One of things that jumps off the pages of the gospels is how often Jesus paused, stepped back, and took time to be alone in order to draw closer to God. The gospels record over and again that Jesus withdrew to a deserted place to pray. (Mark 1:35; 6:31, 45–46; Luke 4:42; 5:16; 6:12; Matthew 26:38–42). It makes me wonder, if even Jesus needed time to be alone with the Father, how much more do we?
Over the centuries, seasoned disciples of Jesus all point to this basic and fundamental reality that we need to find a deserted place to pray if we hope to engage the world compassionately like Jesus.
For in times of solitude and prayer we encounter more deeply our dignity and uniqueness as persons in God’s image; we experience our brokenness and deep need; we discover we are not alone; we find the Father graciously drawing us to himself, assuring us that we are loved and forgiven; and we recognize the Spirit inviting us to join in on Jesus’ healing and mending mission in the world and in our community.
We commonly associate this deserted place with spiritual retreat. James Martin describes retreat this way,
“Essentially, a retreat means taking time away from the busy-ness of everyday life in order to focus more on your spiritual life. A retreat is an extended period of time spent with God in prayer.”
Short thought this time…
A few weeks ago I was leading two Facilitator Retreats; one in Olympia, Washington and two days later in Warwick, New York. I found myself emphasizing to both groups of pastors and lay-leaders the importance of caring for themselves,
“Taking care of yourself is not selfish. In fact, as a person who is leading others, it is one of the least selfish things you can do because you cannot care for others well if you have not taken proper care of yourself. Not for very long, at least.”
It didn’t hit me the first time I said it. It took me hearing myself say it to others a second time before I stopped myself and I took notice. Then, when I got home from that week of two Facilitator Retreats, my pastor preached on Psalm 90:12. Two days later, during our VP3 Team Meeting, Pam’s focusing thought revolved around Psalm 90:12…
I think God is reminding me to pay attention to something. I guess I better take my own advice and clear some space so I can better perceive what He is saying!
Perhaps you do too…
I am declaring here, that it cannot be done.
You must choose.
Forward steps OR paying attention.
But not both at the same time.
I am reminded this Thanksgiving week of Christine Pohl’s words on gratitude. She writes,
“Our capacity for gratitude is not connected with an abundance of resources but rather with a capacity to notice what it is that we do have.”[i]
Our capacity for gratitude is connected to our capacity to notice…
We can live such distracted lives. Sitcoms and baseball games, doctor’s appointments and beauty magazines, laptops and hurricane updates and piano recitals, beer ads, Bible studies—all of these clamor, crowd, and compete for our attention. “We are very distractible people in a very distracting world”, writes Leighton Ford.[ii] We so rarely exercise an undivided attention. Our distracted minds seem to have little space for the things that matter most to us, the things that actually need our undivided attention.
When we fail to regularly reflect upon what we are thankful for, we lose sight of both the gifts and the givers in our lives.
The word kairos means a moment in time. It holds a different meaning than chronos, which is how we typically think of time in terms of a sequence of seconds, minutes and hours ticking along. Kairos has more to do with a right opportunity, or a ripe season, or the progression of something toward a perfect moment in time or even striking the right moment. This week five amazing people from the VantagePoint3 tribe came together to begin a timely learning opportunity for their continued growth as leaders. They are part of a creative cohort approach to seminary education sponsored by Sioux Falls Seminary called The Kairos Project.
The other night we were out for a walk in our neighborhood and noticed the early signs of the fall season. The grass felt stiffer with a few more rusted leaves to kick around, the air was cooler and smelled fresher, the horses in the pasture across the road seemed a bit more mischievous, and Wall Lake had a growing number of a certain type of sea gull choiring their noise before continuing their journey somewhere south. I was trying to explain to Liam (now 13) how the fall is often a time for remembering favorite times, places, people, new beginnings and stuff that seems more central.
