For the past 3 months, I have been living the life of a hermit. Some might think this is a dream life, but it’s not as trouble-free as it seems.
When I was a kid, a life of solitude appealed to me. I spent countless time imagining that I could live by myself in the bathroom. I had it all figured out. The bathtub would serve as a bed to sleep in. I’d have enough water to drink, and I could relieve myself and take a bath whenever I wanted! A tiny window high on the wall would give me enough fresh air. The problem of a lack of food or company did not trouble me. I thought this tiny world would be perfect.
It was the same interior world which made me long for the days off of school, which I would lovingly plan by stacking my bedside table high with books to read and color in the morning. A day with nothing to do but be with my books seemed the highest possible way to live.
When I went off work in mid-April, my pastor Paul gave me a few suggestions for living in the silence of days. The recipe was simple. He suggested that every day I read, write, and pray to ask God for guidance in my activities. It felt like such a relief compared to how I’d been living, which had drained me to the point of illness. The green meditation room has been a place of much soul searching and where I’ve been met with God, but it has not been an easy place.
My headaches have gone through periods of respite, but continue to pay regular visits. Lately they are worse again. Facing the frustration of illness in silent reflection is a challenge and some days it’s all I can do just to stay put and not run away into busy activity in a vain attempt to get away from the discomfort.
I realized if it were up to me, I would want two things – a life free of headaches, and meditation which is only peaceful. Blissful union with God 24/7.
Since I can achieve neither of these things, I have had to take another look, and thankfully, I’ve had a good coach in author David Benner. He writes about how to let our surface desires point us to our deeper longings.
Take headaches for instance. Despite my best efforts (and there’s been tons), they are still out of my control, and I usually think of this situation as ugly and irredeemable. My first response is usually frustration, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that I’m a loser.
In the midst of this God reminds me that there are no losers in God’s kingdom, and that I am loved in the “no-matter-whatness” of life, as Greg Boyle puts it. Even when I want to write myself off, I encounter love again and again, in community and in times alone with God. Hopefully one day I’ll believe it fully and see myself only as God sees me.
So, instead of desiring a life free from headaches, a deeper desire is to ask for the gift of trust that God can be with me in any difficult situation. I’d rather have a life of meaning than a life free of trouble.
In my other surface desire for only the bliss of meditation and none of the difficulty, I realize I am asking for a superficial happiness. Society promotes it inaccurately as the goal of solitude, but it’s actually not real or lasting.
Instead of desiring only blissful meditation, my deeper longing is for the kind of solitude that Jesus experienced. He went into the
desert and God was there, but so was the Devil, with all the temptations known to humankind. But because Jesus was rooted in his relationship to God, he knew that God would protect him and deepen him. Jesus knew that his Father was more powerful than any troubles that got lobbed his way. He knew that God would show him the way to lasting happiness, the kind that is forged on the anvil of suffering and not dependent on pleasant circumstances.
Jesus’ character was formed by God as hope and suffering joined hands. This is what I want. “Such hope,” says author Peter Gomes, “gets us through and beyond the worst that can happen.” This kind of hope is not in people, but in God, who promises never to abandon us. With that kind of hope, all suffering can be borne and overcome.
My idea of a room of solitude as a kid wasn’t a bad one. What I know now, is something I probably knew as a child, but forgot for many years in between, and that is that God is in the solitude. I’m not alone.