Many people around the world are currently quarantined. They have been forced to give up more than they ever have done before in the history of the Lent season. Typically people give up chocolate or sweet foods, or maybe some social media or something for 6-7 weeks to be intentional about their connection with Jesus running up to Easter. But this Lent season has been so different. People have yielded and surrendered their normal way of life. They have not been able to live the way they often do, and have had a season of disconnection from the rest of the world. Arguably not since the last 2 world wars, have people all over the planet given up so much for lent.
Personally, as someone who moves in circles filled with different types of people, a lot of those circles are for counselling, and community projects, and friends, and some have different types of christians too. I can’t help but think that whilst the quarantine has been soul destroying for many people, it’s maybe because some parts of their soul and inner life need to be destroyed.
I don’t mean to injure the person’s soul. Please don’t mis hear me.
This isn’t about injuring people.
It’s about removing injuries from people’s hearts and souls.
What I mean is things like fearful thinking, being content as long as things go your way, needing to feel more in control of your life instead of trusting others and God.
What do you actually think of spending time with yourself?
Do you enjoy your own company?
Do you have a love for yourself?
Do you even like yourself?
Do you think these kind of questions are an annoying waste of time?
If you don’t like yourself or enjoy your own company, and don’t like hearing these kind of thoughts, then these are things that I believe would be worthwhile tearing out of your inner life, the parts of your soul that need to be refined.
After all, why would you want to inflict a person that you don’t like on the rest of the world?
This is where what is soul destroying is good for you and actually becomes character building instead. I often say that there’s a very very very fine line between what is “soul destroying” and what is “character building”. Often the same things we find soul destroying are the same things that cane be character building. The line for me is inviting God to destroy the things in us that need interfere with his love and his voice and his truth, and to tear those out of us. And to build up the things that help us to encounter him, to know him, to enjoy him giving us a heart and a character to lean into relationship with him and his way of living in this earth.
To give this biblical language if you need this, this is called “Seeking first the kingdom of god and his righteousness and everything else will be added to us.” as Jesus invites us to in Matthew 6. What’s interesting is the previous part of Matthew 6 is the passage about “do not worry about your life, about what you will eat or drink or wear.” You can’t add a single hour to life through worrying about it. There’s a deep rest for our souls we can enter into when we begin to seek the kingdom of God and consider the birds of the air are well fed, the lilies are well dressed, and our heavenly father loves us much more than these. It’s both soul destroying and character building to let this truth do it’s deep work inside us.
People have been practising spiritual disciples for hundreds of years. Even giving up chocolate for lent whilst it is a cultural and societal trend, until we can all eat chocolate easter eggs again, it’s essentially practising the discipling of fasting. We all know we can practice for health reasons or dieting reasons or self control reasons, but ultimately the spiritual purpose of fasting was to focus more on your relationship with God. To choose to not sustain yourself via the normal ways, and to lean into learning to live by every word that came from the mouth of God. That’s what Jesus taught. Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. When he spoke this, he wasn’t only meaning the scriptures because the new testament weren’t printed yet. His words in this moment were forming the future canons of scripture. He spoke and these words became scripture. In this moment what he saying we live by what God is speaking today. He has spoken before and that’s now recorded in the bible. But God is still speaking. He still has a mouth and likes to use it. He wants to be known and he has plenty to say about lives that help us get to know him. Words are still coming from his mouth and still proceeding from his lips, and it is those words we also need to learn to feast on. Fasting is feasting on God. It’s not a method to control god, or make your prayers more effective because you have now a rumbling tummy and can convince God your prayers deserve to be answered because you are hungry. No it aligns your soul and spirit to connect with him, and come more alive and feed on what he is saying and doing in your life. We all need that more than we need 3 meals day or extra chocolate.
For me and us here in Presence Church in Cork, I’ve been challenging our Presence family to not see this as a quarantine or a lockdown, but to see it as an incubation.
