Two things we have realized over the course of developing this study:
1. We must first spend deliberate time with God before attempting to write anything.
2. We must deliberately quiet ourselves and carve space/time in order to write.
As I spent some time ruminating on the topic of "solitude" and scripture, several passages came to mind, and I simply did a search for "Jesus Withdrew." In order to keep this weeks' Enliven Faith blog on track, I want to center the discussion around what is happening in each passage, what the similarities are between some, and what we can learn.
Jesus Sought Solitude in Times of Pain, and Possibly Imminent Threat
"When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he withdrew to Galilee" Matt 4:12
"When Jesus heard what had happened [John the Baptist killed and buried], he withdrew by boat to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from other towns." Matt 14:13
Jesus' first encounter with John the Baptist was at his baptism. There are no records that they hung out afterwards, visited each other, or maintained correspondence. For all we know, it could have been a one-time meeting with two men that went on their way. What we do know is that there was a connection between the two men prior to birth (Luke 1:39-45) and that John had a viscerally emotional reaction to Jesus' request for baptism (Matt 3:13-17). Though the connection may not be one that mirrors the camaraderie between two men who "do life" together for a while, it most definitely is between two men on a similar mission. And in that, the connection may be deeper.
So in hearing of the persecution and execution of John, is it possible that Jesus' withdrawal was a means to gain solitude and collect one's thoughts? Was it his way of dealing with the grief of losing one of the only other persons in the world (Simeon and Anna being the others - Luke 2:25-38) who fully understood who Jesus was? How alone did this make him feel? Was this one of the first moments when he realized, or guessed, the inevitable outcome of his life and ministry? How can you correctly deal with the loss of a friend, a coworker, a companion and still attend to the fear you may have for your own life. And how do you do that while looking behind you at the crowds that won't leave you alone. The same crowds that will call for your execution. I don't know about you, but in that situation, I would be looking for some solitude, too.
But make it clear, he wasn't seeking seclusion. He didn't walk out into the desert or wilderness to get away from everyone, most likely his disciples followed along with him. But he did remove himself from the situation and maybe in the process of taking a walk from here to there, he wrapped his mind around it. Even though he was fully God, he experienced the emotions and anxiety of being fully man. When he lost a god friend to death, he wept (John 13:35).
Jesus Sought Solitude after Arguments and in the face of Threats
"But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him and he healed all who were ill" Matt 12:14-15
"So from that day on they [Pharisees] plotted to take his life. Therefore Jesus no longer moved about publicly among the people of Judea. Instead he withdrew to a region near the wilderness, to a village called Ephraim, where he stayed with his disciples." John 11:53-54
"Jesus withdrew with his disciples to the lake, and a large crowd from Galilee followed." Mark 3:7 [as the Pharisees plotted to kill him]
"Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon" Matt 15:21 [following an argument about religiosity with the Pharisees]
If the gospels were a novel, front to back no chapter and verse. And if you had never been taught to pick it apart and mine it for little tidbits of wisdom. And if you had not known the story, but were introduced to the characters along the way. Wouldn't you feel so amazingly "YES" when he charges into the temple and turns over the tables? That feeling that comes up is the same feeling that we entertain in arguments with our spouse, when you feel so right and want to vindicate or justify yourself. To differentiate, Jesus was justified in cleaning the temple of thieves. We are not justified in responding out of hurt, with vindictiveness.
Jesus does present sort of a conundrum when it comes to arguments. He wins them, but not in the manner people would have guessed, but he doesn't stick around and gloat. He goes on his way, he withdraws to another place. He avoids impending danger, up until he knows he must give into it, when he begins his journey to Jerusalem.
Yet, his solitude seems often interrupted by the presence of others, the crowd who follows him. And he doesn't seek seclusion, he ministers to their need. Amazing how he turns, so quickly, from withdrawing for self protection and from conflict, and then begins to attend to the need around him. I wonder what he thought about and discussed during those trips. I wonder if the solitude he found during those walks gave him the peace of mind to be able to reach out on the opposite side of the journey? I wonder how many lapses and lulls in conversation there were between the almighty and his disciples? How possible and peaceful is it to find solitude in the presence of another? Can it be done? Can you do it? Has there been too much tension between you and your spouse that there cannot be a peaceful silence, as you two walk alongside one another on the long journey from here to there?
