A Shelf of Spiral Notebooks

“What are the things that you and God enjoy doing together?”

I was recently talking with a friend who didn’t feel close to God at the time and I felt led to ask that question. After our time was over I asked myself the same question, “When do I feel closest to God?” For me, the immediate answer was "solitude and silence."

As I look back over my life, I have been gently drawn to being alone with my thoughts and prayers. I have particularly enjoyed the thoughts that being in the mountains or at the ocean seemed to bring forth. Everyone, however, is different, and what is special for one is not special for others. For some the feeling is in church, others when helping the homeless, others when having a “quiet time,” others when reading and meditating on scripture, praying, or being in a small group. I know people who are most sensitive to God when fasting. I have a friend who meets God in biographies of those who have gone before.

For each of us there are valuable avenues of communication that God utilizes in His unique relationship with us. The first question in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is: “What is the chief end of man?” The answer is “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” The enjoyment of being with God is what we tragically often miss. We talk about a personal relationship with Christ, but if we are honest, the personal is often missing. Our communication can be very mechanical and rigid. We don’t look forward to spending time with God. We do it because we have been told it is important, or we don’t do it at all. Often our excuse is that we are just too busy, sometimes even doing God’s work!

That was my situation when I was on the Young Life staff some 40 years ago. I was in ministry working with high school kids, loved it and felt God’s presence as I ministered. Personally, though, I had a very unrewarding devotional life and that made it hard for me to maintain my “quiet time” with God. Knowing that I should be doing more would activate my guilt response and I would buy a new spiral notebook for my prayer list (I have a whole stack of partially filled notebooks in my closet today). I would begin reading 5 chapters in the Bible, praying daily for others and myself, while I kept a list of what I had asked God to bring about. After a few weeks or maybe even a month of being faithful to the process, I would quit. Once I had missed a day or two, it became hard to get started again. The pile of notebooks with empty pages grew, but my devotional life did not. It was like a dance of drawing closer and withdrawing. While there were moments of enjoyment, they were not frequent enough to keep me engaged on a regular basis. While I believed intellectually that God was present, that somehow was not enough. The belief was in my head, but it wasn’t confirmed by my experience or felt in my heart. 

Later in life, God, in His grace, drew me from my monologue to a dialogue. God used writings by some of the devotional masters to gently provide a vision that was more available. God used that new vision to open new doors. I discovered that solitude and silence could be a time of enjoyment with God and I began to look forward to those times. In silence, I moved from my head to my heart. I found that as I spent time simply alone and quiet that small clarifications would appear into my mind that gave me greater understanding of God and His action in my life. I came to recognize the Presence and action of God in small things in my day. As a Young Life motor coach driver, I had enjoyed driving all night while the kids slept. Looking at the stars through that big windshield brought a sense of gratitude. Now I knew why. Growing up, I always enjoyed a time of silent prayer during the evening service at my church. God had been drawing me to solitude for years.

The reality I experienced, as I began to carve space for solitude, was that God wanted to communicate with me, not just listen to my requests. He wanted more than my monologue. Scripture took on new depth and became a means of His communication as I moved from scripture reading to scripture meditation. It became a place where I listened to God speak into my heart. For me, solitude has become the place where I can hear God’s whispers in my life as I turn away from the external and internal noise that often drowns Him out. In addition, it changes the pace of my life as I spend unhurried time with God and sense His calm, slow Presence. 

So, what is it that you enjoy doing with God? If you don’t know, maybe you should try solitude! Dallas Willard has defined joy as a “a pervasive and constant sense of well-being.” That is why joy and suffering can exist at the same time. Solitude may be the road to experience that joy. I pray that you may find that joy in your walk with God in whatever path He leads you.

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.” 

 I Corinthians 2:9b

“The eye cannot see, nor the tongue tell, nor can the heart imagine how many paths and methods I have, solely for love to lead them back to grace so that my truth may be realized in them.”   

Catherine of Siena