In my work as a minister to children at our church, we use a particular approach to ministry which I personally believe is good for everyone—young and old. Let me introduce you to some of the big ideas embodied in this method. As you read these principles, I invite you to consider applying them as you tend to your own growth in faith and mission—or as you serve in nurturing the growth of others.
Everything takes two. We grow by relationship. There is “give-and-take” involved as well as “take-and-give”.
Our relationship with God is synergistic. God comes close to us and we can draw near to God.
Our relationship with others is synergistic. We exchange listening and speaking, expressing and contemplating.
The process of working-together is itself an impetus towards maturity. Our growth depends, then, on how we respond to what faces us and whether we embrace or marginalize those we encounter. Hence, the second principle…
There are habits (both internal and external) we can cultivate to put us in a state of “readiness” for genuine encounter. Some of these habits include:
It is impossible to encounter the fullness of another person, idea or object when our minds and hearts are preoccupied with other matters. This is why the psalmist wrote: “…give me an undivided heart.” To love another is to fully attend to them. God makes us the “apple of his eye”—that is, he (The Center) has chosen to make us the center upon which he fixes his attention and love. Sounds almost heretical, I know. But, it’s true!
The law of synergy above suggests that God does this so we may return the favor freely. So, God invites us to make him the apple of our eye by stilling our soul, putting to rest anything that would distract us from the object of our love. The same is true in human relationship.
“Be still and know…”
b. Preparing space.
The practice of stillness represents the preparation of internal space towards genuine encounter. Sometimes this internal shift leads to a rearrangement of the room around us. Sometimes, however, preparing external space is what helps create this internal space.
A big example: at the top of my street the city tore down an old library so they could build a new one. Why? So neighborhood residents could have a space more conducive to learning.
A small example: This morning, before reading my Bible, I lit a scented candle and put it on a table I could see. I did this so that, if my attention wandered, I would have a visual focus to lead me back to stillness again.
Keep in mind, however, that sometimes the preparation of space serves as no more than a distraction to genuine encounter. Sometimes we get so busy “preparing a space” that we have no time and energy left to engage in that for which we prepared the space in the first place! This is something only you can know for yourself. Strive for balance in this.
Keep in mind, also: preparing space involves getting your body ready for what is to come. You can put yourself in a “posture” of readiness. Kneeling in prayer sometimes helps me embrace a spirit of prayer. Sitting in a position that leans towards someone often helps me be a better listener.
That said, here are some questions you might consider: How do you prepare space? What kind of surroundings do you like to be in when meeting with a friend or having time with just you and God? When you meet with someone else or with God do you do so with a sense of “ready anticipation”?
c. Preparing time.
I am learning that if I do not take time to meet with God or with a friend (or even with my family), it will not happen. I have to set aside the time.
This is because, with each passing year, the world and its demands grow more and more complex. There are more people to keep in touch with, there are more possessions to steward, more books to read, more things to say. There is more, more, more.
Except time. That is the only thing I will never have more of.
So, it is up to me to steward the time well. This involves a critical choice. Will I take time for others? Will I take time to be with God?
But no sooner do I choose to “take time” than I become aware how counter-cultural it is to do so. It feels strange, this “setting aside of time”! It feels wasteful and slow. It feels inefficient and unproductive. It feels childish and I ask myself, “Is it really necessary to go this slow?”
In my work as a storyteller, I sometimes relate the story slowly and I find that we quickly become fidgety at such slowness—myself included! We incorporate silent moments into the story so we may have time to think or hear something we never heard before.
In almost every instance, we feel compelled to “speed it up, whydon’tchya?” Surely, we know this story already!
But, if we are going to meet with God and others we can only do so in time. So, take time. Set it aside and go slow. You’ll thank yourself.
The best way to get ready to listen is to be silent and wait. There is no short-cut for this; there are no other alternatives. We cannot listen and speak at the same time. To listen, we must shut our mouth and silence the words in our head—and listen.
But we have so much to say! Yes, this is true.
And that is our problem. For there is far more that we have to receive than what we have to give. We are not the be-all and end-all of it all, after all.
So, we still ourselves,
we prepare space,
we prepare time,
and we practice silence.
Now, we are ready.
3. Tell stories and wonder.
Stories are more complex than propositions—unless we can see the story behind the proposition! There is a story behind Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” In fact, there are many stories behind that command. The words invite us to live into the proposition. When we live into it, the proposition becomes a story—and in the story we encounter Truth—which is living, personal, and filled with beauty, mystery.
What’s more, there is no exhausting the Truth. We can learn all there is to learn about facts. I heard someone once who memorized the whole Gospel of Mark; he knew it word for word without error. But what impressed me more was that this man seemed to cherish the words he learned. There was a Person behind the words that he grew to love dearly.
That is the difference between true and Truth. Something may be true objectively but when we experience it first-hand (subjectively) it becomes Truth. Stories take true things and relate them to us in such a way that they become Truth. By engaging stories, we also have the chance to explore countless questions that arise. There is always something more to be discovered because our mind and heart cannot hold it all at one point in time. That is why stories are so crucial to one’s process of maturing. They provide occasion to wonder.
There is much more that could be said, but I suppose that is enough to chew on for now. Until later, I invite you to consider how you might appropriate some of these principles in your own life.
I hope this helps you in some way!