“When I am constantly running there is no time for being. When there is no time for being there is no time for listening.” - Madeline L’Engle
I love contemplation – in theory.
The year began for me in the aching beauty of an abbey church. The very architecture spoke to me of stillness. The concrete columns towering into arched rafters above were solid, sturdy, glorious. The scene around me reflected what I want my interior life to look like. That still, solid, steadiness is what I hope to embody.
I know that only comes with the contemplation and prayer that the inhabitants of those very walls live by. I began my year learning from the Benedictine monks that lived within the abbey, wanting to practice more of that kind of stillness in my own spirit.
But away from those warm and inviting walls where a single sound is magnified into echoing responses due to the silence – there is so much noise. Inside my head and heart - noise.
A third of the way into the year, I have been on more planes than in the past few years combined. I have been running so much and that isn’t to say I haven’t had moments of extreme clarity when God’s voice has broken through the noise.
I have heard Him in my journeys and in spite of them.
My scene today is a very different one than the dimly lit monastery. Noises and music rise together inside the coffee shop I sit inside, a shelter from the crisp Chicago day. I can’t pick out a single voice, the sounds more of a symphony of chatter than a single conversation.
It’s full of noise but my heart can still find space to be quiet here. There is something beautiful to me about being still in the middle of the city bustling around me.
Whether I am traveling or at home, in the quiet or in a crowd I can find a place for stillness if I will just stop running. The problem is I don’t often stop long enough to do the very thing I know my heart so desperately needs.
On my way to the Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, three days in which I am sure I will find little time for stillness, I am so grateful to have time to stop running if only for a moment.
My journey to FFW is starting with a writer’s retreat in which there will be time for prayer, contemplation, and writing. I think I am most looking forward to and most resistant to this part of the journey, all at the same time.
I have been trying make contemplation part of my daily life but it is so contrary to my evangelical church experience. Though I have often stepped outside of the tradition in which I first discovered Christ and still belong, the tendency to place worship in the neat little boxes I learned there are still so ingrained.
Stillness is still an effort for me. I want it to just feel easy but it is work at the same time. The two seem contrary to each other, so I often throw up my hands and walk away from the very practices I long to explore like centering prayer and examen.
In The Contemplative Writer, Ed Cyzewski (one of the people organizing the retreat tomorrow) talks about contemplative prayer as something that “removes us from the spiritual rat race where we’re always trying to make ourselves worthy of God or proving our mettle as disciples of Jesus.”
The rat race had been my life for so long that as soon as I remove myself from the endless cycles of striving, I find myself wandering right back to it.
Just like it is hard to let myself be known by others, it is so hard for me to be still and know. To be and not do. Everything in me fights against it but all I am longs to know how, too.
In this coffee shop I try to be still in the midst of the noise. Tomorrow I will practice contemplation with others, struggling to love it more in practice than in theory. I know it won’t be easy. Not much that actually brings us closer to truly knowing God is.
So here’s to knowing and being known this week…
On Wednesdays guest writers are raising their voices. Julie Dibble writes beautifully both about her entry into and struggle with fitting the mold of the online writing world but also about hearing God's voice. Her piece is a reminder of the power of God's word and the way it breaks into our lives. Please welcome Julie's words in this space. - Nicole
I am full of words. As a young girl, I wanted to be an author. Eagerly, I wrote and illustrated my own fiction. I remember one story about a lion that had no mane that I dreamed of publishing. As I got older, I placed words into poems and began to journal. By the hands that created me, I am blessed with the ability to decorate this life with glorious words.
My surprise was small when God called me to speak and write for Him. Rather, I strongly felt He had prepared me for such a task throughout my life. Humbled, I sought to accurately represent Holy Perfection.
Upon initiating myself into the professional writing world last year, the word requirements seemed low and less than what is comfortable for me. Blog posts are written as if the writer is speaking, so long, lofty sentences are not welcome. Twitter has a cut-off for not only words but also characters, inherently limiting the ability to ramble. Quickly, I realized with the absolute flood of information that exists online, brevity increases a writer’s visibility.
Here I am to state my case in the midst of this fast, busy, changeable world. Despite what we choose to keep to ourselves, God is omniscient. He knows all. Without sharing our thoughts, He hears them. Without baring our emotion, He feels it.
God responded to my mental objection…stumbling in the process of proclaiming His presence with words. God noticed my heart was less than pure. Feeling frustrated, I struggled with the need to cut entire details out of a story written for His glory, in order for it to be accepted.
God told me one night during a one-eye-opening-to-see-what-time-it-is awakening: power of prayer, power of prayer, power of prayer. Not audibly, but clear as day in my sleepy mind, God gave me these three words and repeated them three times. If I posted just those three words on Twitter, one or two people may stop scrolling and wonder about my purpose. Continue Reading
It wasn’t a revelatory moment when the heavens opened up. It was pieces of moments, scattered throughout my life like breadcrumbs leading me down the right path.
Pieces of moments – that book I wrote in third grade and a journal entry saying I wanted to be a writer, all those poems that were the language of the heartbreak of my teenage years. There are stacks of journals piled high over the years, most I would be afraid to venture back into with the things I now know.
Then, I put away the pen to live my life.