An incubation is a place of optimal conditions to grow something. It is the proper conditions required to develop something. I’ve been calling our people to talk to Jesus and ask him to make this time a time of growth and development. Jesus if you could grow something in me, or develop something about me, please use this quarantine as a season of incubation. Grow whatever you want to grow. Develop whatever you want to develop. This time is holy time, sanctified and set apart for you do whatever you want in my life. Think about it, if God could change anything about you, what do you think he would change? It’s not often what we would guess it to be. That’s why I would ask him. Most people think the answer is always a call to stop sinning, but many are surprised when he starts with i want you to learn and experience my love. I want you to rest in my peace. I want to talk to you about something i would invite you into and call you to do. You already know to not sin. But in times of intimacy like this, we can get to truly discover that God isn’t trying to make us religious, but to free us up to know him and live with him more. He is jealous for us. He wants us. He wants all of us. And I know that is the true discomfort that many people are feeling right now. The discomfort of intimacy with themselves and with God. My hunch is that is what he is trying to incubate in people. Freedom to be intimate with him.
Since we’re here, and we’ve come this far and it’s gone on this long, lean into it. Thank God for the quarantine. We aren’t thanking him for Covid-19 because he didn’t send it, but we can thank him for the way he turns all that was meant for bad into good. Seriously though, thank him for the lockdown, and for the isolation and for all the things he is doing in your life right now behind the scenes, and ask him to let you in on what he is doing. The father loves to show his kids all that he is doing. He is willing to work in the background, but he prefers to involve us. Ask him. God i know you are up to something in my life, and in background of my heart and relationships. I want to do what you are doing. The alternative is focus on what God isn’t doing and that’s a recipe for mental health issues and a breakdown. Discovering what he is doing will release life into you.
Jesus practiced many spiritual disciplines, but the one he seemed to practice the most regularly, are the ones that many people practice the least. Silence and solitude are lifelines to caring for your soul, and getting to know God’s small still voice better. His voice is the ultimate way to care for your soul. We have an opportunity to lean into silence and solitude like never before. I doubt many of you would have chosen it, but it’s here nonetheless, so we can embrace it, and lean into it, and choose to unwrap the gift before us, or we can squirm and resent getting a gift we didn’t ask for. Here’s why I believe solitude is the important thing for many of us like now. Many of us feel loneliness like never before because we cannon connect and relate to others the way we prefer. There’s a lot of lonely people using smart phones and laptops and tablets. Loneliness, isn’t about having no-one in your life. You can be in the middle of a crowd and feel lonely. Loneliness is more about feeling unknown and not experiencing love in relationships. You may know that people love you, but that’s not the same as feeling their love for you. As a leader in the church, one of the challenges I am all too familiar with is loneliness in the life of a leader. I have no shortage of people in my world, but feeling not known by people is what opens the door to loneliness. Loneliness is about longing for connection with others, whether you are in the middle of a crowd or have no-one in your world. The truth is you can be with others and feel lonely, and you can also be in solitude and not feel lonely. Loneliness is more to do with the quality of connections than it is having people in your life. Some of the loneliest people on the planet have people in their homes right now. Some of the loneliest people on the planet are those who have a partner or a married, and have a life long companion, yet still were created for more intimacy than you could ever have with a spouse. As Pascal once famously said, we all have a God shaped hole in our hearts, and we need it filled whether you are a believer or not. Coming to the cross isn’t what fills the hole. It’s one of the ways we can begin to fill the hole. It’s coming to Jesus all the time is what fills it.
If you pray and talk at God and tell him what you prefer to happen in your life and people around you, you will still feel lonely. If you ask him questions and listen, and ask him what he wants to talk about, that’s where you begin to develop a relationship with him that can satiate the craving for belonging and connection with God. Being with him in his presence and feeling him close to you, and listening to him, that’s where you will begin to heal the loneliness in your souls, and find spiritual food for your soul. Loneliness is cured when we are aware that we are with him and feel connected to him, which is quite different to believing that he is omnipresent and in all places at the same time. Listen like never before. That’s where silence and solitude can to the deep work of rearranging our souls.
Never before have Dallas Willard’s been so true. “the cure of loneliness is solitude and silence, for there you discover in how many ways you are never alone”. The irony.
The cure for feeling LONELY is solitude, to discover that we have never been alone.
That God was near to us the whole time, and we were oblivious or not connected in a way that cured our loneliness.