Cultivating Quietness

Truly my soul silently waits for God. Psalm 62:1

My soul, wait silently before God alone; for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. Isaiah 30:15

Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him. Psalm 37:7

Finding silence and quietness in this day and age is a challenge.  So many things compete for our attention that we have to be intentional to cultivate silence. Yet finding a space where we can be alone, remove the technology, shut the door, and be silent before God is critical for our ability to abide in Christ.

Quoting from Andrew Murray in “Abiding in Christ”, “”It is a soul silent before God that is best prepared for knowing Jesus.”  He also writes,

“Quietness is blessing…Quietness is strength…Quietness is the source of highest activity – the secret of all true abiding in Christ. Cultivate quietness as a means to abiding in Christ and expect the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul as the fruit of abiding in Him.”

For much of my youth and early young adulthood I only sought God when I had a problem or disappointment. Periodically I would attempt more of a devotional life, but it usually dissipated when life was “good.” I wasn’t taught how to be silent with God and therefore did not receive the benefits from silence and waiting on God.  I forged a path through life based on what others thought or what I wanted, and asked God to bless it.

Through a series of several severe trials, I found myself progressing from angrily questioning God’s goodness and my desire to remain connected to God, to searching the scriptures to see if I had missed something. In my searching I realized I had some wrong ideas about God. By God’s grace, this opened my heart to see God’s provision for me and my perspective began to change.  Several subsequent losses found me surviving only by turning to God and spending time with God, particularly in the Psalms, listening for God’s words for me. God met me and I found answers to my questions, comfort for my fears, and a changing perspective to see that I was not in control, life was unpredictable, yet with God there was peace and hope.

My experience of God’s comfort and love during trials led me to wonder how I could continue to seek after God in times of joy and prosperity.  The journey since has not always been straight forward as I am prone to wander.  Yet I have found that somehow, when I take time to be silent before God on a regular basis, God is working mysteriously in me to bring about what Andrew Murray describes as, “the ever-deepening quietness and calm of heaven in the soul” making it more possible for me to abide in Christ throughout my day, even in the midst of difficulties.

So how to cultivate quietness with God?  Here are some practical suggestions.

  1. Look for a quiet space in your home, place of employment, or somewhere in nature. If you can’t find one, consider how you can create one.
  2. Be intentional about a time of day you go to that space.
  3. Start by spending a few minutes in silence with God before you go on to reading and reflecting on scripture or whatever devotional material you are using.  Expand that time of silence as you are able.
  4. In the silence, focus on God’s loving presence with you. Other thoughts may pop up.  Quietly acknowledge them and let them go.  If they are troubling thoughts, silently release them to God for God’s care and go back to focusing on God’s loving presence.
  5. If you are able to find a quiet space and time, yet continue to struggle with silence or troubling thoughts, consider reaching out to a trusted friend, pastor or Christian spiritual director for support.

 

Scraps of Life, Part 3

Surgery and After

Finally, after interruptions and another surgery, I am back to writing this series.

It has become harder, the farther away I am from this time of my life, to remember things accurately. I didn’t realize that until months after my initial surgery. One day, when I was recovered enough to get around, I found a bedpan in the laundry room and had no idea why it was there.  I had forgotten much of those first weeks between breaking my leg and following my surgery. My memory loss was more than likely due to the fact I was on pain medication and was sleeping a lot. My spot was flat on my back on the couch with my ankles iced and highly elevated. Yes, ankles.  My right ankle was sprained as well as my left broken, making it difficult to get to the bathroom, among other things!  Thus the need for a bedpan….

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My view from the couch.

When I came home from the emergency room late that night, we were sent home with the name of a surgeon they were passing me on to.  I was very concerned that I would not get in touch with the surgeon and get the surgery done quick enough.  So I called on Monday to get a hold of someone, and then found we were sent to a different surgeon.

The accident happened on Saturday; surgery was scheduled for Wednesday of the next week. I was eager to get on to the healing part, but it was a strange feeling to submit my leg to someone who I did not know anything about.  It never occurred to me at that time to Google and get that info! After my initial surgery to repair the broken bones, I learned that my surgeon had a reputation in Wichita of being a premier trauma ortho surgeon.  Thank you Lord!

My husband and I arrived at the hospital on surgery day by 5:30 am to check in. It was a bit of a shock to find out what we owed financially before surgery could happen (Gulp!  Thank goodness for HSA accounts.) I was wheeled away to get prepped for surgery and soon my family joined me in waiting.

When the surgeon arrived he informed us that in addition to the two broken bones at my left ankle (tibia and fibula) my ligaments were badly torn so he could not guarantee that they would fully recover.  He didn’t outright say it – I had to ask a few questions after he implied it (a man of few words) – and that gave me pause to realize that this may be a game changer for me.  How much would my ankle heal? And always the concern, how will I respond to anesthesia?  Yet as I lay there getting ready for surgery, something I have not experienced before, God gave me peace as I maintained my focus on Jesus by praying the Jesus Prayer,

“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.”