Jesus Took Time for Himself
"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16
"One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When Morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles." Luke 6:12-13
I cannot overstate this point. This is the essence of what he have been talking about. Jesus gets away for times alone, for solitude. But notice he is not completely alone, there is still someone there, the Father. And it is in the moments of solitude that he communes with Him.
I like that scriptures mentions the two places to which he withdrew. First he goes to "lonely places." He does this frequently (often) and he has a purpose for which to go, to "pray." Prayer can be the vocal utterance of a message to God, either adoration, thankfulness, intercession (praying for others) or supplication (praying for oneself). For Jesus, there was no confession, because he was sinless (an incredibly deep thought for contemplating the interrelatedness of the forms of prayer for the believer).
Basically Jesus goes to have a conversation with God, to give honor and receive wisdom (essentially). He doesn't go to the marketplace or somewhere ornate. He chooses a place that will act upon his mind to focus it, and not detract from what he is doing. He doesn't go to Starbucks, the mall, Facebook or Youtube. He doesn't meet with God only when it is convenient or in convenient places ("spent the night praying"). He puts forth effort to create time and space, and finds a place, to commune with the Father. And he does this before big decisions.
Before choosing the disciples and before giving his life over into the hands of his executioners, he stays up late and prays (Matt 26:36-45). Life-altering decisions deserve time and space for prayer. Too often, I fear, we throw a prayer up and hope it sticks, before walking away without waiting to hear anything back. Is it because we really don't think anyone is listening on the other end? Is it because we egotistically think we have thought of every possible solution and are just giving God the suggestion of what to act on? Is it because it really is too much of a hassle to devote time to allowing him to shape us and the direction of our life? Jesus, "who being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness" (Philippians 2:6-7). Far be it for any of us to not model the behavior of "the author and perfecter of out faith" (Hebrews 12:2). If God could humble himself enough to know he needed to have time to commune within the Holy Trinity, are we so prideful to believe that we, as created beings need less time?
One last point and then we will move on. St. Thomas Aquinas (very famous, trust me) proposed that it is impossible for anyone to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), unless we expand the concept of doing so. He proposed that the deep, divinely inspired desires of our hearts, the ones which God will grant as we delight ourselves in Him (Psalm 37:4), are the ceaseless prayers of our heart which are continually being offered up to The Lord. Essentially, as you walk about throughout your day, take care to note the desires of your heart, focusing on The Lord and his will for the world, and that is walking in prayer. So yes, as you walk along from here to there you are in prayer, if what you are meditating on is something delightful to God. Now there's a whole new homework assignment: "What is delightful to God?"
Following Ministry, Jesus Withdrew
"When the apostles returned, they reported to Jesus what they had done [going from village to village, proclaiming the gospel]. Then he took them with him and they withdrew by themselves to a town called Bethsaida." Luke 9:10
"Jesus, knowing they intended to come and make him a king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself." John 6:15 [following the miracle of feeding the 5,000]
Corie and I know exactly what each of us is thinking and feeling, following a teaching session at a retreat. Usually a nap, especially on the beach for the coastal ones we lead from Fort Stewart. We crash, and it is the blessed sleep of having been poured out in service, while being wrapped up in the intoxicating delight of using our gifts. That perfect place where you are in your sweet spot with your sweet heart, and ah...crash.
You have to take time out for yourself afterwards. For some introverts, that solitude may last longer than for extroverts, and that's okay. Jesus' model behavior gave us permission to not feel like we have to consistently give until we are past "give out." Sometimes (as I am sure the disciples were) we are amazed and want to discuss what just happened, and make plans. The crowd was ready to even take it to the next level and attempt to make Jesus king. He withdrew. He knew it was not time, nor the manner in which things should happen, but he just got away. Do you take care of yourself? If you are supposed to love your neighbor as yourself (Matt 22:39), how are you loving yourself? Can you really give to your neighbor, if you have nothing left? Some very wrong people consider burnout, fatigue and exhaustion to be badges of honor. It is the most selfishly prideful and immature self-centeredness that one can imagine. It puts self above others, under the guise of loving others. It creates space for poorly thought out decisions and rash judgment.
Jesus provided examples of how, when and where to seek solitude. What are you waiting for?