when it needs to be said

Have been chewing on this quote from Celebration of Discipline for a while now:

Control rather than no noise is the key to silence... Under the discipline of silence and solitude we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. The disciplined person is the person who can do what needs to be done when it needs to be done...A person who is under the discipline of silence is a person who can say what needs to be said when it needs to be said. (Prov 25:11) If we are silent when we should speak we are not living in the discipline of silence. If we speak when we should be silent, we again miss the mark.

Oh this is hard for me. So hard!

I hate confrontation and conflict. Hate it. I am always afraid to share my thoughts, feelings, etc. with loved ones. I am afraid that what I say will make them so mad or hurt them so badly that the relationship is destroyed. To preserve the relationship and keep the "peace," I hold things in. Things that should be said.

Like most folks, this comes from a childhood lived in dysfunction. Things that should have been brought out into the open, discussed, resolved were not addressed. If person A was upset with person B he/she would never talk to him/her directly, but would instead stew in sullen silence, or talk with person(s) C, D, E, J, R, etc. Other things were completely ignored with none of the persons talking about it to anyone, even though everyone was scared/worried/hurt/frustrated/angry about the issue.

I still do this. I fret and worry and stress about things that scare me or upset me, but don't say anything about them. Even when a loved one - a safe person - asks me what is wrong, I will sometimes freak out and not share what is going on inside me.

Silence when I should speak.

I am also fairly creative and a good problem solver, and an encourager. So there are other situations when I talk too much. A friend might be hurting or struggling in an area and I have "50 Sure-fire Perfect Solutions" or a "Simple Five Step Plan for Making Life Awesome," and instead of just listening as he/she wrestles verbally with the issue, I launch into advising and counseling and problem solving, oftentimes unbidden.

This seems to be just a part of my personality. I don't mean any harm, and don't mean to puff myself up. I'm just excited and like solving problems. Exhortation, baby! But whether I mean to be arrogant or not, it is presumptuous to solve peoples problems for them and to tell them all about what they must do - especially when they didn't ask for my help! Its a form of control, really. And its not my job.

Speaking when I should be silent.

Wading through this is difficult and painful and scary. I've been working on this for years, trying to figure out when to speak and when to just-shut-the-hell-up-already. And I think I still get it wrong most of the time.

Being with MM has really helped me with the first part. He genuinely wants me to tell him when something has scared or upset me. He doesn't want anything to ever be an unspoken barrier between us. He welcomes tough conversations as a way to grow closer and more loving. He is kind and loving and patient and gentle as I learn how to do this. I am thankful for his goodness to me.

And the practice of solitude and silence is helping with the second. When my mind starts racing with "solutions" to a friends "problem" I am learning to keep that to myself and just listen. My desire is that if I offer anything at all, its sympathy and affirmation. To offer true encouragement instead of unsolicited advice. I don't always get this right, but I'm trying.


the communion of saints

In this season of my life, my weekly church experience is small and simple. No buildings, worship bands, Sunday school classes, children's programs, etc. Just me and MM and some friends endeavoring to read, contemplate, pray, both alone and together, and coming together to share how the whole following Jesus thing is going.

Part of our weekly experience involves communion. MM and I actually celebrate communion twice. We have our own time on Sunday or Monday night, and then we celebrate again on Wednesdays with our friends. We do so simply, crackers or bread and wine or juice. A few simple words and a time of prayer. No fancy music or sermons. Just good friends passing a bit of bread or a cup and reminding each other, "...broken for you... shed for you..."

Celebrating communion with such intimacy speaks to me about what it means to follow Jesus in community. We don't just sit in the same section of pews once a week. We are connected to each other. We know each others stuff. Weaknesses, fears, hopes, successes, failures, frailties, and joys are in plain sight, and getting plainer the more we interact like this.

Large group settings do not offer the same opportunity to "bear one another's burdens." To extend grace and mercy to one another. To even "one another" at all. That verse telling us to "first be reconciled to your brother..." (Matt. 5:23-24) doesn't really hold the same meaning in a gathering of 400+ people as it does in a gathering of four. If our fellowship is broken, we will feel it! And, hopefully, make amends. In larger groups, fellowship is often broken, but no amends can be made because the problems go unnoticed.

