Solitary Refinement

Originally posted Sunday, december 2, 2012

“As soon as we are alone,…inner chaos opens up in us. This chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again. Entering a private room and shutting the door, therefore, does not mean that we immediately shut out all our inner doubts, anxieties, fears, bad memories, unresolved conflicts, angry feelings and impulsive desires. On the contrary, when we have removed our outer distraction, we often find that our inner distraction manifest themselves to us in full force. We often use the outer distractions to shield ourselves from the interior noises. This makes the discipline of solitude all the more important.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen 

Time alone is precious to many of us, for various reasons.  For me it is so because there are seemingly constant voices and distractions crowding out my own thoughts.  There are the voices of my children, their needs, their stories, their concerns, that come at me fairly constantly on any given day.  There are the demands of work and of ministry to contend with.  There are people I love, and love to connect with, who have their own struggles.  There is the constant pulse of life that seems to ask more and more with each new season.  And then of course there is just the general static of media, music, computers, phones, email, texting, and all the other ways I love to connect.  Connections are good, but at a certain, undefinable moment, it all becomes too much.

I need time, quiet time, to think a thought to it’s conclusion, or at least to a satisfactory resting place.  I need space to ponder, to reflect, to mourn or rejoice privately, and to put into some order the myriad of wandering ideas, emotions, conflicts, triumphs, worries, and possibilities.  And although it can be overwhelming at times, I need this, I have come to discover, on a daily basis.

What I have found, though, is that even when I strip away the noise and static, or even when I start fresh in the morning, when all is “calm and (becoming) bright”, there remains the inner chaos that Henri Nouwen refers to in the quote above.  It reminds me of the ringing in your ears after leaving a loud environment.  The sound is gone, but the inner workings of the sound are still there, working themselves out.  It is the clanging and banging of all of those things I want to ponder, but at the same time, want to escape.  It is the noise of what is unresolved and messy.  This noise is a deeper, scarier noise, because it comes from the inside, and for a moment it seems as though the only way to make it be quiet is to turn back on the noises from the outside.  But I have found that a far better way is to push through the discomfort to the other side. 

Sometimes this takes a awhile.  Sometimes this is the work of a weekend retreat, not just a 1/2 hour, or even an hour on my couch in the morning.  I don’t know why this is.  Why is it, when we know ourselves better than anyone, that it takes a weekend alone to work out the complications of simply being in our own skin?  I think it may have something to do with the fact that we spend the majority of the time shutting out our own thoughts, whether it’s because we are tending to the needs of others, drowning out our thoughts with a ceaseless stream of fairly meaningless commotion, or maybe a combination of both.

 But really, as lovely as an escape to some quiet place of retreat sounds, that is a luxury, and I know I cannot afford to wait.  So each morning is a chance to allow for the inner static to surface, to let out it’s primal noise.  And to sit in the stillness and allow my Maker to quiet the waters and cause my soul to be still.  This is the beginning of wisdom.  It is wisdom to know that although it is my job to allow the process to take place,  it cannot be my job to sort it all out.  That there is One who created me in my mother’s womb, who knows every word before it is on my tongue or even in my noisy mind.  It is my job to be still.  To breath.  To be still and know. To breath.  To be still and know that He is God.  To breath, and to know that I, in all my weakness and complications, I am His.  Be still my soul…


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Filed under Christian living, Examining life

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