quiet

I’m craving quiet. I guess what I should say is that lately I’ve been indulging my craving for quiet. Maybe you noticed.

Compared to my friends I live a boring life. Even so, sometimes it seems too fast, too loud, too overwhelming. I blame the internet. I admit it’s not completely responsible, but it contributes more than its share to the number of thoughts racing through my mind. I’ve been thinking about politics, peace, family issues, long-distance friendships, vocation, self-discipline, and the many quirks of time: life is short; life is long; there’s not a moment to spare; I must take time to be; projects stretch to fill the timeframe I allow for them. And so on. My brain gets noisy.

A couple weeks ago, before I could talk myself out of it, I unfollowed the thirty or so blogs I’ve been following. I was spending a significant amount of time reading things that imparted no lasting value. Sure, I stashed away some helpful tips. Yes, I gained some inspiration. But I wasn’t gaining enough good to justify all the time I spent reading those blogs every day of the week. I needed more soul-deep words. I read Madeleine L’Engle, Corrie ten Boom, Brennan Manning, and Frederick Buechner. I went back to reading the Bible after a summer of mostly ignoring it.

My soul is crying out to know the living God but I can’t get to know him while my mind is frantically occupied with other things. The other things aren’t bad, but for me, right now, they are distracting. So I’m pulling, like a soft little hermit crab, into a protective shell where I’m listening for echoes of an enormous sea. When my heartbeat calms to the rhythm of its tides, maybe I’ll venture out again. For now, expect the silence to last a while longer.

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doing good vs. knowing God

I was raised going to church, Sunday school, youth group, Bible studies, and even a Christian summer camp a couple times. After all that, my understanding of what it meant to be a Christian was still incomplete. It included a lot of pressure to do certain things regularly and with great enthusiasm. I thought I was supposed to:

-read my Bible every day

-pray, but without focusing too much on asking for things, especially for myself

-listen to only Christian music, or at least music without any swear words or references to violence, sex, or criminal mischief (Good Charlotte was popular at the time, what can I say?)

-I want to add “vote Republican” to the list, which would be a joke…sort of. This list could go on but you get the idea.

On the one hand it was easy to do these things because they were concrete. “Did I read my Bible today?” was a yes or no question, a pass/fail test. The problem was that I often failed. My main motivation to do the things on the list was simply the fact that they were on the list.

That sounds stupid, doesn’t it? But remember when we talked about extremes? I think “should do” lists are a mild but still damaging form of religious extremism, often directed against oneself. I’m not saying spiritual discipline is undesirable. I am saying that if spiritual discipline is pursued as a drudging duty, then it misses the mark.

Just over a year ago, after years of alternating between performing the empty rituals of religion and posing it some furious questions, something clicked for me. It was in a Power of a Praying Wife study with a group of three other women, all of us newly married or soon to be married, when it dawned on me  that we weren’t reading this book and praying together so we could get good grades on our spiritual report cards. We were doing it because it made a difference in our lives. We wanted to change, so we prayed for ourselves. We wanted to support our husbands, so we prayed for them. We wanted to understand how God wanted us to pray, so we read Bible verses and a book. None of the activities were ends in themselves. They were all things we did because we wanted to do them, and we wanted to do them because they led us somewhere we wanted to go. We weren’t trying to do good. We were trying to know God.

All it took was a subtle shift in perspective and suddenly I started to understand things I had gone years without understanding. Maybe the most important thing was that God hates sin but he’s not keeping score. In the past, if I skipped a day of Bible reading I would sometimes feel so guilty and defeated that the next day I wouldn’t even try. My thinking went something like, “I already failed so what’s the point?”

Now I understand the importance of some of the little bits of the Bible I used to ignore. For example, the part where it says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So, wait. God offered us his greatest gift—defeating death and offering life through Jesus—before we had done anything we might consider good? Then there’s the oft-quoted, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Do you know what comes next?! (It’s so exciting!) “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

This is bizarre. I want to know more about it. I’ve swum in a sea of religion my whole life, cycling both truth and deceit through my gills so many times I find them both familiar. But now I want to sort them out from each other. I want to figure out which ideas about God are right, and I know I can find out by reading the Bible. Sometimes what I read there makes me mad. Sometimes it fills me with hope. Sometimes it sounds too good to be true. But now I believe it all is true, and that’s not just a Sunday school answer.

What about you? What’s your perspective on the idea of doing good? What helps you to know God?