Stop The Noise!

Many, many years ago (ahem), my former college roommate and I spent a long weekend in Las Vegas. We rented a car and drove around to see the sights; we saw Hoover Dam and did the dam tour with all the dam jokes that the dam guide could offer. At night we drive west until we couldn’t see the lights of the city anymore, pulled off the road, and turned off the car.

I grew up in Vermont, so I had a pretty good idea what the sky could look like at night without all the lights of a city, but it was still amazing to see. But what I remember most was the silence. There wasn’t a sound, and probably no one around within miles to make any. I don’t think I’ve ever been in the presence of silence that pure. I remember the silence as almost a ringing in my ears: as if my brain, so accustomed to a wall of sound, had to make up something to take its place. I remember we both commented on the phenomenon, we were both not-hearing the same thing: the assault of the world in a place where God alone reigned.

I believe the key to being in conversation with God is being able to tune out The World and to listen for his voice. Unfortunately I’m not very good at that. Even when I sit in the relative quiet of my house, in prayerful attempts at receiving whatever Jesus may wish to tell me, I find my mind occupied by its own sounds. Granted, most of the time I have contemporary Christian music on in my head, but still–it’s not quiet. I find it hard to turn everything off, and to just…be. To just listen, to be completely and totally receptive to God’s voice. I know this is one of the places I need to grow, so I can be in better communion with our Lord.

Immersion in God’s Love

This past weekend, I had the chance (finally!) to go on the Walk to Emmaus as part of the National Capital Area Emmaus community, which hosted their 177th weekend. I was one of 21 men to walk as pilgrims, and even a week later (to be honest) I am still processing all that it meant.

For those not aware, an Emmaus weekend starts Thursday afternoon and goes until Sunday at a retreat center. We were up in the hills of western Virginia, and we are intentionally cut off from the outside world in many ways, so as to allow us to focus on God: no watches, no cell phones, no laptops, no nothin’. The 24 men on the staff have all done this themselves before, and they help us through the weekend with food, music, eating, activities, more food, and times of reflection. And eating. We had 15 little “talks” that some of the men gave on grace, life in Christ, and taking that grace and life out into the wider world. Several of those were incredibly raw, honest, even touching stories of how each man had fallen, and yet had been redeemed by Christ. We sang lots of contemporary Christian music, and even got in some exercise a few times. We shared joys and concerns at smaller gatherings, and we came together to reflect on what God’s love really meant.

At the closing ceremony, I stumbled through a few words about how the poverty of the English language means it’s not possible for me to put into words what the experience meant. People talk about an Emmaus weekend being life-changing; I pray it’s so, and the only test of that is down the road. But I had the opportunity to experience God in so many ways over the course of the weekend:

  • I experienced God’s love in new ways, ways I hadn’t experienced in a long time. In fact, I experienced it as a wonderful relentlessness: I might try to duck and hide, but God’s love will just keep coming, and coming, and coming for me. I had always known in my head about the scope of his love; this weekend I could feel it in my heart.
  • I met dozens of new brothers in Christ: men that, for having gone through this experience together, I know I can count on for support and prayer. Our “theme song” for the weekend was Lean on Me, and it was a blessing to meet so many people I can lean on.
  • I was challenged to set myself aside as never before. The little acts of service that the staff provide add up to a huge challenge to a “guy” who’s used to handling everything himself and being self-reliant.

On the drive home, I shared with my sponsor some of the reactions I’d had to the immersion I’d experienced in God over the weekend. I remember in the earlier part of the weekend feeling overwhelmed by God’s love and presence, and at one point I had the following exchange with him in my heart:

“I don’t deserve this, all this love being shown to me, someone who’s as broken as they come.”

“You’re right,” God replied, “you don’t.”

“I’m not worthy,” I protested.

“Oh, yes. Yes, you are,” he whispered. “And I’m gonna show you, and keep on showing you, until you finally get it: this is how much I love you.”

De Colores.

Saved, Not Excused

When someone we love is hurting, we hurt. Right now I have someone in my family who’s hurting, and it absolutely breaks my heart.

I’m a guy, of course, and as a guy, I want to fix things, and when it’s someone else’s heart that’s broken, when someone close to me is living (as my brother Glenn says, channelling Los Lobos) in “the deep dark hole that leads to nowhere,” well, I want to fix it and make it all better. But I can’t. It’s not something I can fix.

As we grow, we learn things like the concept of “circles of control” and “circles of concern.” A loved one’s personal anguish is very much in my circle of concern, but unfortunately, it’s not in my circle of control–I can’t take away the darkness or blunt the pain. It’s a hard lesson to learn, to have to surrender that to God and ask the four hardest words in the English language: “Thy will be done.”

How can this be? As Christians, aren’t we saved? Redeemed? Rescued? Why do we have to endure hardship and pain, or perhaps even worse, why do those close to us have to do so?

I have to remind myself, that’s all true: we are saved, redeemed, and rescued. But what’s saved, redeemed and rescued is our soul, our connection with the Almighty–giving us a cushy, problem-free life here on earth was never part of Jesus’ promises to us. In fact, much of 1 Peter serves to remind us that suffering will come our way: that life in Christ doesn’t excuse us from what this broken world will still dish out. We’re saved, redeemed, rescued, all right, but that doesn’t give us a hall pass from the suffering of this life.

Intellectually, I know that. It’s hard to hold onto when it’s someone close to you who’s doing the hurting.

I try to fortify through prayer, through bringing the power of Jesus against the darkness and to ask for the Lord’s healing power. Some days I think it’s working. Other days, the darkness seems to win. I know in the end, the darkness can’t win: I know who won the war already. But some of these individual battles, they look pretty close to me. And in the midst of the fight, sometimes, that’s all we can see.