In her kind and loving way my wife started the day off yesterday morning by looking at me and saying, “You look rough.” I responded, “That’s good. Then my appearance matches how I feel.” Obviously, that was the wrong answer for me to give because then we proceeded through the 20 question scenario. She proceeded to ask:
1. Why do you feel rough?
2. Didn’t you sleep well?
3. What’s on your mind?
I’ll spare you the remaining 17 questions, but you get the picture.
In reality, I had actually been pondering some of those questions for weeks. Specifically, why do I feel so run down and sluggish? I had even picked up numerous books at the library in my quest for shaking off the cobwebs that had seemed to gather on my psyche. One of these was entitled, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry by Henri Nouwen. As I read the book I was looking for the key to moving out of the rut in which I had found myself?
Reading the insights of Henri Nouwen certainly reminded me of some things that were missing in my prayer life—especially silence and solitude. His words resounded in my head over and over about the need for solitude. I frequently sit in church all alone in front of the tabernacle during my lunch hour. This provides the opportunity to maintain silence, but I became very aware after reading this book, that I am a long way from experiencing solitude. Silence on the outside may be present, but my inner world continues bouncing around all over the place and solitude isn’t anywhere in sight. Quietness in the depths of my heart seems to be only a dream, and without solitude there is no chance of truly praying without ceasing.
Yesterday, as I sat in the Lord’s presence, my mind was filled with the anxieties of the world. It was like a newscast going from one negative story to the next—the Zimmerman trial, the IRS scandal, protests over the Texas pro-life legislation, a judge overturning a pro-life law in North Dakota, the continuing challenges all across the country in regard to the sanctity of marriage, and on and on the newsreel kept going in my head. Although the church was completely quiet while I sat there lost in my thoughts, the noise inside my head made it quite evident that finding silence or solitude would be a monumental task. Why was it so difficult for me to pray?
I had also started reading another one of the books that I had checked out from the library. This one was entitled, The Cause Within You: Finding The One Great Thing You Were Created To Do In This World by Matthew Barnett. It is a fascinating book centered on Matthew’s ministry as a 20 year old pastor in one of Los Angeles’ most dangerous areas. Matthew provided a lot of food for thought in regard to the outreach of the Church to those who are hurting. In the midst of all of the stories, what worked and what didn’t, I found a nugget of inspiration that I am hopeful will be helpful in refocusing my energy. In one of his epic failures during his early ministry, God revealed to Matthew that he wasn’t to be pursuing success. He was simply called to be a blessing to others. This statement mirrors that of Mother Theresa of Calcutta when she reminded us that God doesn’t call us to be successful; we are called to be faithful. I summarized that if I am being a blessing to others, I am being faithful.
It is no secret that day-to-day life can take a toll on us. People involved in ministry are subject to the same difficulties and challenges as everyone else. We can become tired, disillusioned, disaffected, apathetic, etc. When this happens, the joy of the Lord cannot be seen in us. If Church leadership succumbs to complacency and indifference, the flock will certainly suffer the effects. Subsequently, it is important for all of us, clergy and laity, to keep our batteries charged and ready to go.
I will continue to pursue the opportunities to sit quietly before the Lord. Eventually, I pray that the outer silence will make its way more fully into the depths of my heart providing the solitude which is desperately needed to more readily hear the voice of God. It is with the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit that I will gradually move from spiritual sluggishness to spiritual fruitfulness in both my prayer and my actions. Anticipation now fills my heart as I eagerly embrace the rest of the day looking for the opportunities to be a blessing to others. Maybe tomorrow I won’t look as rough?