Monday, February 17, 2014

Solitude Burns Away Self-Delusion (PrayerLife)

Masada, on the Dead Sea in Israel
Solitary alone-time with God is an antidote to our culture's prevailing shallowness and illusion. Spending much time alone with God clears away the false self that we so easily construct and wear before others. This is because in solitude it's just you and God. Before God there's no faking it, no posing and posturing and preening, no hiding. Solitude is "search me O God" time.

Yes, God can and does search us out while we're in community. But true community is a function of alone-time spent with God. That is, I am better in community as a result of solo-conferencing with God.

God desires to defeat my self-obsessiveness so I can experience renewal and transformation. One way God does this is by calling me into times of solitude. This is why Henri Nouwen has called solitude “the furnace of spiritual transformation." 

If solitude is a "furnace," what gets burned away? The answer is: the negative aspects of the "self." Unless we daily practice self-denial, self-centered ideas will rise up against the ideas of God. I have discovered many negative aspects of the self. One of them is self-love.

The self-love issue runs deep. Self-love, writes Thomas Merton, "is the source of all boredom and all restlessness and all unquiet and all misery and all unhappiness - ultimately, it is hell."[1] How much easier is it to love the self before loving others and living sacrificially in relationship to them. One British politician's actions were once described as "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his friends for his life."[2] I have discovered in my heart a deep-rooted propensity to love “me” as my first priority. This kind of self-love needs to be burned away.

As a young Christian I was counseled to keep my priorities as follows:
a. Love God first
b. Love others second
c. Love self

I have found that when I live in this way the love I have for myself is healthy and godly.

A harmful love of self is called "pride." C.S. Lewis called pride “the great sin – the complete anti-God mentality.” It’s impossible to love God with all one’s being if one has an elevated love of self. Francis Frangipane refers to pride as “the armor of darkness.”[3] I like this definition of pride because it shows how this kind of self-love necessarily thwarts spiritual renewal and transformation. And, as Merton said, while all this seems counterintuitive to the proud lover of self, in reality it’s all boredom and misery.

Meet alone with God today. Pray for God to burn away prideful self-love.

[1] Thomas Merton, The Waters of Siloe
[2] Eddie Askew, No Strange Land, p. 20
[3] Francis Frangipane, The Three Battlegrounds