Just Sit There
by Pete Enns
posted December 14, 2011
If you’ve ever tried to be still, just still, you know how hard this is.
We long for noise, distractions–anything to spare us from admitting to ourselves that things are not as they should be: TV, books, music, other people, complaining, that non-stop, self-serving, chatterbox we call our “thoughts.”
“Isn’t it true of human beings that no matter what we may do, the best of what we name ‘me’ seems to elude our understanding? Why is it that no matter what I do, and even at times do well, I am never satisfied? Why, when I am honest with myself, do I discover that I am always on a hunt, not even particularly knowing what I am hunting for” (Listen to the Desert, 3).
Just sit there. Without distractions. If you are feeling brave, even (try to) tell your mind to take a chill pill for 10 minutes. Just sit there. Alone.
It takes courage to move into unfamiliar territory.
“It is no small act of courage to face squarely the fictions of your life and the troubling sense that something isn’t quite right about our life. Scapegoating, excuses, self-pity, are common disguises that shield us from deep-seated doubt. These fictions, these acceptable deceptions, are the way we distract ourselves from the nagging suspicion that at the bottom of what I call ‘me’ is something terribly disturbing” (LTTD, 5).
Isolation was a habit the desert fathers and mothers cultivated. They would sit in their cells, alone. They knew there was a valuable lesson to be learned there–alone with only themselves, without the distractions of the games we play with others and ourselves.
Alone, in your cell–whether actual or metaphorical–is where you learn what you need to know about who you are…who you really are. No gimmicks.
Sitting in their cell was no cowardly removal from the bad old nasty world. They were not shrinking from the world. They were brave enough to face themselves, and knew that the demands of daily life worked non-stop to keep them in a dream-existence of their own making.
Neither is this narcissistic self-absorption. That is what happens when we look inward a few millimeters, allowing our false selves to remain unchecked. Leave that to Oprah and Dr. Phil. God will not guide you there.
What the desert dwellers were after was a clear, unburdened, honest view into themselves. And this takes guts.
Do not many of us lack the courage to look into ourselves and name what we see for what it is? Would we not rather look at others and name their shortcomings?
How many truly know themselves with brutal, God-like, honesty?
Learning to be alone a little more can be a beginning to seeing past the masks we wear, not only to posture for others, but for ourselves–because we do not want to see what is there.
And so much of our private and public posturing happens in church.
Maybe God calls us inward from time to time. At the end of the day–both literally and metaphorical of death–our true selves cannot be propped up by others or our false selves.
“If we accustomedly flee our loneliness and the lessons it has to teach us, hiding behind the excitement around us and in social company, then we will greet [this] advice with a goodly portion of dread. If, on the other hand, we are weary of the shallow trivialities of the social order and afflicted by the inane discourse of most human communication, then you will likely feel relief at the advice….Whichever way we react, we do not enter the cell alone” (LTTD,
[This post is based on chapter one of Listen to the Desert, Gregory Mayers: "Your Cell Will Teach You."]
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
As in all of life one needs a balance. Some of us are too busy to take the advice given here but should. Some of us are too lonely having already lived solitary lives for too many days that actually need the company of men and women to talk to and to listen. Life needs a balance and only you can judge this fact. Busy people talk all the time about their need for times of quiet meditation but never seem to find the courage to do this. Lonely people have already found themselves in the ever present silence of their meditation that daily urges their need for community that never seems to come their way. Some have been unmasked by God from early on. While others have refused God's unmasking. We each know the truth of our needs and the actions that we must take. Somehow. Somewhere. Sometime.
Moreover, inasmuch as we tend to lie to ourselves (1 John 1.8), and would lie to God about ourselves (1 John 1.10), it is good practice to seek both inward truth as much as to test that truth in the company of others. The masks that we wear can be disturbingly unclear if left to our own judgments based upon personal shame and guilt. Sometimes it takes the company of people to help us hold up a truer version of ourselves than what we would allow our very selves to wear. At other times it takes separation from the ones that love us (or from those who may not love us in their toxic selves) to allow us to reflect on God's version or direction for us.
