Healthy Rhythms pt. 4 – Solitude

(Part 4 in a series on a few healthy rhythms of life. The other posts in this series are…rhythms, conversation and intellectual depth.)

There are times when I feel anxiety rising in my heart. I’m not always aware of it right away. I

My daughter has some kind of app that tells you how you are doing...and it wasn't far off.

My daughter has some kind of app on her iPod that tells you how you are doing…and it wasn’t far off this particular day.

just begin to notice that I am shorter with the kids or less patient with Jeff. I may find myself staring off into space for longer periods of time or wrestling with thoughts that won’t stop having their way with me. Sometimes, I can be knee-deep into such an experience before I realize I’m knee-deep into such an experience. It creeps up on me. And as I begin the process of thinking, “Where is this coming from?”, I realize I need to get away for a bit. My present life is often too busy and loud for me to clearly hear what is going on in my heart.

Or…sometimes my ears…it isn’t that they hurt, but the background noise of a modern life can be so…relentless. So numbing. It can feel like I’m in an audio marathon, being bombarded with music, advertisements, demands on my time, traffic signs, internet stuff – all competing for a slice of my relatively small attention span. And it can feel like the part of me that manages my sensory intake is about to hit the wall at mile 20. When I get to the place where my nerves are about done and there is no more room for anything else to make its way into my life and heart, I realize I need to get away for a bit. That my external life is too loud for me to give my internal life the attention it needs.

When I come upon places like this on my journey, I realize the importance of creating rhythms of solitude. When hiking a trail, pulling off every once in a while is just part of it. Enjoying the view. Eating a snack. Putting moleskin on an emerging blister. Drinking some cool water and wiping sweat from my brow. My life is similar.

There are times where I just need to get off the trail for a bit. Maybe to rest. Maybe to reflect on where I’ve been and what just happened. Maybe to listen in quietness of soul in a way I just can’t when I’m moving so fast. Maybe to address a critical issue in my heart or life that requires more than drive-by attention. There is an African proverb that says, “Sometimes one must stop and sit by the roadside, and wait for the soul to catch up.” Yes, this captures it quite nicely.

Solitude isn’t time alone. It is time alone with Jesus. It is a voluntary retreat away from stimuli and input and a time to get quiet. Solitude and silence go hand in hand. But it isn’t really silence. It is a time to listen to Jesus. To ask questions instead of talking. It is a time to really focus in on my internal monologue, to listen to what my heart is saying, because it can get so drowned out in the volume of the very loud world I live in.

Whenever I go to the beach, time alone is ALWAYS on the agenda.

Whenever I go to the beach, time alone is ALWAYS on the agenda.

And as I’ve stated repeatedly in this series, it seems like a smart move to proactively plan these rhythms and get ahead of crisis and stress rather than react and try to recover, possibly after significant damage has been done.

In my own life, this looks like…getting up early (sometimes, not all the time) and allowing myself to enjoy the only truly quiet time in our house. Taking whole days on my calendar and intentionally not scheduling anything on it so I can do…whatever I want. Usually part of that day, actually a lot of that day, involves me being somewhere where my phone and computer aren’t, with my journal and Bible, and listening. To God. To my heart. And I write what I hear so that I can slow down my thoughts and fully engage. Sometimes it looks like taking a weekend and going somewhere alone – and doing what I do in the morning or on the day off, but for a longer period of time.

Sometimes, the things in my heart that I am looking for will only emerge with a long time to warm up. With the welcome that not rushing and my full attention can give. Sort of like how conversations work. You may talk with a friend for 5 minutes every day. It is a daily relationship. But it will never get deeper than you can go in 5 minutes time. And that isn’t very deep. However, there are some conversations that can take hours, days even to unfold to their richest point. It takes a while to get through the introductory/mandatory small talk that warms up our hearts. It takes time to progressively build trust, to relax, to move through the lead-up issues that lead up to THE ISSUE you both really want/need to talk about. A rhythm of solitude should include all three time cycles. Daily or several times a week, maybe monthly and then occasionally those longer stretches of time that show up on a calendar once or maybe twice a year if you are lucky -and don’t have young kids.

In fact, I often look at my calendar from 10,000 feet, from the monthly and yearly perspective, and think, “Where are the breaks? The rest pauses to get alone, to do my heart work, to really listen to what my Jesus might want to say to me?” And if I go too long without it in my schedule, I notice it. Because I’m anxious. Short with the kids or with Jeff. I sense that something isn’t right within me. So, I move some things on my calendar around till the time is there. I’m never too busy to eat. Never too busy to sleep. So why on earth would I ever be too busy to take care of my soul?

A regular rhythm of solitude, of pulling back from the busyness of the world can be a life saving discipline.

Mk 1:35  Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.

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Intellectual Depth – Healthy Rhythms pt. 3

(This is part 3 in a series on healthy rhythms that I began before Jeff’s surgery. I’m continuing it now. Part one, where I introduce the series is here and part two, where I write about the value of good conversation is here.)

Thinking deeply is a bit of a lost art. It is not that people don’t think about big topics or devote large amounts of time to personal study anymore. It is just that it is so easy in our culture to take in lots of information without digesting it. There is so much of it out there. Something is always next and competing for our attention. And our schedules are so full! There is little time to fully grasp all that comes across our radar.

In the course of a normal week, a Christ-follower might hear a sermon (maybe 2 or 3 if they listen to podcasts), maybe a small group lesson or discussion, maybe an outside book and reading the Bible for themselves at least, hopefully, a few times a week. That alone would be a lot to process. (And I’m not saying most Christ-followers should intake this much by the way. But some do.)

