Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Solitude, Community, and Ministry

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I just read an article by Henri Nouwen entitled Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry.  Essentially, Nouwen describes three spiritual disciplines that are important to have in the correct order.  He has several definitions that caught me off guard and made me think. He defined discipline not as "self-control" as I might, but as "the effort of creating some space in which God can act."

The first discipline he described was solitude. While I spend many hours a week alone -- I wouldn't call it solitude. I drive everyday for at least an hour, most of which is alone. I usually can't stand this time -- trying to flood it with radio, lately talk radio because it makes me feel like I'm a part of a community.  If not radio, I'll flood it with music, and even sing along because I feel like I'm part of the band -- that I'm important, skillful, and not alone. Lately, I have been trying to introduce more solitude -- by turning the radio off.  That has been nice, but I am still bombarded by outside things -- typically thoughts about the day to come on my morning drive, or the day that happened on my drive home, and all the things I need to do. I'm beginning to wonder if I really can experience solitude on my drive home, despite being alone.

Nouwen suggested that solitude ought to lead you to the belief and understanding that you are God's beloved. Admittedly, that sounds a little sappy to me -- and I've never fully bought it that God is madly in love with me and cares about me. I'll admit that I try too often to seek my approval from others - and from community, that cannot really provide the love I seek. My wife, bless her heart, has provided so much love, but it still doesn't satisfy. It's not that she could do more -- it's just impossible for her to provide the unconditional love that God provides. Though I know all this in my head -- I still cannot feel it in my heart. Am I too busy? Would more time with God help my heart? Nouwen seems to suggest it. But how?

I've been thinking about my role as a deacon at church a lot. It's very frustrating, because I don't feel like I have anything to offer. I feel disorganized. I have not been able to pray for those in my care group like I should. I am not good at looking for other people's needs and though I am designated as the treasurer of the church, all the financial dealings are handled by others. I'm wondering if I should have declined the nomination after all. Now I'm off to a meeting where I don't have any opinions to offer, and I know I'm going to be more worried about the classwork I should be doing, the grading that is piling up, or the band practice that I should be leading in the room next door. I didn't decline the nomination becuase I figured if God wanted me to be a deacon, then He would cause me to be selected, and if he didn't, he would cause my nomination to fall. I'm wondering if it was wise for me to put this ministry opportunity in God's control, or if I should have removed my name from the list instead. After all, I don't trust God to help me cross the road or make a left turn, but use my own judgement which God has enabled me with.

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