Learning the unforced rhythms of grace

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Solitude and Shaped

There is a temptation to "be there" for people. Especially if you are sensitive to pick up the emotional temperature of those around you, you may feel that you need to be available to them or be there for them. There is nothing wrong with this idea unless it deprives you and them of getting what they really need from the only One who can truly meet their need.

I read something about this recently in a book by Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership - Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry. She described Moses as having an identity crisis - so to speak. He was a Hebrew raised by a Egyptian Princess in a palace. He felt he belonged in neither place. Moses lived with this lack of identity and whatever anger that went with it so that when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he killed the Egyptian. Just like that. All that rage, all that sense of injustice came rising to the surface and he murdered the guy.  

Pharoah wanted to kill Moses for this crime and so Moses fled to Midian and, well, he just sat down by a well. Ruth Barton takes time to pause at this point in her book and just sit with Moses for awhile. Moses didn't just get up and start leading the Hebrews out of Egypt into the promised land. Much time passed between this well-sitting moment and that actual get-up-and-go day. Moses got married, had kids, became a shepherd and worked for his father in law. This was a quiet, slow and very ordinary season of life. 

Ruth defines this time for Moses was about solitude.

"But one day, after he had been in the wilderness long enough for solitude to do its good work he was able to claim his greatest pain and brokenness. It is doubtful that Moses knew exactly what was going on in that wilderness place. Most of us don't when we first begin entering in. But solitude does its work whether we have any cognitive understanding of it or not. Just as the physical law of gravity ensures that sediment swirling in a jar of muddy river water will eventually settle and the water will become clear, so the spiritual law of gravity ensures that the chaos of the human soul will settle if it sits still long enough." (p. 47)

It was after this time, that God called him to save the Hebrews from the oppressive slavery of the Egyptians. His purpose was identified and his identity was affirmed. Moses knew who he was and what God was asking him to do. It was clear. The sediment settled, the water was clear.

Do we allow people to sit by their own wells? Do we give them room to think, to do nothing, to live an ordinary life, doing ordinary things and letting time pass by? It sounds wrong doesn't it. 

Maybe one of the reasons we are afraid to leave others by their own well is because we are afraid to sit by ours. 

One of the chapters in my book, Pray Any Way, is about solitude. The image that my husband drew for it is perfect, in my opinion, because it is just about being alone - fishing! We don't need to force solitude to be something 'spiritual' with our Bible open and music playing and hours of journaling. No. The title of the chapter is "Try Some Solitude". That's all, try it! 

If you have people in your life that you're worried about and you constantly check your phone for messages and kinda hang around in case they need you . . . it might be time to take a walk by the river. Throw some rocks, watch the ducks, smell the air and listen to the silence. That's the sound of the sediment settling. Let it. Sit by your own well for awhile.

Solitude shaped Moses. It can shape us too.