In my thirties, there came an aching in my soul, an emptiness I couldn’t explain. I had flashes in my memory - the pain in the eyes of a beggar, the slums and the forgotten ones, those without voices. There were stories on my heart that God had let me bear witness to, an obligation to share with those who hadn’t seen.
In the last few years there were those tell-tale breadcrumbs. Janice Elsheimer’s Creative Call convicted me that God had created in me a gift that I wasn’t using. Other writers encouraged me to share my art with the world. Then there was a journaling retreat at monastery that inspired me to start filling up the pages of my leather notebook with all the words that flowed in my heart.
I just didn’t feel I had anything worthy to give. What could my words create that didn’t already exist? What could I say that would matter?...
This month SheLoves Magazine is asking, "Is there a question that compels you, stirs you, inspires you?"
When I was young, both in maturity and in my faith, I threw myself into my walk with Christ with abandon. I wanted to soak up every bit of knowledge about God I could, to do as much for Him as possible. I wanted to be around believers constantly, to be a part of the church I had never experienced as a small child.
When I got my wish and was around believers constantly…and my faith was utterly shaken.
I quickly saw hypocrisy in the friends who knew all the “Christianese” to speak at church but who were equally adept in keeping up with our high school culture of sex and drugs.
In college, I witnessed the pervasive speeches about the love of Christ given by campus ministry students literally right next to the guys set up in the student center berating those with different beliefs. All in the name of Jesus.
My heart cried out to return to the church I had left as God drew me back to Himself but I was shaken by what I saw in others, in the church, in beliefs I couldn’t hold to.
I found a group of girls to meet with weekly and we prayed together, struggled together over all kinds of theology and faith issues. I found the reality of believers being real about their faith and I saw something for the first time.
Our theology can change over time. I can sit in the same room with someone who doesn’t hold to each tenant of my particular denomination as we worship the same Jesus. There are a lot of issues we get hung up on in the church that make us throw up our hands and walk away or that make us push others away that don’t believe exactly as we do.
Cultures shift. People grow. All of those little issues that divide us really don’t matter at all. There is one thing that is unshakeable.
His name is Jesus Christ.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” says Hebrews 13.8.
“What do I most unshakably believe in?” asked Elisabeth Elliot. “God the Father Almighty. Jesus Christ His only Son. The Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, the life everlasting. Not a long list, but all we need.”
My heart is full of confusion and pain when I forget this and look to the individual issues and the people around me to define what I believe. To have a quiet heart, I have to look to that short list of what really matters and keep my heart tethered there.
God says in Malachi 3.6 “I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”
The shifting sands all around us can either consume us or we can choose to stand upon the rock of the Unshakeable One.
Thank you for joining me in this journey towards keeping a quiet heart!
You have just a couple more days to enter to win a copy of Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart. Enter through October 31 and a winner will be chosen November 1.
I love my husband, my kids, my home, and my life. But I have this dream.
I have a whole day to myself to spend with God alone, in prayer, journaling, or just resting and reflecting. Every now and then my amazing husband makes sure I get one of these days. At least once a year I get away for at least part of a day spent in this way. I wish I could do it weekly instead…
Because this world is so full of noise. My mind is so full of noise. Most days I feel pulled in a thousand different directions and so often lately one of those directions is not towards prayer.
In this season of my life I know exactly what Elisabeth Elliot meant when she said, “Prayer is no easy pastime. As I grow older I find that I am more conscious than ever of my need to pray, but it seems at the same time to become more of a struggle.”
Whether it is a child calling out or a deadline looming, a lunch to be made or an appointment to be kept, it seems there is always something pressing.
For me, this is why prayer can become a struggle and my heart can become cluttered with thoughts and worries instead of kept quiet by prayer and surrender.
If I get distracted in my day and forget to pray, then I feel guilty for having forgotten and the vicious cycle begins. I feel unable to come to God because I should have remembered to pray first. So, my shame over thinking I should know better keeps me from the throne of God. I can go a whole day this way, running from prayer.
But here’s the thing – God never said prayer would be easy. Even those closest to Jesus asked Him to teach them to pray because they weren’t certain how.
No matter whether we feel the prayers rolling off our tongues easily throughout the day or we feel hard pressed to utter a word, we must continue struggling. It’s our lifeline to God, the way we stay connected to the Good Father who is waiting to hear our hearts.
Romans 12.12 says for us to “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”
Does patience come easily in times of affliction? I don’t know about you but it doesn’t for me. And neither does faithfulness in prayer. But the struggle is so worth it!
Prayer itself can be a wrestling with God. If we are really coming to Him with the deep needs and desires of our hearts, we won’t just be uttering platitudes. We will be struggling against the flesh and against the darkness.
Keep struggling. Keep fighting for a heart that can lay it all down before God, quiet and resting in Him.
“Please accept my distractions, my fatigue, my irritations, and my faithless wanderings. You know me more deeply and fully than I know myself. You love me with a greater love than I can love myself…Look at me, see me in all my misery and inner confusion, and let me sense your presence in the midst of my turmoil…Take my tired body, my confused mind, and my restless soul into your arms and give me rest, simple quiet rest.” - Henri Nouwen
Thank you for joining me in this journey towards keeping a quiet heart. This last week I will be giving away a copy of the book that God used to prompt me to seek hard after the qualities of a quiet heart. Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway and a winner will be chosen at random on November 1 to receive Elisabeth Elliot's Keep a Quiet Heart.