A version of the well known quote by Julian of Norwich was also on my mind,

“With God all is well and all will be well.”

I gave myself into God’s care, safe no matter what the outcome. After a short ride to the OR, sliding onto the surgery table for the 1 1/2 hour surgery, I was out in a few minutes. Before I knew it, I was waking up in recovery.

Reflection:

“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

We live in a broken world,  a world marred by sin.  Accidents, illness, harm happens to all of us sooner or later.  Suffering occurs.  I am one that has spent a great deal of time trying to avoid suffering in my life.  As a young adult, during a “wilderness” time spiritually, I ran across (was guided by the Holy Spirit) Jesus’ words to his disciples quoted above. When troubles come, Jesus says, we should not be surprised. Strengthen your heart!  Jesus has overcome.

What troubles have come your way?  Are you discouraged?  Weary?  Full of anxiety?

I invite you to turn to Jesus in the midst of whatever you are experiencing.  Sometimes, however, we simply can’t prayer.  “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” is a form of what is sometimes called the Jesus Prayer, Centering Prayer, or Breath Prayer. It was first prayed by a man who was blind, Bartimaeus (Mark 10:47), as he called out to Jesus. Consider praying this prayer to center your thoughts on Jesus, particularly when you are feeling the weight of your troubles.  It can help to focus on your breathing. As you pray, “Lord Jesus Christ”, slowly breath in, “have mercy on me”,  slowly breath out.

The actual quote by Julian of Norwich is, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well…you shall not be overcome.”

 

 

 

 

Part 10: Arms of Love. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Nine: Arms of Love (Doug & The Slugs)

I sing a simple song of love,

To my Savior, to my Jesus.

I’m grateful for the things you’ve done.

My loving Savior, My precious Jesus.

 

My heart is glad, that you’ve called me your own.

There’s no place I’d rather be.

 

Than in your arms of love.

Than in your arms of love.

Holding me still, Holding me near,

In Your arms of love.

 

Click on the arrow below to listen to Arms of Love.  Allow time for the song to load.

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Doug holding his three loves.

Reflection

Wow, this song caught me off guard.  As I started listening to it, after writing the last reflection, I couldn’t stop the tears.  It wasn’t like Doug to use words like “precious Jesus”, and “loving Savior”.  Yet here is Doug’s love song, if you will, for his Jesus. He expresses his gratitude for what Jesus has done for him. Jesus’s arms of love is where Doug is now.  Jesus never left Doug, but carried Him all the way through the process of leaving this life to life eternal.  Not what we desired, but safe in the arms of Jesus.

I am reminded of the song Rich Mullins recorded based on Psalm 73:25 (Rich, who lived in my home town for some years, died as a result of injuries from a car accident while Doug was ill.);

 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

And from Psalm 84:

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.

Another passage beautifully put to music by Brahms in his “How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place”. (Requiem) A favorite choral number of our father.

And finally, from Revelation 21;

 Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be my children.

 Reflection

Take some time to consider the love Jesus has for you. Re-read the scripture passages. Find these songs on you-tube and listen to them.  The Morman Tabernacle Choir has a great recording of the Brahms. Listen to Doug’s song again – “a simple song of love to my Savior, my Jesus.”  May you find peace and joy in Jesus, your Savior, and hope for when God will make all things new, when He will well among His children forever.  Doug’s prayer, and mine as well, is that you will be among God’s children and experience the love of Jesus as Doug did. Now and forever. Amen.

 

 

 

 

Part 9: Hear My Cry. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Eight: Hear My Cry (by Doug)

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Hear my cry, oh God.

Listen to my prayer, from the depths of my soul.

From the end of the earth,

My soul cries out when my heart is faint. When my heart is faint.

 

Chorus: Lord, lead me to a rock that is higher than I.

For you are my refuge.

Oh a strong tower against the enemy.

Let me dwell in thy tent forever.

 

For God, my soul waits.

I wait alone, in the silence of the morning.

My spirit is, whisper of my Lord,

as in the sunny of the morning breeze.  Of the morning wind.

  

From the ends of the earth, I call to you, and you answer my prayer.

You answer my prayer. You answer my prayer.

 

Listen to Doug’s recording of this Hear My Cry by clicking on the arrow below.  Allow some time for it to load.

 

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Doug with his accompanist at his Master’s Vocal Recital, Vermillion, SD

In mid-June of 1998 we learned that there was nothing medically that could be done for Doug.  Such horribly hard news to recieve.  Some weeks later, when his body went into a coma, I read the prayer Jesus prayed in the garden on the night he was betrayed. Jesus demonstrated great trust in the plan of His Heavenly Father, but it wasn’t without struggle.

Doug, his family, as well as his church family, prayed all during Doug’s illness, imploring God to heal him.  We did not want to give up hope for physical healing.

