The older I get and the more precious uninterrupted times of personal reflection become, the more I think and feel in themes. While I used to think in a more cause and effect, new and done, fashion, I have found that my mind and soul do much better when I circle and hover and sit with themes. Themes are malleable, easier to recall, and at least give me an illusion of sanity as I connect one thought today with an observation I had seven weeks ago. 🙂
One lens that I have been leaning on lately is that of stability, residency…of staying. Stability not in the sense of financial wealth or even adopting a particularly predictable way of life, but simply a state of mind and heart that is more committed to here than there.
It is not rare to meet and know people born in the 80s who have no permanent address and have a resume with an extensive work history that has taken them to multiple countries. I am sometimes surprised that, while I increasingly feel like I am a foreign missionary who happens to drive to Target, from the outside looking in, we are some of the most predictable, stationary ones of our friends from college. Somehow we have more kids, we’ve had the most consistent address, and we, dare I say, have settled. I had thoughts junior year of peace corps, international aid work, grad school in some freezing or tropical far away place, returning to Kenya…the sky was the limit. If I had asked my twenty year old self how long before I stayed put in one place, perhaps I would have said five years halfheartedly. But I know the travel and adventure bug burrows deeply, especially in the fertile soil of a missionary kid. Maybe five would lead to ten.
I have wondered lately about the discipline of staying, not because I am proficiently exercising it, as I believe it is a state of heart more of body, but because I have noticed how rare it is around me and how prevalent it is in the writings of saints before me. Before us. We are a privileged generation in the ease at which we can find work and education across borders without giving up much at all and we are a bold generation who seems to often value experience and principles over savings accounts and the two car garage. In all the good will, though, I have started to wonder to what degree our habits have allowed our sustained attention span to atrophy.
While neither my passport nor my resume have become very diversified the past 6 1/2 years since college, I am not practiced in the heart of this matter. I can readily identify places I want to flee. While there have been times I want to leave our actual physical location and role, there are many more times I want to drop ties in other ways. I want to depart a relationship that is not serving me well. I want to indulge in unbiblical, pat answers about God and healing in order to bow out of my neighbor’s suffering. I want to disengage from a church rather than involve myself in dysfunction week after week. I want to close my self and thoughts from my husband, so that he may feel my absence after a difficult day of marriage. I want to plan my day so full that I have no time to face the fear that what I do does not matter. I want to study and talk and write about a subject until I am exhausted in order to avoid the ambiguity of sitting with questions and the torture of waiting. I want to solve my own problems with stale solutions so that I do not have to wait on God or struggle with a divine silence.
I am beginning to familiarize myself with the word acedia (not recognized by most current dictionaries) which refers to a blend of mental and spiritual depression, commonly identified by desert monks as both sin and ailment. It has made a lasting impression to read that “Fighting acedia with a focused, intentional stability was considered so vital in maintaining a good relationship with God and one’s fellow monks that elders sometimes gave their disciples advice that contradicted the monastic norms. one counseled, ‘God, eat, drink, sleep, do no work, only do not leave your cell'” (Norris, Acedia and Me, p. 39). I think of the words incubation, marinating, and cleansing. This suggests that reclaiming their identity and health was wound up in staying, in sitting, in accepting their commitments to a degree that even the most wanderlust may not be able to deny theirs. This suggests that there was healing in stopping rather than in moving. This is a mystery to my itching muscles; it seems like a promise to my soul. Situated beside the knowledge that YHWH repeatedly told Moses in Leviticus that one of the tortures that would result from Israel’s disobedience would be “fleeing when none pursue you,” it seems compelling to consider staying as an important part of life redeemed.
I am learning that the art of staying, the grace of staying, is a discipline to be exercised in the heart of an individual, in the company of a community. It crosses paths with the ministry of presence, that asserts that the grace of another attentive body is significant and healing to one in pain. Staying is not about finding comfort in this world. Quite the opposite. It is a resolution to remember that we are permanent sojourners and we are never our work, our title, our activity. It is an opening and invitation to soul work.
At any given moment, I hear the siren song of distraction and fleeing. Yet increasingly I am hoping to be Here more than anywhere else.