I was born in Santa Cruz, California and had the privilege of ocean time whenever I craved it. I can imagine rotting seaweed and smell it as I sit here typing. I can hear big waves and foghorns and even my toes curl back as I recall the freezing sensation of winter tides.
One of my greatest life-lessons came at the ocean. Never turn your back on the water. I must have been about 7; diving in and out with friends, hurling clumps of seaweed at each other and running back and forth to Moms who sat with books and blankets and snacks. We all knew the key to diving INTO the belly of wave to avoid being pounded down in the surf, but it only takes a minute—one call back to the audience on the beach, one misplaced pause as you wait for a friend to join you. A wave grows, sneaks and swallows a 7-year old pretty fast. And a lesson is learned—literally pounded into me (I think I still have sand in my ears). Don’t turn your back to the waves.
Ruth Haley Barton, the author of a book I’m reading, suggests when we stop paying attention to our souls (the deeper emotions/thoughts/fears that drive our behaviors) it’s like turning our backs on the ocean. She suggests that solitude, extended periods of time with God, is the most effective way for us to understand these deeper parts of life. In solitude, God turns our eyes to the deep stuff. And if we don’t engage in solitude, we should be prepared for a pounding—a roll over in the press of waves that leaves us gasping for air, panicking for the shore.
I don’t always like the deeper stuff. It’s confusing and disorderly and often painful. This month, as my dad has been really sick, the deeper stuff just makes me cry and feel lost. Why would I want to keep my eyes on that?
Barton reminds me that Moses took over 40 years in the desert—a lot of solitude—during which God showed him his “deeper stuff”. Would Moses have become the leader we know him to be without those desert years? Will I be who God intends if I don’t get alone with Him?
I’m not suggesting a narcissistic it’s all-about-me-fest but I want to respect the deeper parts of me where God wants to work the same way I respect the ocean. I’d have to be a fool to turn my back again, right?
If it’s not already a habit for you, I invite you to join me in the discipline of solitude. Start small, 15-30 minutes each day of undistracted time with your eyes just on Jesus. Invite him to show you “deeper stuff”. May his overwhelming and abiding love carry through the waves as it has for me.
Ruth Haley Barton: Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership