New Habits of Solitude is that Even Possible?

re-posted from the Church of the Ascension blog. 

Habits and small practices. Our days are filled with them.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that in little ways we either choose faithfulness or enter into the lack thereof. These decisions guide whether we become the glorious children of the life to come or we continue a sort of slow descent into a world of torment.

Do habits really make that big of a difference on where we end up?

Surely we are in God’s good graces, believing the right things in the right proportions? Can we hold firmly to our theology but oh so carefully avoid self examination?

In the book were are reading as a church this spring, Invitation to Silence and Solitude, Ruth Haley Barton’s confessions on what brought her to a life crisis should make us all very uncomfortable. Read these quotes from her first chapter; maybe you can relate and quietly admit, “oh I know this feeling”.

“True transformation in the places that really counted seemed just beyond my reach.”

“Was my best hope for transformation some distant possibility beyond the grave?”

“What was motivating the frantic quality of my life and schedule?”

If we live in Northern Virginia we can identify with these questions. I myself find it deeply ironic that I had a hard time reading the book or writing a blog because the pace of my days had grown too frantic.

There is a challenge to this book that is worth mentioning. An impression if you will. This book and many like it echo something I’ve found stated directly by St. Theophan the Recluse, an 19th century Russian writer. St. Theophan counsels the need for some time away from the pace of hectic life to get well. And even Barton herself seems to take for granted that we need space to cultivate habits.

While space is critical, the notion may seem rather frustrating for those of us who can barely find a moment to read let alone space to be silent. What is the use of silence when our silence and the corresponding noise it creates is often louder than our own exhaustion? Why spend time in what just seems more difficult?

But as a word of encouragement, I don’t think cultivation requires some escape. What it does require for those of us living very busy lives is a change in habit, like embracing Haley Barton’s example of practicing 10 minutes of silence with God a day. It might not be fun … it might take months to make it regular and natural. The heart is that slow and that resistant to change.

A few years back I wanted to cultivate morning prayer … but like a bad New Year’s Commitment I would get a few weeks in and stop. Nobody had told me to keep pushing, to keep at it past the first flush of being motivated because slowly, every so slowly my heart would adjust to the new. Remaining present and keeping at a habit, waiting for God’s grace to enable is the biggest challenge to cultivating a new space.

Is it possible in Northern Virginia? God led his people through the desert, surely there is still a sabbath rest reserved for the people of God. May each find the space and the courage to enter therein.

Alexei Laushkin is the Vice President of the Evangelical Environmental Network and Chair of the board of the Kingdom Mission Society. His views are his own.

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