We’ve all been there…sitting at the crème de la crème of Christian leadership conferences having just heard from the 10th keynote speaker. In a breakout group, we are asked to respond to the message by sharing our course of action (AKA “Now having heard this, what are we going to do?”) We begin to feel the tension between our wanting to actually care and already feeling the weight of having too much to care about. We also sense some feelings of being overwhelmed, rushed, hurried and pressured that surface but we push those back. Surely, the Christian thing to do here is to get involved, right? So we reluctantly sign up. Even though we are now fully committed, an internal consternation that remains whispers, “Am I taking too much on?”
Don’t get us wrong. We advocate for service of all kinds but there is a growing phenomenon in our Christian culture today that drives us to losing our closest relationships and our souls in the midst of so much involvement. What if there was more permission in Christian evangelical culture to “do less” and “savor more”? When did involvement become how we measure spiritual progress? Maybe we equate involvement with Kingdom advancement. Sadly, it seems as though involvement, frenetic activity, busyness and action equate to spiritual growth and maturity.
What if “UNinvolvement” was just as much a celebrated part of building God’s kingdom? Could you envision the best thing that you possibly could do for your church was to say “no” to involvement? Your absence could preach volumes. Even the prolific author on the spiritual life, Henri Nouwen, reiterated the ministry of absence. “When our absence from people means a special presence to God, then that absence becomes a sustaining absence.”
What if you walked walked away from a Christian conference or church service with an invitation to “abide” rather than to “get involved”?
Dallas Willard hits the nail on the head in regards to our involvement for God when he writes, “The greatest enemy of intimacy with God is service to God.” In a recent interview with Billy Graham, he shares a handful of regrets about his own involvement in Christian service.
“When I look back over the schedule I kept thirty or forty years ago, I am staggered by all the things we did and the engagements we kept. Sometimes we flitted from one part of the country to another, even from one continent to another, in the course of only a few days. Were all those engagements necessary? Was I as discerning as I might have been about which ones to take and which to turn down? I doubt it. Every day I was absent from my family is gone forever. Although much of that travel was necessary, some of it was not.”
The wisdom that we hear surfacing from both Dallas and Billy can be summarized in two words; abide and savor. Abiding and savoring require being less involved. By no means are we saying to NOT get involved but we are advocating for prayer and discernment before following the cultural norm to jump the gun, say yes and sign up. We are reminded by the prophet Isaiah that “repentance and rest is our salvation, and quietness and trust is our strength.” (Isaiah 30:15) Notice that scripture does not say “in repentance and involvement” or “busyness and trust.”
A year or so before Dallas Willard died, we invited him to facilitate a SoulCare retreat for our organization. Our request was generously met with a very clear statement from Dallas’ assistant that he had elected to surround himself with a few close friends and family members to better help him prayerfully discern his travel schedule and speaking engagements.
A few weeks later we received the most gracious “no.” It was gracious in that they articulated having heard of our organization and expressed grateful support of what our we offer the hearts of leaders. She went on to share that after a few times of prayerful discernment together they had decided to say “no” to our request in order to protect Dallas. Many people might look at this “no” as foolish to turn down an opportunity for money, contacts, notoriety, free travel or book sales. From our perspective, this “no” was an advancement of the Kingdom in our lives and gave us permission to explore discerning our own UNinvolvement in building God’s kingdom. Here we are witnessing two seasoned followers of Jesus finishing well with a call to less involvement.
We are all fascinated and curious when listening to someone who is right at the end of their life. Our questions for them typically have a certain bent like “What are some of your favorite memories?” or “What do you wish you had done?” or “What do you regret?”
Listen to what another image bearer has to say as she reflects on how she would have lived differently. Nadine Stair writes,
“If I had my life to live over, I’d dare to make more mistakes next time. I’d relax, I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would climb more mountains and swim more rivers. I would eat more ice cream and less beans. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I’d have fewer imaginary ones. You see, I’m one of those people who lived sensibly and sanely, hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I’ve had my moments, and if I had to do it over again, I’d have more of them. In fact, I’d try to have nothing else. Just moments, one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day. I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall. I would go to more dances. I would ride more merry-go-rounds. I would pick more daisies.”
So the next time you are being invited, pressured or asked to get involved, we might encourage you to pause and consider the wisdom of Dallas, Billy and Nadine…travel less, stay home more, say “yes” less and when you travel, travel lightly.
Thought to Consider:
“God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction.”
Meister Eckhart (1260-1329) Dominican priest and theologian
Where in your life are being invited to abide and savor?