“Make It Small.”

There is this scene in the movie Man Of Steel that deeply moves me.  It is where a young Clark Kent is in school and his powers of x-ray vision and super hearing are coming in.  He sees through people to their skeletons and hearts.  He not only hears what he is supposed to hear, but the things people whisper, that they meant to keep hidden.  And the sheer volume of it all is overwhelming to him.

I’m finding that there are people out there who have something of these abilities too.   It is like they have a spiritual/emotional type of x-ray vision and super hearing.  They see and hear pain in others.  They are aware that there are deeper layers underneath almost everything we say and do, and they are tuned into this spiritual/emotional wavelength.  It plays under the actual words of most conversations.  It reveals itself in body language.  It can hide in subtle facial expressions that are gone almost as quickly as they appear.  It is cloaked in what isn’t said, in pauses, in deep breaths and in misty eyes that glance away.  And they notice what others often miss.  These are the people who pay attention to others in a way that isn’t always common.

I think Jesus was speaking about these “tuned-in” people when He said in Matthew 13:16, ” But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.”  Because people whose ears are acutely tuned into and aware of the pain of others, are often acutely tuned in to the voice of God as well.  They understand that He is ever-present, always working, constantly speaking and deeply invested in our goings-on.  They know how to look for Him and His handiwork in both their and in other’s lives.  They know how to listen for His voice and leading, both in their and in other’s lives.  They recognize that pain is often a door He walks through on His way into someone’s heart.

And in response, they are willing to step up and enter in and help.

I am also finding that this ability and heart posture, while a blessing, can be weight to carry as well.

It is a wonderful thing, to know your life has more meaning than just self-gratification, consumption and the pursuit of fun.  It is a gift to be a helper – and to know people and situations are better after your participation than before.

And it can be absolutely exhausting at the same time.  How is it possible to see just how dark the world can be… to know that most every person you encounter is managing some level of pain… to hear words in conversation that point to brokenness… to want to change, if not the world, then at least your corner of it…and not be overwhelmed by it all?

In his pain with seeing and hearing too much, Clark’s mom came to his side and taught him a most valuable skill.  When he, through tears said, “The world is too big, mom,’ she replied, “Then make it small.”  She helped him learn to focus.

The way our world works, sometimes it is too big.   With technology,  we are connected to too many people and their stories.  We have too much access to news, to statistics, to pictures.  The level of pain we are able to witness and touch – we were never meant to carry all this.   Not that we should run away and hide from the world we live in.  I am convinced that followers of Jesus should be more aware than most of what is going on in the world, let our hearts be broken by it and moved into action to bring the redemption of Jesus’ kingdom into people’s lives.

But we must learn to how to focus…on what we can carry…on what we should carry…on what is closest to us and where we should invest our emotional and spiritual capital.    Because if we don’t, we can get overwhelmed and crushed by the weight of a burden we were not designed for and never meant to hold.  Therefore, I am attempting to learn the spiritual practices of making my world a little smaller.  Not because I don’t want to engage the world – but because I so desperately WANT TO engage the world.  I’ve got to find a way to do it…and be able to survive at the same time. 

These include:

Limits on my use of technology …so that I don’t give away to others, the emotional energy that belongs to those in my immediate circle of affection and influence…so that I don’t allow the volume of information coming in to overwhelm me to the point of numbing.  Too much online time acts like spiritual Novocaine for me.  While not isolating myself, making sure that those with the most intimate access to me and my heart are healthy – so that my personal time is restful and not draining.  The embrace of regular silence and solitude.  Sometimes for long periods of time.   Allowing my heart to rest and recover…allowing me to assess where damage has been done…allowing Jesus to have full access to my heart so He can grow and strengthen it to hold some of the darkness I encounter.  Learning that some days, it is totally ok to turn my eyes and ears off and just focus on what is in front of me – like play time with my kids, a good meal or enjoying a walk in the gentle spring sunshine.  Learning that I don’t have to be super-serious and intense all the time.  Play is ok.  Small talk is ok.  Realizing that, while Jesus has called me to be aware, involved and compassionate, He has also called me to be human.

Learning to make things small, while not running away from big…I’m pretty sure these are skills of those who are able to live sustainable and beautiful lives, with healthy rhythms of both engagement and rest.   Lives not just of vision, but of focus.  Lives that are able to change their corner of the world…sometimes much more than that…and thrive in such away that they can then teach others to do the same.

Matthew 13:15 -16  For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them. But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.

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.