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Doug worked with his dad, Peter Friesen, at Winkler Bible Institute.

There is the idea of a “Prayer of Indifference” that come from the 2000 plus years of Christian tradition.  It sounds wrong at first, but it means praying to be free from the desires that hold us back from saying yes to God and His will and purposes. Another way to think of this prayer is to pray to relinquish control, leave the results in God’s hands, asking to be “indifferent” to the results.  This is what faith allows us to do, but it can be a struggle to take refuge in God alone. In this song, Doug declares, “you Lord are my refuge.”

That is what Jesus was able to do, but first he wrestled with God in the Garden right before He was arrested, tried, and crucified.  He cried out saying, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me”. Eventually,  Jesus came to the place where He was able to say, “not my will but thine be done.” (Matt. 26:39 NIV) This kind of prayer can only be uttered by those who are fully confident of God’s neverending love for them.

This is where I came to as Doug lay in a semi-coma.  With sorrow…”Lord, your will be done. If healing isn’t going to happen, please let Doug’s suffering end.”

Reflection 

This song reflects the deep longings and feelings that come with these kinds of prayers for help.  Do not hesitate to pray these types of prayers yourself or for someone you know.  Jesus did. Jesus then expressed faith in God with his final prayer of “not my will but yours be done”.

During a time of prayer God gave Doug tremendous peace in the last days of his conscious life. The fear of death was gone. He was trusting in God’s loving care. Consider pouring out your heart to God about your concerns.

If you are able, consider the prayer below by Richard Foster, a “Prayer of Relinquishment” as he calls it.

Prayer of Relinquishment, by Richard Foster

Today, O Lord, I yield myself to You.
May Your will be my delight today.
May You have perfect sway in me.
May your love be the pattern of my living.
I surrender to You my hopes, my dreams, my ambitions.
Do with them what You will, when You will, as You will.
I place into Your loving care my family, my friends, my future.
Care for them with a care that I can never give.
I release into Your hands my need to control, my craving for status, my fear of obscurity.
Eradicate the evil, purify the good, and establish Your Kingdom on earth.
For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part 7: Lament. Doug & the Slugs, Music from a Sick Man’s Bedroom

Song Six, Lam. 3:22 & 23

 Chorus:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.

His mercies never come to an end.

They are new every morning.

Great is thy faithfulness.

 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,

To the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly.

For the salvation of the Lord.

 Let us test and examine our ways,

And return to the Lord.

For the Lord, He is our mighty fortress.

Let us always praise His name.

You can listen to Lam. 3:22-23 by clicking on the arrow below. Allow some time for the song to load.

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Doug and the author singing at our sister’s wedding.

 This song is based on words from Lamentation 3:22-23:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.

One begins to read these verses a little differently when serious health issues stop us in our tracks; particularly when healing is not guaranteed, and death is a very real possibility.

One can feel consumed – consumed with fear, anxiety, anger, depression, helplessness, hopelessness.  Because, let’s face it, even though as Christians we read in scripture that we have the hope of eternal life after death, that Jesus went to “prepare a place for us” in heaven, that when this earthly tent wears out we have a “heavenly” one, we don’t really focus on that much in our lives.  In fact, we don’t really think we will die, particularly when we are in our early 30’s and life is busy with raising small children, working and serving the Lord.

Life-threatening illness tests our faith – do we really believe this stuff?  If so, how do we live in this new reality we are facing?  Time and time again we are told in scripture to look to the Lord, seek His face, take our eyes off of the things of this earth and on to Christ.  Does he not care for us?  Is he not filled with compassion for us?  Does he not know we are weak and helpless?

A lament is a prayer of complaint – letting God know what is going on and how we feel about it.  We see many in the Psalms and of course in the book of Lamentations. In fact this passage from Lamentations chapter 3 comes after several chapters of lamenting the difficult and painful conditions of life the Israelites were enduring in captivity. I learned during Doug’s illness that God is not afraid of our questions or our overwhelming emotions.  He invites us to bring them to Him.

There are several movements in prayers of lament:

  • An honest description of the problem.
  • A request for God to act on our behalf and remedy the problem.
  • Confession of Trust. Remembering what God has done in the past and confessing trust in God for the present.
  • Vow of Praise. Praising God in anticipation of God’s new redemption action in the future.

Theological Reflection is at the heart of Lament.  When we experience loss and hard times, it can feel like God is absent. We no longer feel at home with God as our normal life experience has changed. We feel that we are “cast into a foreign land.”  We become consumed by our emotions and wonder if God is really who we thought He was.

These verses in Lamentations that Doug chose to focus on in this song are a good representation of the last movement in the prayer of lament; the Vow of Praise.  I am wondering if at this point, Doug had worked through the other movements of lament, and landed at praise.

Reflection

 Are you facing the biggest test of faith you’ve ever faced?  Are you concerned for someone else? Consider writing your own prayer of lament.  Don’t give up on God.  Seek His face each morning – great is His faithfulness.