In the course of switching careers to teaching in April, I was confronted with a lot of time on my hands. I am now teaching in my first classroom, but I had more than three months of uninterrupted summer to live through.
I tried to take a trip to Chicago, but it fell through, as I couldn’t convince enough of my friends to go. I have been to two weddings, moved three people into new homes and read a lot of books. I slept in a few days, though by the end I was waking up at 7 a.m. just to see if I could get back into being a high school student—an age I was going to be teaching.
I watched a lot of television. I was the first one at the mailbox to greet the postman. And the Internet often called my name.
I know many of you have jobs that require yearlong work, so don’t think I am gloating to have the summers to watch reruns of Dawson’s Creek. (Some episodes were bad enough the first time around.) I am not. This summer has been the most challenging of my life.
It was just me and God in my home. Me and the Man. Me and the little voice I don’t like to listen to. Me and the Holy Spirit. Me and the Word.
I squirmed in my seat, paced around the track, even aimlessly drove in my car—all at times when God was urging me to be with Him.
When you have a lot of time on your hands, God confronts you with eternity. He confronts you with that idea because as His child, you already have started living in that state. You will be with Him forevermore, and He wants your life to reflect it now.
God confronts us with Himself. He whispers, shouts, laughs, sighs and speaks. He also stands in silence—not the silence of a judge just before he pronounces the sentence, not the silence of loneliness, not the silence of lost-ness. God offers His kind of silence, silence with a lot of presence. He offers hugs, kisses and a firm heart to embrace. He offers a seat reclining at the table. He offers His feet for our offering.
These are the ways He related to the saints we read about, and it is the way he relates to our friends. But often, if not for the times when we are forced to face God, we don’t see His manners of such influence.
This is why I know retreats, getaways, weekend excursions and vacations are so needed. They force us to sit and be still. To rest. To hear what we may have missed listening to the loudness of life. These times should not be abnormal to our philosophy or our practice.
Every day we should be in the presence of God. The peace that passes all understanding—passing even the very understanding that tells us we have peace—sustains us even as voices of our spouse, our job, our children, our bills, our church vie for an ear. That is why such retreats should not be abnormal in philosophy. We already have given our core to Him.
Yet even as that is true, even if you can claim astute dedication and focus in life, times of intense encounters with God should be more and more a part of life.
I’m not saying you have to go to the mountains, the beach or even a hotel room in another town to find your place of retreat. I’m not saying you have to leave the house. All I know is that the quicker the pace of life gets, the more worries appear out of thin air, the more we are ambushed by doubts, fears and sins we wish would drop dead, the more God calls us out of life. He of course calls us out of life to send us back in.
He doesn’t call us out of life using life’s paces, though. The five minutes in the car riding to work, the ten minutes we get to our knees before bed, the few seconds we pray before meals—these are times we have carved out of life. They are beneficial but they still reflect life—quick, sometimes glib and often loveless.
Our lives are like sports. We crave the few seconds like boxers going back to their corners after every round or football teams huddling after each play.
In those times, yes, they regroup, find their heart again. But how long does their strength last? Until the next play is over. Instead of relying on eternal life, we are satisfied with just enough to get by. We need expanded periods of rest, expanded periods of focus, expanded periods of prayer. We need times when God has no other competition.
So what does one do in such times? We can pour our heart out, pull out the drain stoppers in our minds so all our hazardous thoughts and wicked desires flood out. But they are not a time for excessive speaking. They are times that demand silence. They are a time for staring. Staring out a window. Staring at the tree with the leaves falling one by one. Staring at a mirror.
They are a time for echoes, whispers, shouts and responding to love letters from God.
The warnings are clear: If we don’t plan to find God in these times, finding Him during the day becomes harder. If we don’t pull ourselves out of life, staying in becomes harder. And if we don’t get away, find a day or two to be with God, His voice will only get louder. And we will hear it less and less.[Matthew Boedy is a 24-year-old writer and Young Life leader in Aiken, S.C. He enjoys the radio, the television, the Internet and any human contact.]