We’ve begun a summer series focused on the book, Invitation to a Journey: A Road Map for Spiritual Formation by Robert Mulholland Jr. We’ll explore the concept of spiritual formation that he compares to a journey and look at it through the lens of summer vacation we’re so familiar with.
How many times have you driven and seen this picture in front of you? . . . Long stretches of lonely roads. Whether you’re on the trip by yourself, or your family is listening to music or asleep, there’s nothing but you and the road for all practical purposes. What do you do with those quiet times? There’s a lot of reflection involved isn’t there.
In the spiritual disciplines people often speak about silence and solitude. The normal way most people think of that is special retreats or prayer times when a person is absolutely quiet and tries not speak. Times where a person tries to get away from other people. There is certainly some real benefit to that, but in and of itself, simply being quiet or away from people is not the aim of the spiritual disciplines.
After all you, you can be on a quiet road but then try to distract yourself with what’s coming up next, where you’re going to stop to eat, what you’re going to see, music, talk radio, and what you have to do when you get back to work. Not very silent anymore is it, even if you’re not talking!
In the practice of silence and solitude, it is good to get away from others, and to take time to quiet your voice, but the point is that as we’re silent, we’re waiting for God to speak. And as we’re away from others, we realize that we’re with God.
And it’s even more than that!
Silence and solitude is us opening up to God and his control in those moments and letting him show us who we really are. In the book, Mulholland focuses on the story of Jacob. If you remember it, Jacob isn’t a great guy. He’s tried to control everything in his life, manipulating his family and especially his brother to ensure himself a prosperous future. It doesn’t work out well and he has to run for his life. On his way out of town, he is absolutely alone, and God speaks to him on the famous “stairway to heaven”. But even there, when he is alone with God, Jacob tells God that he’ll accept him as God as long as God prospers him (Gen. 28:20). Jacob still wants to be in control. During his many years in “exile” Jacob manipulates his relatives to gain prosperity and again must run away. Now he has no options. He can’t stay where he was and he’s on his way home toward a brother who has sworn to kill him. Then in the middle of the night when he’s all alone again, God wrestles with Jacob (Gen. 32) and Jacob admits who he is to God; he’s been a manipulator, but he realizes God is in control. And he’s ok with that. It’s at this point there’s a real change in Jacob. God is in control, Jacob realizes who he’s been, and he starts to let God make changes in his life.
That’s what silence and solitude can do. When we encounter God because we’re alone and quiet, we can start to work through who we are, but more importantly, whose we are. We are God’s and as we let him take more control, he starts to show us a better path.
So whether it’s the next time you’re on a lonely road, or you set aside some time for silence and solitude as a part of the disciplines you embrace, let it be a time where God is really the one in control of the conversation.
Hope Lutheran Church & School