But then throw in the normal diet of news, texts, YouTube, surfing the internet, Facebook, email and hours of tv and entertainment. Then there is the daily visual and audio onslaught of living in our world. There is always a screen in front of us. Traffic to navigate. An advertisement tempting us. Background noise filling the void. And I haven’t even mentioned the more important time-consuming practices of building and maintaining family and friend relationships that takes time every day. What about the normal chores like laundry, dishes, helping kids with homework, shopping or maintaining things that occupies hours of our lives every day?

All of it competes for our attention and intellectual bandwidth.

We are busy people, taking in a lot of information. It is so much in fact that a lot of it marches in the front door of our minds and walks right on out the back. We don’t have room for it all to stay a while. We remain acquaintances with people we just say hello to and we become friends with those we spend time. It is true of people and it is true of ideas.

Therefore, it can be a healthy thing to set aside time, to narrow the scope of our intake and to challenge ourselves intellectually with one topic, rather than many. To slow down and focus, to think deeply about one topic. To intentionally choose what gets our intellectual attention rather than letting the world, culture, our smartphones or twitter choose for us. To intentionally read a challenging book, not rushing past it, but digging deep into its contents until we feel like we own it. To explore something off the beaten path of the everyday and mundane. To do some research, reading and pondering, instead of wasting our thought time by not really thinking. 

I’m not sure the topic itself is what is important, but the discipline, the rhythm of kicking my brain into gear and choosing what I think about, is. And periodically, I need to exercise the practice of not moving forward to whatever is “next” intellectually, until I feel I’ve fully digested whatever is “now”. 

This can look different depending on the person, their learning style, the season of life, the interest and/or the reason for consciously deciding to take one’s intellect deeper rather than wider for a while. For some, it may look deciding to turn off the tv for a weekend and using that time to read. For others, it may look like figuring out a hole in your education or the practice of your faith and deciding that you want to shore that up with some study 0r seeking out a conversation with someone who knows more about it than you. Maybe it is a trip to a museum or historic site.  It could even be reading your facebook or twitter feed more slowly and actually clicking on a link or two that a friend recommended – and then dialoguing a bit with them on why the topic is important, challenging or thought-provoking. Or maybe it just involves paying attention to when you might need to park and get of the intellectual car instead of just driving on by.

For me, sometimes my study time feels like the equivalent of eating a bag of potato chips while watching tv. I ate it, but don’t always remember doing it, perhaps feel a bit queasy and I’m not entirely sure I would do it again if I were paying closer attention. I don’t like it when I do this, either with chips or reading…so I am learning to practice a rhythm of greater intellectual challenge.

Good Conversation – (Healthy Rhythms pt. 2)

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” Ephesians 5:19

There are times when I walk through the halls of church and I get very frustrated. I pass through one conversation after another that goes something like this: “How are you doing?” “Fine, fine. You?” “Good.” “Staying busy?” “You know how it goes, especially with kids.” “I know that’s right.” “Well, have a good day!” “You too. See you later.”

For the record, there is nothing wrong with that exchange. We all know that in the South, “How are you?” is a greeting, not an actual question. It is not an expression of superficiality. It is just a pleasant, culturally appropriate and wonderful way to say hello to someone. The small talk that follows such a greeting is also part of the ritual. It is a way for two

Friends from overseas, enjoying the sunshine, our front porch and a great conversation.

Friends from overseas, enjoying the sunshine, our front porch and a great conversation.

people to say extended hellos to each other and acknowledge that they have a friendly relationship. If you’ve spent anytime at all crossing cultures, you know that how people greet each other is a very important part of relationships. It is the southern equivalent of shaking hands, giving a peck on the cheek, trading goats or drinking tea together, depending on where you are. It’s just how we say “Hey” to one another and warm up for the true communication to follow.

But. If over an extended period of time that is the extent and depth of the conversations that take place…It is like perpetually knocking on the front door and never getting invited inside to sit and stay a while. I’ve talked with many people about this very thing and found that others share my frustration and concern.

We were created for depth of relationship with others. If we are a Christ-follower, then even more so. The practice of our faith is a community thing. We are called to share our thoughts, burdens, joys and pains. That doesn’t happen as you pass someone in the hall. It happens over coffee. In a living room. At a kitchen table. While walking together somewhere outdoors. Whatever it is that brings you side by side and face to face with another person for an extended time.

Intentional conversation is a healthy rhythm to practice. Putting times on the calendar with good friends where the object is to ask questions like, “How are you?” and then not rush the answer. Ask follow-up questions. Move slowly through the exchange, following a train of thought thoroughly before switching topics.

Conversations around a dinner table are great! Especially when balloons and streamers are involved.

Conversations around a dinner table are great! And while the birthday balloons are optional, the coffee isn’t.

A good conversation can be like a good meal. It takes time to gather the ingredients (trust, affection, shared memories), to prepare the food (when and where to meet, giving some thought about what to share and ask) and then to eat slowly, savoring the experience. A stomach feels completely different after a full meal with salad and dessert, than following a trip to McDonald’s.

I would suggest not only calendaring a few significant conversations a month, but also preparing for them. Think ahead of time what you want to ask and what you want to share. A good conversation is like a good tennis match. There should be lots of back and forth.

It can be a challenge to say, “This week I’m going to share my heart with someone and ask them about theirs,” without feeling a bit odd. Sort of needy, sort of nerdy. It feels like normal people don’t do that. But emotionally and spiritually healthy people do. It is so easy to let a month, then two, slip by and realize that you’ve haven’t talked with someone about anything more important than the weather, your kids’ schedules or sports teams.

I’ve not really had God show up in my life during a conversation about the weather. But I’ve repeatedly had Him show up during a conversation where I opened my heart to someone else. Knowing that, a rhythm of healthy conversation makes sense.