[Part of the Sabbatical Series]
I froze. I was talking with a close friend on the phone recently when she said the ten words that make my heart stop…or at least skitter: “There’s something I’ve been wanting to talk to you about.” I don’t know about you, but when I hear that, I don’t imagine words of congratulation or appreciation. No, I usually cringe, expecting I’ve done something wrong.
I attempted a casual tone. “Of course. I want to hear it.” It wasn’t an outright lie; I want to be the kind of guy who wants to hear it! What made it worse was that neither of us had time right that moment to get into it. Fortunately we set a time later that evening for another call. Now for the real test: how would I manage my soul around it?
Here’s the amazing thing: I was absolutely fine. I didn’t stew, I didn’t run my typical “what if” scenarios. I told myself that whatever it was she had to say to me—anything at all—I was okay. The miracle is that I believed it. I think that’s a first.
I call this transformation. (More impressively, so does my wife!) After 50 years of automated, instinctive fear responses, I walked up to a potential threat, looked it in the eye, and said, I’m fine. I don’t have to be intimidated by you. Okay, so it was a baby threat; I’ll take it!
This is just one in a series of changes that Kellie has noticed in me over the month since my sabbatical. Honest-to-God shifts in past behavioral patterns that were so predictable as to be defining. Was I trying harder? Not really. If trying harder were the answer, I would have changed a lot more a long time ago. This was different, and really the only thing that can account for it is extended time with God in silence and solitude.
So let me be clear: It’s not the being alone that transforms us. Silence and solitude merely create the space to give undivided attention to who we truly are…and who God wants to be within us. To expose the false and invite the new. Nothing changes us but one: Encounter. The disciple John says it this way, “We will be like Him because we will see Him as He is” (I Jn. 3:2). Self-effort may produce a change in externals, but only a glimmer of divine light changes the internals!
Don’t worry; I’m not up for sainthood just yet. There’s a whole lot more of the false self to be outed and true self to emerge as my soul encounters the presence of God. But I’m deeply encouraged to observe tangible change in soul patterns long entrenched. Obviously, this is the invitation to us all.
Here’s the end of the story. My friend was a true friend; she had observed some things in me that concerned her and was willing to take the risk of inquiring without judgment. It was uncomfortable, but it was love in action. I hope I can be such a friend to others.
Ready for your own look in divine mirror? While it’s not entirely painless, it is strangely comforting to be seen that transparently, lovingly, and redemptively by God. Take 3 hours to get alone, quiet, and still inside. Hold one question before God: What is robbing me of the love, joy, and peace You want to give me? And then just listen. Talk with God about it. Journal about the conversation.