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Wide Open Spaces: Beyond Paint-by-Number Christianity by Jim Palmer



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Signposts: Daily Devotions

Written by Jim Palmer

Thursday, November 4

Be still and know that I am God.
—Psalm 46:10


Once while watching a documentary on St. Francis of Assisi, I found myself intrigued by what I was learning about the monastic life. I did some investigating and made arrangements for a weekend of solitude at a spiritual retreat center operated by nuns in the nearby mountains.

Free from the hustle and bustle of my frenetic everyday world, I was ready to kick back and refresh my soul in quietude. No television, cell phone, laptop or iPod; I was free from all distractions responsible for drowning out the voice of God within. How could I have missed the wonder of silence and solitude? This was one of the most glorious and peaceful experiences of my life.

It lasted about thirty minutes!!

With thirty-two hours left to go I began calculating; seven hours for
sleeping leaves twenty-five hours for?! This was going to be a long
weekend! Okay, now what? I wondered who won that Yankees,Red Sox game. Would Pam remember to mail those letters? Whatever happened to that runaway bride in New Jersey? I decided I wasn’t feeling so well. What if I have a medical emergency? How close is the nearest hospital? I couldn’t take it anymore!

The experience of being unplugged made me wonder if I’m carried along in life by illusions of a false self. My cell phone and computer make me feel like a somebody. After all, I am busy for a reason; I am needed, relevant, influential, and necessary. But the nothingness of that solitude was dreadful, and everything in me wanted to plug in something so that I could feel I am significant.

On the cliffs of St. Mary’s I discovered this large, empty hole inside I keep stuffing things in, even religious things, that don’t satisfy my soul. The sprawling wooded valley below stirred a longing for freedom. What would it mean to let go of all the things I’m clutching? Escaping the racket of the outer world, I had run headlong into the racket of my inner one.

Today, the desert image makes more sense, with its solitary, humbling and sometimes maddening sanctuary that brings you to the end of your distractions and dependencies and the beginning of your true self. Maybe God’s wisdom in his statement, “Be still and know that I am God” has to do with the fact that the stillness first helps us know ourselves. If you don’t know your true self, can you really know God?

Solitude has a way of melting away the layers and exposing the core of who we really are, revealing that place where true union with God is forged. Unplugged, I am a man who is broken, frantically searching for worth and identity, and terrified of failure and rejection. Of course, God already knows this, and knows that I need to recognize it in order to be free.

I’m no St. Francis, but a little of that cliff went with me. I’m more
aware these days of the Spirit leading me to quiet, lonely places where I face the compulsivity of my false self so my true self can be born. My cell phone and laptop can’t tell me who I am; only God can.

Thank you God that the peace, healing, and freedom you desire for me is available today. Amen.

These Signposts originally appeared on explorefaith in 2006.