Celebrating communion with such frequency reminds me how receiving grace is a daily thing. We are - I will just say it bluntly - sinful creatures. We hurt each other and ourselves and "turn each to his own way" daily, and are in constant need of restoration. Remember that you are loved. Forgiven. Restored. Renewed. Again and again, remember. "...for you."

It is good, this communion of saints. I'm glad to be in this place.


singleness of eye

I want first of all...to be at peace with myself. I want a singleness of eye, a purity of intention, a central core to my life that will enable me to carry out these obligations and activities as well as I can. I want, in fact - to borrow from the language of the saints - to live "in grace" as much of the time as possible. By grace I mean an inner harmony, essentially spiritual, which can be translated into outward harmony. I would like to achieve a state of inner spiritual grace from which I could function and give as I was meant to in the eye of God...

~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Gift from the Sea


Lenten Blessing

God of times and seasons, you have brought us again to Lent for the study of your word, for the remembrance of the temptation of your son, and for the contemplation of his cross. The birds know their seasons; forbid that we be blind to our times. Grant us a Lenten blessing, and may no one miss this time of growth. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen


spazz alternative

More quotes from Celebration of Discipline:

Simply to refrain from talking, without a heart listening to God, is not silence.


When we speak of ourselves and are filled with ourselves, we leave silence behind. When we repeat the intimate words of God that he has left within us, our silence remains intact.


I have a tendency when I am upset (and I am upset a LOT) to come to God crying, spilling out an endless stream of hurts and fears and worries and problems and things that are just messed up and that I need help with. It is a fine way to pray. Simple Prayer, according to Richard Foster in this book. It is the prayer of children, and we need this sort of prayer from time to time.

It is cathartic for me to tumble all my problems out and point and say what it is that hurts or bothers me about each one. It is good for me to go to my Father when I am upset and let him listen to my troubles and comfort me.

But it is also good for me to listen back, and I am not as good at this part.

I say my piece and get my release. My mind is clear and my heart is a bit lighter and I can move on. I do make an effort to listen. To mark down truth or wisdom or any guidance or instructions. Things to remember about whatever I have been worried about.

But I think that practicing solitude is a way for me to really listen. In fact, to listen before I start pouring out my list of troubles. That's the trick for me right now. To spend a bit of time on a regular basis (weekly? daily? not sure yet) just sitting in the whatever - fear, pain, grief... - with God. Feeling and listening but no talking.

Glargh! That is hard for me!

But so beneficial. I think that ultimately more productive work gets done in 10 minutes of me sitting in silence than in me spending hours spazzing out to God about all my stuff. To sit and be present to his goodness and love brings true rest and peace, not just the momentary lightness of "emotionally barfing" on God. To find a few verses that speak of truth and just focus my mind on those things instead of the 793 things that are upsetting me does more to calm and comfort.


learning to flop

I'm a week or so into this season of pondering solitude. This quote from Celebration of Discipline still resonates with me:

If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.

I am practicing trust. To trust that God loves me and will care for me in this season. To trust that he sees everything that is happening in my life. To trust that he has the solutions to the problems I'm facing, and I don't need to figure it all out. To trust that "I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living."

Now, to a certain extent, I've always trusted God. I have always known that "God will take care of me." I have always had hope that "things will get better." But this seems to be at an even deeper level. I am the most vulnerable I have ever been in my adult life right now, so trust means something new. Despite all that "trust" and "hope" and knowledge that "God is good no matter what," I have never truly, deeply been able to relax into that. I have always had to remain alert, ready to spring into action if disaster strikes - and surely it will.

Its like those people who do the trust fall exercises. There are some who can just flop themselves down, completely trusting that others will catch them. But others hold themselves stiff and alert. They do it, because otherwise the camp counselor will yell at them. But they don't reeeeaaaallllly believe that the others will catch them. Or, they have a tiny thought that "they might catch me at first, but they will drop me eventually." If all goes well, the first sort of people think, "of course!" The second thinks, "it was just that one time. Next time I will land on my ass."

