"Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. ... Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter - the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the susbstance of the new self." - Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
I was pleased to have solitude this week. I have had very intermittent work over the past several months, and this week was no exception: The Doodle was at daycare for three days, and I was at home by myself. I love having the time to get things done, to meet with friends, to just think. The additional isolation of no internet meant I would be even more productive and self-aware, right? No blogs to read, no email to check, no celebrity foibles to laugh at - Susie Homemaker was in for her comeuppance. Dr. Phil, too.
Sure, I read a couple books, finished a couple knitting projects, had dinner on the table every night. I played with the Doodle, I learned how to knit two socks at the same time on one circular needle, I exercised regularly, I even wrote a note to a friend whom I've been meaning to write to for over a year.
In short, I did everything I could to avoid my solitude.
Nouwen predicts this - I ran away from solitude in an effort to deny my "naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken" real self, choosing instead to "restore my false self in all its vainglory."
I've been thinking a lot about my identity and where my value lies, especially as I've looked for a job and contemplated staying home full-time. The struggle between accepting (by the grace of God) my real self and assessing my value (or lack thereof) by my work, my family and my friends has been real and difficult over the past few weeks. So it kills me that I had three days at home by myself with nothing to do but consider my value as the Beloved of God, and I chose instead to mop the floor. Not that mopping the floor has no value (especially when it's done as seldom as it is at our house), but I know that what I need right now is to sit at Jesus' feet.
I ended my week dissatisfied. I have very little solitude to look forward to in the next few weeks, and I had cheated myself of some serious self-examination, which is the whole point of Lent. There was also the incessant temptation to hop on the net - What's the weather? What's our account balance? And for goodness' sake, how's the poor Sri Lankan cricket team holding up? I persevered this week, and I have hope that I will continue to do so, but as I wryly noted to myself, it's distressing to discover that merely eliminating the internet from my week is not enough to make me holy. What do you know?! I can't do it all by myself!
Of course, this is what Lent is all about - remembering that from dust we have come and to dust we shall return. Victory is not ours, but His - every victory. So I suppose it would be just as apt to say that while I am dissatisfied with my "performance" this week, I am thankful for a God that honors my meager efforts, that helped me find those flashes of solitude that did come up. Just as I am perfectly content with my daughter's efforts to put away the clean silverware from the dishwasher (even if it means the spoons are with the forks and the butter knives all face the wrong way), my Lord is content with my fumbling attempts to hear His calling and to spend more time with him. It is, after all, a process, and requires practice to get better at it.