"You're All Caught Up"
If you’re an Instagram user, you know this phrase. Its when you’ve seen the stories and scrolled all the new posts in your feed. You’re all caught up on the new content. That's what my phone told me as I sat in an oddly shaped club chair alone on the lower level of a multi-hall convention center in Montpellier, France.
BioEM 2019, a bio-electric magnetic conference, was taking place and my wife, Alanna, would soon be delivering a talk I wanted to hear. Not a registered guest, I hid in the basement until it would be time to sneak into the hall where she’d be talking.
I had finished reading my book a little earlier, looked at the all the recently posted boats on craigslist, texted anyone who might be awake on the other side of the world, checked email, and finally scrolled through all the instagram posts available. I was “all caught up.”
The next option: Spend some time in silence and solitude or sneak into a lecture on the effect of exposure to 900MHz radio frequency on the MEG alpha band activity at Rest.
Why is it so hard for us to sit and do nothing? To be silent. Not listening to music, podcasts, the radio. To not view or take in any content? Why is it so difficult to simply be alone with ourselves?
Ruth Haley Barton, in Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership says that we resist solitude at all costs “because of the anxiety that comes when we pull ourselves away from all that we have allowed to define us externally.” In other words, we resist being alone with ourselves because for many of us we simply don’t know or have forgotten who we are apart from our external definitions.
External definitions often revolve around what we do. For example, I’m a pastor. But who am I if I’m not preaching, discipling, counseling, consoling, coaching, helping, and teaching others? If we can separate our identity from our work, it often will locate itself externally in a relationship with someone. I’m a husband, brother, son, friend. But those aren’t necessarily who I am, they only exist in so far as the person I’m relating too exists. What does it mean to be me? Who are you when you stop defining yourself externally? Who are you internally? And, why are you dead set on not ever being silently alone with that person?
A recent class of college students were challenged by their professor to leave their phones in their dorm room and go outside and walk around alone for four hours. Some students reported feeling phantom vibrations in their pockets, causing them to reach for what was not there. Others reported panic attack like symptoms within 2 hours. Now that sounds extreme, but there’s something tremendously important here. If you never slow down, unplug, and spend time alone with who you are, it will cause you problems. In fact, its causing us all problems.
Flannery O’Conner, an author from the early 20th century, once said that “the first product of self-knowledge is humility.” I think one of the big reasons we don’t want to spend time alone with ourselves is that we’re afraid we might not like what we find. People who knows themselves well, spends time alone with themselves, are keenly aware of their flaws and inner darkness. Being aware of your own shortcomings produces humility. The fact that we as a society rarely spend time in silence and solitude, but rather get “all caught up,” breeds a massive lack of humility, and therefore tremendous interpersonal conflict.
If I cannot imagine how people could think, speak, or behave the way that they do, and I’m appalled, then that’s a problem. It reveals a lack of self-awareness of my own faults, failures, and shortcomings —a lack of awareness of my own unresolved anger, life-long wounds, and the various factors that make me who who I am (apart from what I do.) But if we spend honest silent time alone with ourselves, its likely we will be confronted with ourselves. And that confrontation ought to produce humility.
If you’re a Jesus follower the news is even better than that.
If you’re a Jesus follower you don’t have to find your identity in what you do, but you can find it in what God says you are and believe me—He knows you. The real you. The apostle Paul puts it this way in a letter he wrote to a group of Christians living in first century Ephesus. He says,
“you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (pretty honest)
“but because of God’s great love for you shown in Christ, he saved you” (he thought you were worth dying for)
“we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (See, that's where we go wrong. That's where I go wrong. I thought God (and others) loved me for the good works I do. God doesn’t love you for you good works. God loves you because your his handiwork. His craft. He loves you for who you are—because he made you, and saved you.)
And that my friends, should humble us. It humbles me. Because I know me. I know the real me: the selfish, greedy, lusting, insecure, prideful, and busy, me.
And the more time I spend alone with myself, in silence and solitude, confronted with myself while reflecting on God’s surpassing love for me, the more it changes the way I see people. If I’m loved and shown grace despite my brokenness, then that self-awareness should lead to a humble and gracious posture towards others.
I wonder what happen if more people sat in silence and solitude a little more often. What if Jesus’ followers, the Church, led the way in unplugging every now and then to be confronted with themselves? How might it change us? How might humble self-awareness change our families? Our schools? Our communities? Our politics? How might it change your contentious relationships?
Go ahead. Unplug. Someone wise once said, “Most things will work when you unplug them for a while and plug them back in. Including us.”
Find a room, a chair, a quiet place of some kind.
Sit in silence for more than 15 minutes.
Ask yourself “Who am I when I’m not performing?”
Ask yourself “What do I love?” “Loathe?"
Invite God to open your eyes to the dead places in your life, and to bring his healing life.
My guess is that when we start making this silence and solitude a regular habit we’ll find ourselves feeling “all caught up” on what matters most: character, spirit, and soul.
Comment below, letting us know where, or how, you make space for silence and solitude.