The disconcerting truth is, we are made in God's image. That image is both personal and requires fellowship. God is not alone. He exists in the company of a fellowship. A Tri-une fellowship of three, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Each reflects the other as much as the other reflects the Three. This reflection holds an image of each in the eye of the Other. They understand themselves through the other's input. But they also hold a true version of Themselves within their own image. It is a refined reflection of Who they are in Themselves as much as in their own Fellowship. They are inseparable. They are forever bonded together in infinite community, personal sharing and unselfish reflection.
And without getting too ontological here concerning the infinite mysteries of the Godhead it must be said that our own image - the one that God created of Himself in us - is first and foremost found in God Himself... and that image is never alone. It exists in the company of a Divine Fellowship. And while it is good advice to seek God in the aloneness of time and activity, it is also very good practice to listen to God through the fellowship of true men and women who have removed their false masks of self. Who know how to love others. Who are not toxic to the idea of God's plan in our lives.
For the sociology of man's self-discovery requires the input of others. We better understand ourselves through our actions and judgments in the community of men and women whom God has placed into our lives - be they believer or unbeliever. We test out our theories of ourselves, our judgments of ourselves, in the company of others, to determine whether we have been able to lay down those false versions of ourselves for a better version of God acting through us. It requires that God de-construct, or unconstruct, our guilts and our shame, and reconstruct our truer personhood and image of Himself through us. It is both a solitary task and a community task. And it is best helped along with others having experienced similar journeys of self-reflection and death.
I say death because the Christian journey is one that requires our old selves to die, to be placed away from ourselves. The selfish wants and needs. The unkind acts of unlove. The unceasing tongue that continually harms and injures those around us. The old man of sin must die. It has to die if Christ is to live in us. For the Spirit of God requires the key to every room of our lives. First to the door of our hearts. Then to the doors of the main room. Then to all the little separate rooms and chests and cupboards that we have locked away from His repair and renovation. The old must be burned up. Consumed by the Spirit of God. It must fully die if we are to fully live as new men and women in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord.
To do this we must both draw away and draw back - to draw away from the old communities of friends and family to find ourselves in God. And to allow God to draw us back into new communities of friends and family to re-apply the discovery of our newly re-constructed selves. To test its validity and discover whether true or not. To test the spirits as it were - whether of man or of God. Whether this truth we have found is God's truth or simply another lie that we have told ourselves and have allowed to lead us again through the false gospel of lies and deceits applied to us by false teachers and would-be shepherds. Be they people, books, TV programs, or some kind of church or fellowship. Each-and-all must be tested to find if they are truely sent from God for we are easily misled. For some of us this may require several renditions or trials of exploration until we find ourselves in God. Stay strong during this time. Do not give up. Seek good advice and in time your efforts will be rewarded.
Lastly, we each have been created with a personality that does not change with time. This is the real us that we need to find. To discover. But our character can and will change over time. Those character defects that we have imbibed early on to survive or to exist can and must change and adapt. Liars can become truth tellers. Gossips can become silent and learn to hold their thoughts and their tongues. Trouble makers can cease from troubling the affairs of others and seek restitution in the lives of those they would destroy. We can change before God's grace with God's help.
For our characters must change if His grace is real. They must be un-defected. Or, per-fected in God if His image will truly take hold of our lives. For there is no variableness in God's character. He is light and in Him darkness does not dwell. We are to be light bearers no longer submitted to darkness as unthinking, unfeeling creatures or brute beasts. We bear God's image. It is an image of light. It requires the work of the Spirit to which we must give every key. Submit every urge. Yield every thought. Bow to every willful act. It is God's task to unmask us. And that He will do. It may hurt. But it will never destroy.
December 27, 2011