There was a show on the BBC last year called 'The Monastery'. It chronicled the lives of 5 ordinary people. A PhD from Cambridge, a painter from Cornwall, a publisher from a big firm in London, a producer of porn films and a retired professor. I guess I use the word 'ordinary' loosely. But nonetheless, they were people from the normal hustle and bustle of life, no one was overly, if at all, religious. Some were married, some were single, some were workaholics, one was a recovering alcoholic, but all wanted to find an escape, a sanctuary from the busyness of life. They all agreed to move into a monastery for several weeks, be filmed, do interviews, and most importantly, be open to change.
I did not watch the show when it was aired, but I have the book. It was written by Abbott Christopher Jamison, one of the heads of the monastery where the show was filmed. He wrote not specifically about the five men that the BBC followed, but more broadly about the idea of finding rest, sanctuary and ultimately, peace with ourselves and God. The goal is to give monastic principles that are valid and beneficial to a life lived outside of the confines of a spiritual retreat. It is an amazing book. And it has got me thinking.
Abbott Christopher speaks a lot about finding silence. Not just the absence of words, but a true quietness of mind and heart. I love to talk, and I pretty much hate silence. Upon reflection, I have found that I tend to create 'noise' even if it is unnecessary. For example, I always have music or the TV on when I am in the house. When I commute to and from work, I like to have the iPod on or be talking on the phone to someone. If I am trying to go to sleep, more often than not my mind will play through the days activities and I end up with lots of anxiety 'did I do that?' 'why did I say that' etc... I find it hard enough to have peace and quiet in my physical life, let alone my heart and mind. But I do pray and reflect and process things...so what harm does it do really?
It is a well known fact that I hate my job and strongly dislike the flat in which we live. Both are so awful that at some points it becomes rather humorous. I have prayed and prayed until I am blue in the face for a new job and a new place. But all to seemingly no avail. My thinking is that I am not happy in either, so I should get out. Why isn’t God helping me? The thing is I haven’t really stopped to think about why I am in either one of those places. I haven’t 'quieted' myself before the Lord and really prayed about why He wants me exactly where He has put me. I am too busy being annoyed about the train delay yet again or the faded blue carpet in the bathroom to really be still and KNOW that He is God.
Waiting is hard. Silence is hard. Trusting is hard. So despite my good realizations, about mid way through the book I got really annoyed. Why in the world does God require all these really difficult, abstract things from us? I am not asking for an easy life, with no hard work and everything handed to me on a silver platter! I just want something to go smoothly and work out how I want it to. So why all the waiting, trusting, praying, hoping,...and then some more waiting? Being annoyed is putting it mildly! I was so frustrated, it seemed that everything was out to get me, a personal attack. (Gosh, talk about becoming high strung!)
Then I was reading through Genesis. Specifically the passage about Joseph. So he was favoured by his father, but hated by brothers. That must have really sucked, especially if you were a slightly nomadic, herding family. It’s not like Joseph could just go to the local pub and make some new friends. If his brothers hated him, I venture to say that he was pretty lonely most of the time. But then, they decide to kill him, cause that would make all their problems magically go away. But oh wait, we'll just throw you down an old well instead. But wait, let’s sell you to some travelling traders. That is an even better idea. So off poor, abused, abandoned, broken Joseph goes. Or at least that is how I would feel. Totally deserted, attacked and left to rot away on my own. Instead Joseph trusts in the Lord. Never losing his faith. He is taken to Egypt, trusted, made lord over the Pharaohs house and affairs. Wow. Quite a high profile, cushy role. But then, he is falsely accused and thrown in jail. Two years he sat there. TWO YEARS! He helps a fellow prisoner who agrees to remember him once on the outside, but he doesn’t. Joseph is again forgotten and left to rot. Again, more frustration on my part about my awful luck of yet again being forgotten and mistreated. Poor me. Instead of complaining though, Joseph trusts that the Lord has a plan. And he waits. Finally he is released, and through a series of events made second in command of over all of Egypt on the same day as his release! All because he trusted that the Lord has a plan and was faithful to wait it out. Hmmm....
So what harm is there in my always wanting noise, fast answers and my way? Well, instead of making the most of the situation I am in I complain and, well, basically feel sorry for myself. Joseph was in prison and even there he remained faithful to God. As a result he was made head of everything within the prison system. He got special privileges because everything he did prospered. Why? Because the Lord was with him. But instead of doing that, being quiet, trusting and waiting, I moan and complain. I want a fix within my time table. I want a peace and sanctuary now, on my terms. Too bad it doesn’t work that way.
Abbott Christopher talks about finding a quiet place and just listening, even if it is for 5 minutes. Really taking the time to make a habit of being quiet before the Lord and wait on Him. The goal at first is peace and quiet, but the end result is always drawing closer to the heart of God. Joseph was so focused on God that he was able to speak with confidence and assurance about visions from the Lord and what He was planning to do. He was willing to quiet himself in trust, and He was with God and God with him. So I ask myself again, what harm is there in noise, fast answers, lack of consistent trust? Perhaps the answer is that I am robbing myself of peace that is right in front of me; maybe I am missing out on an opportunity that God has given me; or it could be that I am not growing and learning the things I should be. But perhaps the core of the issue is that I am sacrificing valuable time that could be spent drawing closer to the heart of God.