live in a way that matches our calling. In other words: receive the invitation!

In the prayer at the end of Ephesians 3, we find these words: “that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” The fullness of God is the content of His character which is, of course, loving and being loved. In the last verses of Ephesians 1, we observe that this fullness is expressed this way:

And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. (1:22-23)

It is in the context of the church (relationships with others) that His fullness is experienced. Just as the Trinity desires to share their love, we experience the fullness of His love as we seek to share it. However, we see barriers to this fullness as we look at our world and survey our own experience. Barriers to dancing in the love of the Trinity are pushed to the side in Ephesians 2. First, we are united with Christ by grace which “is the gift of God.” (v. 8) Second, humanity is described as living on two sides of a wall, and Jesus is described as “our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.” (v. 14)

We are given peace with Him so that we can experience peace with each other. We have access to the Trinity so that we can learn to love and be loved. In John 17, Jesus prayed that His followers would be One as He and the Father are One.

So, His invitation is gracious. He is not a king who demands our presence but a king who desires for us to experience His love. And, He has made it possible for us to dance with Him as He cleared away the obstacles to this kind of life. Romans 5:5 expresses this reality beautifully: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” If this is true, then why is His love not more frequently our experience? What keeps us from accepting the invitation?

Even though He has cleared the way, we often have our defenses up. While we are being invited into a circle of love that is safe, we’ve all experienced hurt and felt unsafe. From the time of childhood, we develop self-protective strategies that we believe can keep us safe from the hurt we experience. We can become quite skilled at protecting ourselves and in some ways our skills can serve us well. But, there comes a time when we realize that we are protecting ourselves from His love and the opportunity to love others with His fullness. Because we’ve been made in God’s image, Trinitarian love is what we long for and desire more deeply than anything else. We might settle for our self-protective measures but they never quite satisfy.

Take a few moments and consider the ways that you self-protect. In general, we protect in one of the following ways: acquiring, avoiding, or accommodating. Each of these strategies show up in our lives in the form of “I need” statements. For example:

  1. I need to acquire certain things to feel safe. The feeling of safety might come through seeking power or knowledge or material things. Anger is a powerful motivator for us when acquiring is our strategy.
  2. I need to avoid certain things to feel safe. When this is our strategy, avoiding pain and conflict with others become a deep source of motivation. Fear tends to be the dominate response to life. Are anxiety and fear a part of your experience?
  3. I need to accommodate to the world around me to feel safe. The experience of the world being unsafe comes through shame in those who seek to accommodate. Shame is the feeling that there is something wrong with me. So, energy is poured into people pleasing and demonstrating that we’re not fundamentally flawed.

These powerful strategies usually work under the surface of our lives, outside of our regular awareness. However, we walk through life with sets of expectations or promises based on these strategies. We began this discussion by looking at the idea of boredom and Dallas Willard’s observation: “In the absence of meaning, boredom and mere effort are all that is left.” Self-protection leaves us bored and tired. The meaning of our lives, based on the reality of the Trinity and being made in the image of the Trinity, is loving and being loved.

Moving out of those boring, exhausting places of life means that we lay down our defenses. This can feel very vulnerable but vulnerability is the essence of receiving the invitation. As we put down the armor of acquiring, avoiding, and accommodating, we will feel naked. Professor and author Doug Kelley observed, “What it means to be vulnerable before a moment is to give it the power to change us. If our spirituality does not make us more vulnerable, I doubt that it is much good.”

We often import our anger, anxiety, and shame into the way we approach life with God. And so, we ask Him to help us gain and maintain those things we believe will make us feel safe. We might eschew the more obviously “sinful” strategies of acquiring wealth or seeking immoral pleasure for acquiring theological knowledge or the pleasure of helping others, but the core motivations remain the same. We are trying to feel safe. When this is the case, effort and performance are the paradigm for relationship with Him. It might show up in the belief that if I do certain things for God, He will keep me safe. It might simply be imbedded in the idea that the nature of life and relationship with God is about keeping busy in our service of Him.

Dwight Edwards, an author and pastor, reminds us that the calling to which we are challenged to live is based on something very different.

“God’s first calling on our lives is not usefulness. It is intimacy. Like the first disciples, Christ’s premier purpose for our lives is for us to be “with Him”. Secondarily, very secondarily; He then sends us “out to” minister. How easily we lose sight of this!”

Intimacy means vulnerability. Intimacy requires letting go of our expectations and self-protective strategies and trusting that we are safe with Him. Moving toward the invitation to intimacy means that we trust that His love is enough.

Our tendency is to respond with anger, fear, and shame when confronted with trials. In James 1:2, we are challenged to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.” Trials and sufferings have a way of stripping us of our defenses if we allow it. First, this happens through awareness of our strategies when suffering comes. Second, we actually lay down our self-protective strategies. James makes it clear that this happens through silence: “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” (v. 19). When confronted with the “unsafety” of life, our impulse is to speak and get angry. Anger can show up as simple anger but also as fear or shame. A listening posture with God means that we stop talking. There is a time to talk but silence is how to begin to lay down our defenses.