I'm that second sort. And I feel like this round of practicing solitude is to show me that this season of my life is in part about learning to truly relax into trust. Relax into hope. Relax into the notion that all is well. That I am loved. That I am safe. That I am cared for. That my needs will be met. My hurts will be healed. My fears will be calmed. To really believe all the verses that I've clung to all these years.

A season of trust falls.


solitude:take a break

During a particularly stressful season back in our 20s my friend and I used to joke about how we really wanted to enter some kind of treatment facility. "I just want to be somewhere pretty, where they feed me and hand out medicine. And I get to wear my bathrobe all day. And all I have to do is go to "circle time" and do art." A few years ago we discovered that each of us secretly enjoyed The Starting Over House television program, because, though those ladies didn't wear bathrobes all day, they did get to remove themselves from the hectic demands of everyday life and create the space and rest they needed to work through their hurts and issues. We wanted to start over too!

But as much as we longed to go, my friend and I didn't need to be in a facility. We just wanted a break. We work on our hurts and issues in the midst of busy lives filled with work and ministry and relationship and the quotidian tasks of maintaining a home and life. Life continues to make its natural demands on us no matter what work we are doing inside our souls. The toilets must be scrubbed, the laundry must be done, groceries must be bought, the oil must be changed every 3000 miles... We just wanted to have a break from having to think about money and work assignments and "did I remember to buy cat food?" so that our souls could grieve and heal and listen to whatever instruction or comfort God had for the stuff going on inside us.

I think that for me, in this intense season, the discipline of solitude is like that. It is a break. It creates space inside to come rest and breathe deeply and to "sink down into the silence and solitude of God." I need that space. I need moments when my entire job is to breathe and know that God is love. Don't worry. Don't try to solve all the problems. Be gentle. Don't try to "get better" or "snap out of it." Don't try to escape or control the situation. Be still. Be patient. Just breathe.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:
In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. ~ Isaiah 30:15

Returning. Rest. Quietness. Trust. Just what the Doctor ordered.


solitude: trust

A few quotes from Celebration of Discipline:

Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.

* * *

If we posses inward solitude we do not fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us. In the midst of noise and confusion we are settled into a deep inner silence. Whether alone or among people, we always carry with us a portable sanctuary of the heart.

* * *

One reason we can hardly bear to remain silent is that it makes us feel so helpless. We are so accustomed to relying on words to manage and control others. If we are silent, who will take control? God will take control, but we will never let him take control until we trust him. Silence is intimately related to trust.

* * *

I want to experience fulfillment instead of emptiness. To settle into a deep inner silence. To carry a portable sanctuary of the heart - a place of rest and refuge and worship. I need to trust.

This weekend I came across Isaiah 12:2 and have been using it as my own personal shema:

Surely God is my salvation.
I will trust and not be afraid,
For the LORD God is my strength and my might.
He has become my salvation.

This has been a good centering prayer every day. A way to remind myself that I do not need to freak out about all the stuff that is scary or upsetting to me right now.

(Of course, as soon as I say it, I get that Jeremy Camp song stuck in my head. Sigh.)


Lent 2010: Solitude

This time of year (late January) feel tired and worn thin, "like butter scraped over too much bread." Three months of holidays and celebration have taken their toll and I long for the still, quiet peace of Lent. A time to slow down. Consume less. Pray more. Read. Think. Contemplate. Be still.

Lent is not for another few weeks, but I need this now. The three months of celebration are in the midst of my healing work in therapy and starting a new relationship that we believe is headed toward marriage (!). I am also unemployed, and the stress of making ends meet and conducting a job search during a recession is added to the emotional upheaval and celebratory tiredness.

Last week I really felt like all this adds up to me needing to practice some Solitude. My plan is to read through the various materials I already have (Celebration/Celebrating the Disciplines, Sacred Rhythms, Spiritual Classics, Sabbath, Wilderness Time, etc.) And maybe I will use the Spiritual Formation Bible to focus some of my reading on Solitude. I will take notes "chapbook"-style and post some of them here.

MM and I will do some sort of Lent thing together, but I think this year, instead of giving something up, I will practice Solitude. Yay Lent!