My vantage point during our silent retreats is to have a “front row” seat watching what the Holy Spirit is doing in a variety of people’s lives. This is now my 8th year bringing students up to this retreat house, and presently we are in the midst of being snowed in(somewhere in the vicinity of 18 inches) at 6100 feet above sea level. It’s that heavy, wet snow that we often get during the two snowiest months for the Rocky Mountain region of March and April. Last year at this time, it was sunny and warm, and the students and myself spent most of our time outside reveling in the springtime warmth. Not this time around. We are more or less(for those intrepid enough to brave the snow) house-bound, and often left, as silence is wont to do, with ourselves and with God. Of course that was the purpose of the retreat, but often retreatants can find a myriad of ways(some quite creative I might add) to avoid a direct confrontation with the Holy Spirit just by involving themselves with outdoor activities.
During a retreat, I often describe the Holy Spirit’s activity as “movements.” When I’m here it seems that my eyes and ears are tuned for such movement as a person walking through a forest tunes his/her senses to catch any movement of a wild animal that might attack. In this case, it is often the movement of the Holy Spirit to “hijack” the participants’ agenda to get them(or me) to pay attention to something they have been avoiding for quite some time, and stands in the way of their(or my) relationship with Him.
During our evening debrief for the group, I said something(above) that apparently caught the attention of the students that were participating. In spite of the fact that a lot of what I say is not original or even mildly profound, I strive to capture what the mood or theme is as we are talking in the evening. It’s what I said last night that I want to try to expand and consider in this blog.
The mood of the conversation at the time was the frustration with feeling confused about what God wants from us in the face of two options. As often is the case with students (and with us no doubt) they were searching for the “right” option to take assuming that if they choose the “right” option then God would be pleased and they would be blessed. My comment, “Perhaps it is in the emptiness and desperation of confusion that God might be found” seemed to crackle into the conversation like a lightning bolt ruining a perfectly good picnic. The collected retreatants looked at me like they had been truly struck my lightning. I wasn’t sure at the time whether I should apologize for raining on the party, or just simply run for cover!
As western Christians, it seems to me that we often buy into the notion that any confusion that we might have must be resolved, and added to that demand, that we actually have the power to resolve the confusion. Therefore, confusion is intolerable, and betrays a lack of faith, or a lack of understanding in us and must be resolved with the utmost of speed. But, what if we are wrong? What if confusion is the point, and actually betrays that there is something we simply do not know. Granted, being the psychologist, I know that there is this tendency in us to demand consistency between what we believe and what we do — it’s referred to as cognitive dissonance. Yet, I find in myself this propensity to run from the confusion of not knowing something or some outcome because I have decided that I don’t want to trust God in the midst of that confusion, and figure out how to lean in on Him.
But, again, is resolving the confusion even the point? Could it be that by allowing the confusion to exist (not as if we can banish it with a mere flick of the wrist), we might actually find God there? Could it be that by living in the confusion we can grapple with what it is to be human (limited and finite as we are), and what it is to need God in it? Mind you, what I’m saying here isn’t God so that I can find a solution, but God just as He is, and me as I am, limited, confused, and in need. Of course, from a purely intellectual point of view, we could answer in the affirmative, theoretically. But, if we are going to be honest with what is really percolating in our hearts, the unequivocal answer, perhaps even the loud and demanding answer to those questions is: NO! I SIMPLY CAN’T RISK NOT KNOWING!
With this mindset comes the desperation I speak of. There is a growing desperation that seems to blossom in our hearts as the confusion begins to envelope us. It’s like the encroaching darkness as the sun goes down. First, there’s dusk and still an ability to see, but ever more profoundly the darkness surrounds and envelopes us to the point where we are reaching for our flashlights. Isn’t that just what we do with confusion when it strikes? I get more and more demanding with my trusty flashlight in hand that an answer is forthcoming. Yet, there is no immediately forthcoming answer, so in addition to our flashlight, we add our voice (“There must be something wrong, I hate this confusion and I must get an answer!) to our search trying to get the answer we so desperately desire.
So, what’s the alternative you ask? Surely there’s some formula or some strategy that can be used to resolve this dilemma. Of course, a statement like this betrays us because we have just entered another “room” with our flashlight… This time it’s the room of strategies and formulae! The problem with what we do with confusion starts with our fundamental rejection of the predicament we find ourselves in. That predicament is the problem of being human. It is remarkably easy to forget that we can’t know everything, and we can’t solve everything, and sooner or later we will come to the end of the questions, only to be faced with a choice — accept that I’m human and in need of an Abba to comfort me and walk with me through this confusion. Or, reject that I’m human and embark on a journey of anxiety and anguish pursuing the creation of an appearance of self-sufficiency and impenetrable competency.
Now, I’m not naive enough to think that as you read that last paragraph, that the thought didn’t occur to you, “Really? I’m reminded everyday that I’m human and limited, that’s exactly why I pursue the strategies I do to keep confusion to a minimum!” While that may be true, there are different levels of acceptance of the reality of our predicament. Predicaments are not a matter of resolution. Predicaments are a matter of learning to live with them. Realize that “learning to live with them” is not a celebratory, enthusiastic, “Yay, I’m excited to be human!” with a distinct hint of sarcasm and snarkiness added in. We will always live in and out of the acceptance of our limits. I accept that that is part of the predicament. Confusion is one of those states, though, that runs us headlong into this predicament, and forces again the decision of either I’m going to accept it first, then walk my way through it without shame, expectation or guilt (for being confused) with Christ and those safe people in my life who reflect Him to me. Or, I’m going to reject the predicament of being human, and seek to conquer and destroy the state of confusion I’m in.
As the animals in Narnia were prone to say, “Aslan’s on the move.” I get to say the same thing… God’s on the move here in Sedalia, Colorado, and I’m privileged beyond words to get to see what He has next for this group of companions who share the journey into His heart and the landscape of their own! More to come…