Two three day weekends (thanks to a UK holiday followed by a US holiday) and a delay in the lovely process of bureaucracy has resulted in me landing in Kenya three days ago while my fiancé waits in London for his passport to be returned. The good news is that the visa was approved, but the visa process and waiting for the passport to be available for collection has been a bit of a patience game.
So, plans to jump right into ministry have been delayed; and instead I’m enjoying the hospitality of friends who run a children’s home near Nairobi while I wait. I must admit that the American side of me finds having no schedule, no job, and no responsibilities a bit disconcerting. I’m in limbo, unable to plan, unable to fill my day with things that keep me from having to stop and honesty look at my life.
Sometimes the stillness scares me.
It’s ok for a day or two. I’ve repacked my luggage twice, spent time playing with some of the kids, and have even been able to get some wedding planning done. But, as everyone else has schedules and responsibilities; I currently have none so I spend the majority of my day alone.
Today I read Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart. Eighty-four pages of pure wisdom. I felt convicted, encouraged, challenged, and feed all at the same time. This slim book somehow manages to unwrap the purpose of solitude in such a simple, beautiful way that it’s hard as a reader not to be changed by its profound counter-cultural message. Stop and be still.
But we’re afraid of the stillness.
It’s easy to see busyness as a good thing, but Nouwen shows that a certain amount of silence is essential to one’s spiritual life. Yes, we may fear the silence; but we need it in order to truly understand God. “We move through life in such a distracted way,” Nouwen writes, “that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing.”
“Solitude is the furnace of transformation,” Nouwen argues. “Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusion of the false self… In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken,—nothing. It is this nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.”
When it’s all stripped away—when it’s just you and God—it’s easy to see how small you are, how sinful, how, broken. But, as unpleasant as it is to be stripped of the props that we cling to in order to provide routine in our lives; it’s mind-blowing to experience that—while God is a God of order—He is not a God of routine. He has more in store then just the comfortable. He’s not interested in our busyness. He is interested in our soul, in a relationship, in more then what tradition and culture have to offer.
So I’m taking some time to stop—to ignore the nagging feeling that I must go out and do something. Time to stop and evaluate myself, my heart, my motives. It is scary because I don’t always like what I find when in the stillness I stare into the brokenness of my soul, but as Nouwen so insightfully points out solitude is the furnace of transformation. The silence allows God to shape the soul into what He wants it to be. A painful process, but one that produces eternal result. A process that transforms one from doing for the sake of doing to—being, existing, feeling life, and finding true purpose.