Tuesday, April 12, 2011

michael scott & the spiritual wilderness

I've been re-reading The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. (A must read!) In the first section of this book he explores the discipline of solitude. He comments that many of us see solitude as a time and space separated for rejuvenation. Spa time. Therapy. Rest time. Me time. But actually the discipline of solitude isn't this at all. Experiencing solitude means being completely vulnerable. It means being without comfort, support, distractions, busyness. And Nouwen adds...

It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something.

It is in solitude that we are confronted with the hidden and neglected pockets of our souls. The areas we work so hard to avoid. I think many of us neglect this discipline because it often brings us to a very undesirable place...the wilderness. There is an episode of The Office in which Michael Scott, the quirky insecure manager of a paper supply company, is determined to spend a couple days in the wilderness after discovering that several guys from the office went on a camping trip and neglected to invite him. So, Michael sets out on a trip of his own, Man vs. Wild style, to prove to his peers that he doesn't need them.

After arriving, he attempts an assortment of "wilderness" activities. He uses his pant legs to fashion a hat and build a tent, his suit jacket to make a backpack of some sort, and searches for nourishment...only to eat poisonous mushrooms. At this, he gives up after only a couple hours. He ends up back at the office and tells the camera he doesn't need the wilderness. He has everything he needs right there....a wood desk, fresh air from AC, wide open spaces on his desktop picture of the grand canyon. He says that "man became civilized for a reason...he didn't want to struggle to survive." If you are a frequent viewer of The Office you know two important facts about Michael Scott (which this episode perfectly displays) - 1) his greatest fear is loneliness and 2) Dunder Mifflin is his home, where he feels a sense of belonging. So it is not a surprise that his wilderness venture fails. This humorous picture reveals some great truths. I think a lot of us are like Michael Scott. When we enter the wilderness we are pressed to COPE. We look for shelter and protection, search for nourishment that might end up poisoning us, and if possible we find our way out and back to civilization and comfort as fast as we can. We don't want to struggle to survive. We run from loneliness and toward belonging.

My time in seminary and this past year, following graduation, has probably been the most difficult and darkest season in my spiritual life. In seminary I was faced with an overload of information about theology. Everyone and their mom has an opinion about every detail of theology and there are about a million ways to interpret Scripture. I felt completely overwhelmed and lost in the crowd of voices. I was faced with questions I had never considered. And Fuller did a pretty awesome thing (that was very frustrating at the time). They didn't provide a ton of answers. My professors taught us, gave us resources, posed the questions, but left it up to us to discover and learn (through an enormous amount of reading and writing). I thought I'd find answers in seminary! But in reality I left with more questions.

Have you ever been there? Lots of questions and no answers? This is not an easy place to be. It's scary, frustrating, and lonely. And I'm not sure I'm out of the wilderness yet. Sometimes I feel like this weightloss journey might be GOD LEADING ME OUT. It's amazing how much our physical lives intertwine with our spiritual ones. I think overeating and laziness has been a way I have coped in the wilderness. I didn't want to face my nothingness, the hidden and neglected pockets of my soul. My struggles, fears, questions. I wanted to find that protection, comfort, and nourishment. Eating became something I could depend on. Three times a day I have to eat. When I eat I get to be occupied with that activity. I don't have to do anything else. I don't have to answer any questions, face my fears, make plans, stress about the unknown. I just get to sit and eat. It's an escape. So, why not make the most of that...and eat more. But this pursuit for nourishment wasn't nourishment at all - it was poisonous.

For the past three months I've been paying more attention to how I feel as I eat. Am I eating because I'm hungry or because I feel lost? And if it's not because I'm hungry then what do I need to work through? What am I avoiding? I think one of the most important things I took away from seminary is the value of asking meaningful questions. Sometimes it stinks. I KNOW. But questions move us into the deeper hidden places of our hearts and minds. So I leave you with a few...

What are you avoiding?

What do you depend on?

When is the last time you spent some serious time in solitude, not at the spa or by taking a nap,

but uninterrupted, facing your nothingness kind of solitude?

What questions do you need to ask yourself?

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