Another year of seminary has begun. An encouraging text message from a friend the day I arrived, commending me to rest in the Lord’s love and enjoy the new and beautiful things He has for me in returning to New England, encapsulated for me the feeling I have of being received by the loving arms of Jesus to return to a place that I love with people that I love. It is good, albeit sometimes hard for me, to receive joyfully and childishly the good things the Lord gives. I am often certain that I do not deserve the grace of Jesus. I am fearful of strings attached, of conditions, of a love that is not strong enough to cast out all fear. But I return this semester, albeit battling those same temptations and demons, desirous of taking in those gifts, and taking in that Divine love.
This year, I’m being intentional in leaving myself a little bit more breathing room in my schedule. It will be a busy schedule, with a fellowship program and a class on the other side of town, as well as discerning and pursuing plans for after I graduate seminary (a PhD? Becoming a pastor? Something else entirely?) but it will be a little lighter than some previous semesters.
Breathing room makes me crazy nervous.
And that anxiety is why I know I need it.
Breathing room gives me space to let my internal struggles and insecurities wash over me. Breathing room gives me the space to realize that when I am not accomplishing something, I feel like a failure deep down. I claw and strive and stress over finding ways to fill every minute, to do something good and constructive, to convince myself and others that I am not the failure that I feel like. Ironically, the stress to fill that time often leads me into escaping that fear with objective time wasters – too much time online or simply hand-wringing.
‘Redeem the time,’ are words of doom to me.
I’m trying, already!
Time spent ‘doing things’ distracts me from the nothingness I feel apart from accomplishing. It gives me something to point to ‘I have worth, because I did, earned, graduated, published, etc.’ I constantly feel the weight of ‘you’re not accomplishing enough,’ ‘you’re wasting too much time.’ If I don’t accomplish enough, if I waste too much, my whole identity is in jeopardy.
I think many others know what I feel like. Our whole culture is one of ‘doers’ and ‘accomplishers,’ and who are deeply afraid of wasting time. Much is said of what our technology does to us, but what does our technology say about us? What is a culture that invents devices for two main purposes, media consumption or productivity, but one that is fearful of space and nothing and quiet and ‘waste.’ Demons hide in those places – demons we don’t like to face. This is why ancient practices of silence, and simplicity, are so needed. We neglect them because we know we need them desperately, and we are afraid of facing that fear – the fear that what the demons tell us is true, that we are nothing, we are worthless, we are irrevocably broken, we have no identity.
Breathing room will force me to come face to face with Jesus and say ‘I don’t know who I am without You.’ It will force me to stop running from being known and loved and affirmed and called, by Jesus. It will force me to face the fear I have of receiving His love. It will force me to give up idols I cling to, trying to fill holes and shape some substance out of the chaotic void I feel within. It will force me to say ‘I need You.’ It will force me to come to him as an innocent child, with nothing to bring Him but myself. It will allow me to love Him as my broken, unaccomplished, self, and receive the warm affirmation of a Father so proud of His little one, ready to dote me with gifts without strings or conditions or His own needs, without checking first that I have done enough, but solely for my own good and His delight in my fullness and freedom.
I won’t try to redeem the time this year. But, I’m thinking I may find, that once I am able to give up the time – I will find it redeemed by the one who has much better plans for it than I could ever come up with.
He cannot move away from us, for He is life. All of Him is love. Oh, if we men could have the same love toward Him, and approach Him as our only true friend! Alas, that is not how we come before Him. Instead, we are reserved, we approach Him with formality. When we pray, and when we do something good, we are altogether very formal. … He, in turn, wants us to be natural. When He came to dwell among us, He showed us the way to live: simply, humbly and meekly. We should approach Him just as He created us — as innocent children.
– Elder Thaddeus of Serbia