“[I]T seems of great importance to know with an experiential knowledge the difference between an action that is triggered by a change in the surrounding scene and an action that has ripened in our hearts through careful listening to the world in which we live. . . . In solitude we can pay careful attention to the world and search for an honest response.”
I did it again today. I discovered myself in a situation where I was annoyed and I spoke words that were very judgmental. I don’t often do that to a person’s face but if they can’t hear me I feel free to say whatever. Of course, what difference does it make? I suppose the person I’m demeaning won’t hear what I said and they will go away no different than they were before they annoyed me. But the real question should be, “Will I go away any different?” I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be a judgmental person who is constantly focused on the faults of others without understanding them or where they come from.
I think some people are naturally easy going and don’t gripe so much when the traffic slows down around them or some driver does some bone-headed maneuver or a person gets upset and treats them unfairly. Some people are very forgiving and easily move on after a negative event. I’m not that person but I am trying to be. I think it’s a godly characteristic worth striving for. I don’t want to be the doormat of the world and I don’t think that’s what God is calling for. Even an easy-going and forgiving sort of person can know when it’s time to get riled up and call for change.
The big question is this, “How do I become the person God wants me to be?” How do I become a person who is no longer just reactionary in nature but rather a person who acts carefully and lovingly out of a heart that has soaked in solitude with its Creator?
Nouwen is touching on one of those subjects I’d rather he just leave alone. Not because he’s wrong but because he’s completely right and I don’t want to change. Well, that’s not true, I do want to change but that desire is at the deepest levels of me where God speaks and changes me. On my more sinful surface I find that this kind of change is difficult and undesirable. My anger empowers me. It makes me feel in command. It gives me the sense that I’m better than whatever just happened to me. It allows me to win in a competition that I can’t lose – unless I take the time to listen to God first. Therein lays the rub.
So often we go through life merely responding to the events that occur. We are reactionary. Our actions and responses are not carefully thought out, rather they are hasty and often wrong on some or all levels. I picture the world, sometimes, as a pinball game where the balls are violently bouncing around until no one is able to keep them in play anymore. But is that what God calls us to? Is that the life we must live? Is there another choice?
Nouwen says there is another choice. We could learn how to live from solitude of heart. We can be at peace deep down inside so that we can respond to the world in peace. We can be changed deep inside our hearts so that we can act with new instincts when the time comes. In this way, heart-solitude is the vehicle that drives us to pure actions, actions based on purity of intention rather than a sinful and emotionally-driven response based on how the world thinks, acts and reacts.
I’ve got a lot of work to do and I’m willing to guess that you do to.