How many times have you heard yourself saying, or thinking,
“I don’t think I’m going to go to (fill in the blank).”
And then, you summon the energy, obedience, or heart to show up.
Later you hear yourself saying, or thinking, “I’m glad I went.”
What’s that all about?
I think I know the answer.
I’ve been reading comments included in The Journey assessments we have received at VP3.
Here’s a few that stood out:
“Once again I am faced with the fact that I cannot make this earthly journey alone.
I see saints all around me and know that they have a story that would shock me and yet a story that God wrote, is writing, and is totally IN!!!
Understanding that each of us has a unique story makes me so much more accepting of all people….everyone has some kind of battle.”
Susan (my wife) and I decided to tag team leading a Journey group in our church. Seven strong women (Judy, Jayme, Carla, Hannah, Rebekah, Andrea, Susan) as well as Seth and myself (we felt much less strong at times) made up our group. Everyone who leads a VP3 group believes they have the best one, and that would be true in my case. We quickly became a trusted community, learning more fully who we were as persons in the good company of each other.
Something shifts during the narrative sharing time. And it shifted for us. A level of honesty surfaced from the fathoms of our lives…an honesty that brought with it stories of visions and broken dreams, accomplishments and failures, cozy places and harsh desserts, influential heroes and painful abusers. All of it somehow used as tailored curriculum by the Spirit of God to etch out who we really are, and to prepare us for what is yet to come.
What caught my attention when Hannah shared her story was her written prayer–a prayer that reflected her courage to question and to confess. Hannah agreed to share a part of her story and her prayer. May both be a reminder of the One who draws near in those vulnerable moments of honesty.
May is a sneaky month. I find it to be as full as December, but without any signals from the consumer market that there’s important days ahead.
Take a glance at the month ahead of you. What important dates, or more importantly, what special people, could be cause for celebration this next month? Mother’s Day is May 11. Graduations from preschool (!) all the way through graduate school are forthcoming. Add in end-of-the-year concerts and banquets for school age students. Neighbors or co-workers may be changing jobs or moving. For those of us involved in a VantagePoint3 group, we are coming to the end of meaningful months together.
I’m curious how your spirit of celebration is in the midst of many good things? My hope is that you will follow through or take time this next month to celebrate the good friends, special people, accomplishments, and growth you see in others.
We celebrate what we delight in, what we appreciate and value. At its core, the church is a celebrating community. This usually looks like good food, good conversation, and careful noticing of others.
Celebration is at the heart of Jesus’ way of life.
Jesus celebrated even when there was much to be unhappy about. We face this same challenge.
(…not really sure how I “drew” Holy Week for the blog post…)
On Palm Sunday, my pastor voiced something that I have also always felt. He talked about how he always feels a little weird celebrating Holy Week…we, essentially, celebrate the brutal torture of our Savior. I know, we actually celebrate the resurrection of our Savior and all that means. However, leading up to the resurrection is the brutal torture and death of Jesus. I have also felt a little weird celebrating Holy Week. Easter Sunday (Victory Sunday), yes…the rest of the week, however, is such a bizarre turn of events from Palm Sunday to Good Friday.
For each of the last few years during Holy Week, I read something I wrote on Good Friday the Easter after God turned my eyes toward this new path I am on…
Good Friday – 2011
Thank You for today, Father.
Thank You for what you did for us today.
Thank You for the [Maundy-Thursday] service last night…
Thank You for working in my heart last night.
I have always had a hard time accepting your love and forgiveness…
thinking that I didn’t deserve it.
I still know that I don’t deserve it,
but I understood last night,
how much you really do love me.
I’ve talked it before.
I even preached it at Camp J last summer.
But, now I am learning to accept it for myself.
Every year for Easter, we are running…
and the whole week is a little crazy.
Every year I lose sight of You.
Saturday comes and I had forgotten
about the sacrifice You made the day before.
I never want to take that for granted.