Sunday, December 31, 2023

Solitude with God as a Cure for Inner Torment


(Train, in Monroe County)

Do not let your hearts be agitated.
You believe in God.
Believe also in me.

Jesus, in John 14:1

I had a friend whose heart and mind were filled with agitation. Like the agitator of a washing machine, his thoughts constantly went back and forth, back and forth. Inwardly he felt tormented, especially when he was alone.

So, he got busy. Busyness, he reasoned, would cover up the restless sea within. 

It didn't work. Like a band aid over an open wound, the pain was still there.

His question became: Who am I, when I have nothing to do? What can calm the surging waves within?

Outer quietude can reveal inner restlessness. Solitude with God is a purging fire that uncovers my true self and what I am defined by. If I am defined by the praises and blame of others, then when those voices are removed, so is my identity. When my "being" is defined by my "doing" or "having," I have gotten life backwards. These false identities keep my heart in constant agitation. They form a false, punishing belief system ("I am what others think of me"; "I am what I have"; "I am what I accomplish.").

Solitude with God is required to purge my heart of false identities and forge my heart's true meaning and purpose. Henri Nouwen writes: "Silence and solitude call me to detach myself from the scaffolding of daily life and to discover if anything there can stand on its own when the traditional support systems have been pulled away." (Nouwen, Our Greatest Gift: A Meditation on Dying and Caring, p. 3)

When the music fades, when all is stripped away, and "I" simply come to God, then it's Him and me here now. Just me and my God, in Whom I trust, Who is my source of life and is my life. 

I have developed the spiritual discipline of getting alone with God. It is my habit, my way of being. I regularly get still, and know God. It is common, during these alone times with God, to have moments of inner turmoil. My prayer then becomes: "Restore my soul, O God, that has been agitated by the false gods of doing, having, and accomplishing."

I write of my experiences of solitude with God in Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.