As we go through life and journey with the Lord, our lives should begin to increasingly transform so that we look more like the Lord than we did when we first started walking with Him. He uses many tools to help bring about that transformation, some of them are needed because we do not yield to His whispers or we continue in the busyness of this life repeating persistent habits. Some are needed because we fail to see who we are or could be.
Solitude is one of the avenues that can help us face ourselves.
“Solitude is the furnace of transformation…(it) is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.” Henri Nouwen
It can be easier to continue with the false self than we would like to admit. Our desires to please and receive the approval of others lead us to put on the garments we believe will succeed to that end, to use all manner of adornment in order to hide the flaws still present in our character. We can be so effective doing it over time that we can be deceived into believing those things are who we truly are.
In the recesses of our mind and heart that part of us that knows the truth of our disguise, cringe in shame to even consider spending time in solitude with the Lord. We know those trappings do not fool Him.
We get into deeper trouble because we try to do more and more to distract ourselves from discovering the truth. That adds to our dilemma because we lose all sense of who we are if we are not doing. We can stay stuck in doing for many reasons including how often our brothers and sisters nudge us to stay involved and perhaps do even more.
To risk abandoning this routine means we must be willing to believe we can be safe in the Lord’s presence. We have believed for so long that humankind will reject or shame us for our failures that we can project that view onto the Lord as well. I love how Ruth Haley Barton defines this:
“This willingness to see ourselves as we are and to name it in God’s presence is at the very heart of the spiritual journey. But it takes time; time to feel safe enough with ourselves and with God, to risk exposing the tender, unfinished places of the soul. We are so accustomed to being shamed or condemned in the unfinished parts of ourselves that it is hard to believe there is a place where all of who we are – the good, the bad and the ugly – will be handled with love and gentleness. Solitude is just such a place, but it takes time to learn to trust it.”
Our challenge is to lay aside the experience we may have had with a friend, family member, or ministry leader that we entrusted with those “unfinished places” who responded in ways that wounded us even either through ignorance or self-righteousness. Such experiences tended to result in retreating deeper into the shadows or driving ourselves even harder.
It can be easy for us to believe this sort of journey is unique to us, but if we take time to consider what we see in God’s Word we discover many examples of others (heroes of the faith) who have made similar journeys. We see it in David as well as in Paul (to name just two.)
At the very least we need to remember that God is good (as the beavers told Lucy in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe of the Narnia stories) even if we cannot see Him as safe.
Consider the words of Robert Mulholland in Invitation to a Journey:
“The process of being conformed to the image of Christ takes place primarily at the point of our unlikeness of Christ’s image. God is present to us in the most destructive aspects of our cultural captivity. God is involved with us in the most imprisoning bondage of our brokenness. God meets us in those places of our lives that are most alienated from God.”