Fledgling poet and former dog owner (long live Nacho!), I strive for faithful engagement as a husband, father, friend, worker, and citizen. My vocational travels have visited engineering, church ministry, and higher education. Firmly embedded in mid-life, I balance my left-brained day job with writing and reflection on God’s presence in the commonplace – which I find pairs well with a sizable cup of French-pressed coffee.
This past summer I added a new title: Father-in-law.
While 2020 lacked the typical amusement of social gatherings, we created our own excitement through the planning, re-planning, and re-planning of re-planned plans for two outdoor weddings. In short, the brides were beautiful, the grooms handsome, the food terrific, the company lovely, and the tears joy-filled.
Significant events like a graduation or marriage typically cause parents to reflect on the lives of their children. All the laughable, notable, adorable, and memorable moments. For me, the two weddings of summer brought to mind not just the lives of my boys but the evolution of my parenting. I don’t parent now like I did 20 years ago. While I still tip toward being more rules than grace, I believe I’ve relaxed quite a bit. I’m not as quick to launch a “dad speech” or get miffed about minor misbehavior or inconvenience. Perhaps holes in drywall, wrecked cars, trips to the emergency room, and missed curfews have appropriately tempered my responses.
Beyond parenting, our days have many moments that require our response. It might start with the alarm clock. Then a dog that needs letting out. A diaper that needs changing and children that need feeding. A project summary for the boss, a bill that needs paying, and even a tired body that needs a nap. All these—and more—require our attention. So I wonder: how attentive to God am I? What activates my engagement with Him throughout the day, and why?
While we might be distracted by the steady stream of issues needing our attention, Scripture assures us that God is here. That before we ever loved Him, He loved us with an everlasting love. He’s promised to never abandon us as He brings all things toward a perfect conclusion. And before we even realized our deepest need, God made sure there would be a way for us to enjoy Him forever. Such wonderful news demands our attention, does it not?
Paul David Tripp in his book, Awe, said: “I am convinced that rest in this chaotic world, submission to authority, and a willingness to give and share power all arise from a certain knowledge that every single detail of our lives is under the careful administration of One of awesome glory. We will rest in the middle of unrest not because we have it figured out but because of who he is. When you are in awe of God’s glory, you just don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in your life.” (p.142) As I reflect on my propensity to be an anxious parent or fret over planning weddings during a pandemic, knowing that the God of Heaven is with me should be my first point of engagement. He is always in control and completely trustworthy. These truths should affect my response not only to the everyday issues of life, but also to God himself.
This is the fourth week of Advent. In this season of waiting and contemplation, I’ve been challenged to reorient, to notice, and to spend time alone with God. To attune myself to the love of our Savior. In this week of Christmas, how should you and I respond to God? How do we engage with the One who came to chase death’s dark shadow? Whose law is love and gospel peace? Who can bid all sad division cease and truly be our King of Peace?
We can shout “Glory to God in the Highest!” and “Joy to the world!” We can whisper in our souls, “Thank you, Jesus” and “Lord, you are good.” And perhaps our simplest, most profound response comes from Christina Rossetti: “Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.”
God has done a great thing—Christ has come! In our celebrations this week, let’s respond to Him with grateful praise and reaffirm our whole-hearted commitment to love Him and love all people.
A Prayer of Response to Jesus Dayspring of Heaven and Bright Morning Star, Laudable Babe and Ruler of Nations— You ransomed us from the darkness of death, broken our chains and freed us to love. Enthroned on our hearts in wondering love, we worship you with anthems praise!
“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17b-19, NIV)
Even the most introverted introvert may eventually find pandemic constraints wearisome. Nine months of disrupted activities and minimized social gathering is difficult. Last night, just to get out of the house, my wife did a web search and crafted a Christmas light tour through nearby neighborhoods. At a minimum, our spontaneous adventure required us to pry ourselves from the couch and have something different to see and talk about (who knew you could cram 50 inflatable Christmas characters onto a small front lawn?). We even got a little romantic taking a selfie inside a tastefully decorated covered bridge.
Our customized light tour was the extent of our out-of-the-house engagements this week. Like many of you, we are currently working from home and have extra time as a result of cancelled or postponed school, church, sport, or other activities. So right now, no one needs more alone time, right? Well, I propose that in our present circumstance we need some solitude–maybe more now than when our lives were “normal.”
I admit that solitude gets a bad rap. Some label it stodgy and strange. A practice that can be tolerated by only the most pious among us. In my experience, solitude doesn’t need to be any of that. While solitude does require being alone, it’s an opportunity to actively engage God through prayerful reflection. And rather than boring, Henri Nouwen suggests, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” (The Way of the Heart, p.25) Nouwen goes on to say solitude is “the place of the great struggle and the great encounter. Solitude is not simply a means to an end. Solitude is its own end. It is the place where Christ remodels us in his own image and frees us from the victimizing compulsions of the world.” (p.31-32)
Indeed, our world provides more than enough distraction and worry to siphon the joy, peace, patience, and gentleness from our spirit. We’re only a click, tap, or scroll away from whatever we desire. Thus the need for intentional times of being alone with God where we can enter a space designed to help us reorient, recognize, and reflect on our lives and His involvement in them.
There’s no prescription for solitude. Simply settle your spirit. Listen. Pray. Rest. Maybe laugh a little. Cry a little. Journal a thought or write a note. Listen to music or sing. Invite God into your physical and mental space with anticipation and gratitude for Him seeing, knowing, and loving you just as you are, right where you are.
In my home, this third week of Advent often coincides with a sharp increase in Christmas preparations. I can be harried with planning, purchasing, cooking, and cleaning. And while time for such things is more available this year than in previous, I still need some solitude. It’s important that I intentionally reflect on God’s kindness, asking Him for unclouded eyes and an open heart to His grace. To confess, repent, and praise. To wonder and enjoy His presence.
Join me this week by setting aside an uninterrupted hour (or more!) to be alone with Jesus. No agenda, no requirements, and no pressure. Just you and Emmanuel. Let Him quiet you with His love as you listen for the song He sings over your every moment.
A Prayer for Solitude Voice of hope and Word of redemption, Jesus, lover of my soul; Shield me from the world’s compulsions and open my soul to reflection with You.
““The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him.” (Lamentations 3:24–25, ESV)