“Why is it so important that solitude come before community? If we do not know we are the beloved sons and daughters of God, we’re going to expect someone in the community to make us feel that way." — Henri Nouwen, Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry, 1995
Looking back on The Owl and the demands it had on us and the tension it created in our marriage — I believe some of that tension was my fault because I looked to my husband to fulfill a void only The Living Word can. I expected unconditional love from him when I couldn’t even give it to him.
Nouwen says, “If we want other people to give us something that only God can give, we become a demon. We say, ‘Love me!’ and before you know it we become violent and demanding and manipulative." Certainly there are heavy times when we become demanding and manipulative demons, frustrated at the idea that someone close to us cannot fulfill our needs. “Forgiveness is to allow the other person not to be God.” In our anger and frustration, we expect our friends/spouses/children/leaders to be God, while simultaneously dethroning the true God.
We have been back in the U.S. for two months now, and we are still in the midst of a sitting-still phase that will finish on March 1. As counter-cultural as sitting still can be, we are recognizing there are good qualities and bad qualities of every culture — and that no geographic culture will fully claim the Biblical culture as its own. We must sift through what our culture says is good, and decide for ourselves through the filter of the Living Word that is sharper than a two-edged sword and pierces us, dividing our bones from our marrow. Sitting still was a serious part of Jewish culture, and I am arguing it's still a serious good quality of what we are called to in our Christian culture.
John Rempel says the Sabbath helps us reverse the Fall:
"In the Fall we tried to take the world into our own hands, insisting we knew better than God what makes life good. This flight from God leaves us with an overwhelming realization that now the only meaning in life is one we create. The basis of human existence is no longer who we are — children of God — but what we make. Capitalism sees people as doers; on weekdays they are producers; on weekends they are consumers. And most of us conclude that life has passed us by if we are not engaged in one or the other."
In our American culture it's hard to strip away who we are from what we do. The second question we ask someone we are meeting for the first time is, "What do you do?" This helps us define them and file that person away in our category-saturated minds. Right now, I have no answer for "What do you do?" Right now I am not a teacher. I'm not a missionary. I'm not a writer by trade. My trade is currently invisible, but my vision is not blurred. Resting in the fact that I am a daughter of the King allows me to exalt Him among the nations and in the earth more effectively than leaning on my profession will ever do.
Times of sitting still are more than necessary in the Christian walk. They are crucial for our spiritual maturity. “Human existence does not need to be one of frantic striving because God is in charge” (Rempel). It seems in our two months of sitting still, we are learning to appreciate the stillness as a gift. We are also seeing how to protect that stillness, that quiet time, that solitude on a regular basis by making it a daily routine — and recognizing it as the most important thing we can do for ourselves, for each other, for our family and for our community because we live in a world with a high volume of need, pain, disappointment, and disillusionment that no one is immune to. We are starting to see The Word as food, and we recognize that when we do not eat it, we are hungry. And when we are hungry we cannot focus on anyone else’s needs. A starving man cannot offer something substantial to his starving friend beyond company. "Ministry means you have to trust … that if you are the son and daughter of God, power will go out from you and that people will be healed” (Nouwen). Ministry is all around us, for to serve is to minister. Although we are not a part of organized ministry, we are still Christians — and Christians must never stop being Christ to those around them. So we eat in solitude so that when we are in community we are not distracted by loud grumbling bellies, and so that when it comes time to share our food with others who do not know Christ, we are not violent and manipulative demons demanding from them things they cannot give.
Nouwen, H. (1995). Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry. Evangelism, Spring 1995, 16(2). http://www.christianitytoday.com/le/1995/spring/5l280.html
Rempel, J. (2000). “Remember the Sabbath”. The Mennonite, February 2000.