Silence is the ultimate vulnerability. It opens us to Him because we are refusing to use words or anger to give us a sense of safety.

We learned in Psalm 46 that God is willing to wrestle with us. He is safe enough that we can say anything to Him but He is also safe enough that we can say nothing. And, silence is how the dance begins. Henri Nouwen shares the wisdom of the church fathers who said that “Silence makes us pilgrims.” It puts us squarely on the journey of loving and being loved.

In the Old Testament writing of Habakkuk, the prophet came before God with complaints about the state of the world. Violence ruled the day and justice seemed like a fairy tale. God, in His infinite grace and compassion, heard the complaints and responded with reminding Habakkuk of His character and His plans for the world. Then, He gave this challenge: “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” (2:20)

Silence makes us pilgrims because we are challenged to put down our complaints that are usually connected to some way in which we don’t feel safe in the world. Silence makes us pilgrims because we can’t use words to control or define or defend. Silence opens us to the reality that there is an eternally, loving God. The place where He dwells (His temple) is holy because it is dripping with the dance of loving and being loved.

In the final verses of Habakkuk, the prophet responds with a prayer in 3:17-19:

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

The reality of His love became more powerful than the perceived safety of fruit on the trees and herds in the stall. We receive the invitation to dance as we embrace the vulnerability of silence. The challenge is to spend time with God in silence, without needing to say a word.

God has opened Himself to us in the Trinity. In doing this, He shares His vulnerability with us. We can respond with becoming vulnerable as we:

  1. Remember that we are safe with Him.
  2. Recognize where we play it safe.
  3. Release our impulse to find safety through self-protection.
  4. Rest in prayers of silence with the Trinity.

Spiritual Exercise

Set aside twenty minutes each day this week to sit with the Trinity in silence. Review Habakkuk 2:20 and the challenge to respond to God with silence.

But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.

As you enter into the time of silence with the Trinity, set your heart and mind on seeing Him in His holy temple. Imagine yourself sitting at His feet, loved and cherished. Stay with that image. As thoughts or impulses come into your awareness, simply lay them to the side and gently return the gaze of your heart to His love for you. Note: don’t be discouraged if a lot of thoughts and distractions come to you. This is normal and a great way to learn to simply be in His presence, returning over and over again to His loving nature as Trinity.

Reflection Questions

  1. Do you feel safe with Him? How might understanding His love and commitment to you develop your sense of safety?
  2. Why is feeling safe with God vital to learning to live life with Him?
  3. Why is making oneself vulnerable to the Trinity the foundational way that we respond to the invitation to intimacy?
  4. What protective measure(s) do you employ in your life? (acquire, avoid, accommodate)
  5. How does silence play a role in being vulnerable with God?
  6. Take some time to reflect on your experience of being silence with Him. What was this like for you? Did it stir feelings of vulnerability? How can you continue to push into vulnerability as way of receiving His love?

Discussion Questions

  1. What is the connection between feeling safe with God and His love?
  2. How does not feeling safe with God limit our participation in His life?
  3. Why is vulnerability important in our life with Him? How does silence play a role in vulnerability?
  4. What protective measure(s) do you see at work in your life?
  5. What was the Spiritual Experience like for you?
  6. How did the Spiritual Experience help develop your ability to dance with the Trinity?
  1. Thanks for the insight and direction Ted. I know you said not to get discouraged when distractions come invade our silence, but as I do this I see that the biggest distractions do not come from noises or visual distractions, but rather from my own inner voice getting in the way of just listening. I can tune our the external, but my own internal voice seems to want to chime in all the time. This is not the fist time I have practiced the presence of God in times of silence, but the big takeaway from the last couple days is I am my biggest distraction. Lord, let me enjoy your presence without the distraction of myself.

  2. Jeff, thanks for sharing what’s happening with you! I encourage you to just keep going in silence and gently let the inner voice go. Don’t try to control it or manage it – just let the thoughts drop away and return to being present to the Trinity. If you fight the inner thoughts, they tend to get stronger but gently let them go and over time, you will notice a shift. Another idea is that you might try to prayerful offer each thought to the Trinity and entrust to their loving care.

  3. Thanks for the encouragement Ted.

  4. You asked what protective measures we see at work in our lives. Mine has been accommodation. Much of my life was spent feeling “less than”, trying to be better. In my quest for perfection, I ended up feeling more shame and anxiety. When I started to really understand God’s unconditional love for me, I began to release the shame that bound me. It’s taken a lifetime to “learn to dance.” It’s an ongoing process; so glad that God is patient.

  5. Finally I see the reason to just be silent. Without your picture of sitting at His feet this ” Centering Prayer ” never seemed to touch my heart and I felt I was wasting my time. With the picture or Ignatius imaginative contemplation on scripture this firms up a need for me. Thanks Dr Ted. I wish the quotes had reference to pursue the ideas further. Maybe on week 8. Blessings, Jody Humber

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