Posted by: 15shekels | February 26, 2010

Lest truth should invade your delusion

“You are afraid to enter into the solitude. You know that however cheerful you appear to be, you are not really happy. You surround yourself with company lest, being alone, truth should invade your delusion.”
-Gordon Cove

“But you have to pray. You have to listen to the voice who calls you the beloved, because otherwise you will run around begging for affirmation, for praise, for success. And then you’re not free.”
-Henri J. M. Nouwen

I love snow days, in theory. They are a free pass to stay inside and be lazy, to avoid entering the world of busyness and interaction. Whenever I learn that a storm is coming, I celebrate. But the next day, sitting inside in my supposedly delightful cocoon, I slowly remember why I actually hate snow days. They make it so much harder to avoid the stillness.

In high school and into college, I considered boredom my supreme enemy. I strove to stay busy, stay moving, keep a cast of interesting characters around me at all times. When I succeeded, I didn’t have time to think about anything larger than the tasks at hand, the work to be done, the fun to be had. My worst fear was an unscheduled day of vacation, when nobody was available. Sitting inside, staring at the walls, I would struggle to fend off the unsettling agitation of having no direction or purpose larger than academic and social strivings. But the prospect of the alternative option—to actually ask those larger questions about life and death—unsettled me even more.

Ironically, in college I realized I loved philosophy, the discipline of asking those larger questions until your ears bleed. It was certainly an unexpected major for a scared girl afraid to find any answers.

Yet in a philosophy department that rarely mentioned God except as an embarrassing part of ancient philosophy, I somehow began to stumble toward Him. The incoherence of every view that denied God led me to ask questions. The questions led me to books on Christianity, which shocked me with its coherence. Here was a faith that explained darkness, but also explained hope. I met some people who weren’t afraid of quiet, who loved me in a way I didn’t understand. And then one day, in the terrifying stillness, I recognized God, and realized that He had been waiting there for me for a very long time.

In his memoir, “Lost in the Meritocracy,” Walter Kirn captures this sensation beautifully, though he is not writing about God:

“Pause in your knowing to be known. Quit pushing—let yourself be pulled. Stop searching, frantic child, and be found.” (p. 205)

When I didn’t know God, I was afraid of the silence because I couldn’t bear to face questions about death, about loneliness, about whether anything I did really mattered. I was afraid to face myself, and the flaws, weaknesses, and inescapable selfishness that I suspected lay beneath my masks. Yet it took silence for me to bring those questions to God, to challenge Him, and ultimately to hear what He had been saying to me for years. When I asked the questions that scared me so much, I realized that my fears were true—I was flawed, weak and selfish. Yet I could be rescued from myself by the God who sent His son to pave the way back home. And I learned that life was infinitely exciting, if sometimes in hidden ways. I learned that I was invited into a relationship with the creator and king of the universe, who wanted to act in my life and reveal to me His kingdom, on heaven and on earth.

Now I know that I don’t need to fear the quiet, because there I will find God. Now I know that quiet is necessary to grow closer to God. And yet my conversion was not the end of my battle with stillness. There is a different kind of fear that settles in the hearts of Christians. For me it has been the agony of knowing that I need stillness, but recognizing that I have the attention span of a goldfish. My years of practice in avoiding silence have paid off too well. Modern technology is always available, at my fingertips, to provide easy and mindless distractions. As I struggle to grow closer to God, I face my total inadequacy in giving Him the time He deserves.

And yet, a small miracle has occurred, by His power and not my own. Frustrated with my inability to give God enough time, I decided to aim pathetically low. I devoted myself to 15 minutes of quiet time alone with God per day, and aimed to make it non-negotiable. I succeeded for three days, and then on the fourth, had an early meeting and totally forgot to pray. The meeting began, and our boss told us to take 15 minutes of time alone to pray. “You want this too, God, don’t you?” I thought with delight. I had encountered one of the wonders of our God—He doesn’t just demand our time because we owe it to Him or because it’s what we need. He actually deeply desires time alone with His beloved children. Since that day I have spent at least 15 minutes each day in stillness. And amazingly, I have come to look forward to it, to ache for it, to thirst for it. The thing I feared the most has somehow become a sustaining gift. I know it’s not enough time. And I know that at some point, I will probably fail, and forget. But now I know that God will pull me back, because He cares too much to let me live in the distractions.

“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.” -Mark 1:35

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it. You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’ Therefore you will flee!…Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” -Isaiah 30:15-16, 18


  1. Indeed, quiet praying without mental diversions is tough in our busy, efficiency-oriented society. I am in the midst of reading a excellent book that addresses the challenges, but supreme importance, of prayer head-on: “A Praying Life – Connecting with God in a Distracting World” by Paul E. Miller, that was given to me by a mutual friend (K). And much more straightforward than Bonhoeffer – I promise!

  2. Thank you for the recommendation!

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