Finding the Well

December 3, 2013

The two daughters and son-in-law are now safely returned to their homes in Seattle. It was a fantastic 4½-day visit over Thanksgiving weekend. Lots of good-natured chaos, meaningful conversations, problem-solving, family activities, picture-taking, movies, food of course, and messes everywhere. Ah yes, the perfect family get-together.

I discovered by happenstance that it is a lot harder to monitor one’s physical condition with all that noise, activity, and distraction. I found myself on occasion ready to “crash,” having missed the warning signals of whatever would have gotten me back in my recliner for a rest. No harm done, really; but for one advised to “listen to your body” and act accordingly, I missed the signals a couple times.

The experience reminds me of a youth director with whom I worked decades ago. Granted, our ministry environment was conducive to burnout, and a corporate re-evaluation of its work culture eventually got to the bottom of this tendency—but only after this youth guy crashed and burned to within an inch of his life. Twice. You ministers know how this goes, especially at this time of year, so listen up! The already rigorous meeting schedule is enhanced by a whirling social calendar. (One year Andy and I dressed up for eleven church-related parties in four weeks.) Special services require extra effort to pull off, pastoral care needs escalate, expectations rise, the cookie brigade makes too many stops to the church office. Pretty soon the pastor (or youth director) is hanging on by a thread, missing daily “quiet time” with the Lord, caught up in the noise, activity, and distraction of congregational life. Under those conditions, it becomes very difficult to listen to Jesus and act accordingly.

The Quiet Life God has privileged me to live the last few years has prepared me for the current challenge, I realize. When one works alone at home Monday through Friday and the phone rarely rings, the upside is that one can connect thoughts and build strength for coming onslaughts. (I hear you saying, “Well, of course, if my phone didn’t ring, I’d get a lot done, too!” Now, now, don’t be bitter or jealous . . ..) The goal of solitude and silence is not the silence itself (or escape) but the serenity that comes from being very in touch with the presence of God. I am quite sure that prolonged periods of exploring the reaches of my introversion have contributed to my non-anxious state now. My work-a-day colleagues, however, are engaged in highly social and interactive environments in the church, so the question is, can they find that same serenity and quiet with God even so?

The question takes me back to my reading of Carlo Carretto’s little book, The Desert in the City (London: Collins, 1979). This contemporary “desert father” addresses the very real plight of city-folk who simply do not and cannot live in a desert cave away from the world as part of their spiritual discipline. Is there no vital spiritual life for them? Of course there is! Carretto gently advises a person on how to carry the desert within and retreat “there” whenever necessary to hear the still, small voice of God. One initially finds that place by taking a personal retreat—an urgent necessity during Advent, my friends—and meeting God in the stillness long enough to establish its “location” and the sound of God’s voice. And then, just like Hawaiian Airlines’ admonition to passengers flying back to the mainline, “Don’t lose your Aloha!” Spiritual discipline gives one practice at returning to this well of Living Water amidst the desert of noise and activity and enjoying communion with God.

We may not characterize our lives as a city or a desert, but wisdom dictates we recognize those dynamics in the life we have chosen. For me, Thanksgiving weekend’s buzz was a challenge of an unexpected sort, but it gave me the opportunity to practice once again the spiritual discipline of holy detachment promoted by the Desert Fathers. Doing so allowed me to keep my Aloha, stay in touch with my body (once I got the hang of it amidst the commotion), hear and commune with Jesus, and act accordingly as his disciple. I trust that you, too, may, with the Lord’s help, figure out how to do this so that you can sail through this season joyfully connected to your Savior and drinking from his well.

 

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2 Responses to “Finding the Well”

  1. Rebecca & Eric Lee Says:

    Mary, there are a group of us in Boise who love you and are praying through this with you. Your writings now are the best I have ever read from you – thank you for recording this journey, it is a blessing to more people than you realize. When you wonder if anyone is reading or is impacted by your e-sermons, please know that they are! Blessings, Rebecca Lee Covenant Pres. Boise, Id.

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