A quiet voice in the tumult (29/10/12)
We have just started the final week in my Spiritual Formation class at Moffat where we bring it all together…after discussing the classical spiritual exercises (fasting, solitude, daily office, etc) and the Biblical vision behind spiritual formation, we go back in time 1,500 years to study Benedict of Nursia, and the “Rule” of life he and his monks implemented as a conscious plan to keep God at the center of all that they did. A plan which helped keep a balance for these hard-working monks between contemplation (being with God) and activity (working with God).
This is hands-down my favorite part of the class…seriously, this Rule has had one of the most lasting and widespread spiritual influences on all denominations of the church for the last 1,500 years. After discussing the Benedictine Rule, these future leaders in the African church then consider what their own personal Rule might look like. Will they try to observe a weekly Sabbath, including no preaching or ministry for a 24 hour period? Will they build into their daily schedules time for solitude and prayer?
We divide the Rule into four categories–Prayer, Rest, Work/Activity, and Relationships–and spend a half day in prayer and retreat considering what activities and exercises they want to put in each. Exercises such as fasting, prayer, silence, solitude, care for their physical body, emotional health, family and community relationships.
Yes, it’s my favorite part…but I felt (again) like I was teaching myself this time around. And slightly fraudulent. We’ve been so busy in the last few months that there’s really not been much balance between contemplation and activity…it’s been almost entirely activity. Even teaching at Moffat has just been one more task to complete successfully, and I confess I haven’t felt fully ‘present’ to my students this term.
The last four weeks in particular have seen a lot of activity and change. Mardi was asked this last week to assume responsibilities as the Medical Director of the Hospital in late 2013; a senior management position that will see her transition from her current work (mostly 95% clinical and teaching time with patients and nurses and 5% management/leadership) to a different role after we return (95% management/leadership with 5% clinical/teaching). After a lot of prayer, thought, and seeking the wise counsel of some of our mentors, she said yes. She’ll have responsibility for all medical services including managing and supporting general surgery, specialty surgery, pediatrics, internal medicine, outpatients and emergency, dental and obstetrics.
I’ve been working to finalise a dental strategic plan with Edward, our head dentist, which will hopefully see East Africa’s first orthodontics residency program started here in Kijabe, so that we can start to provide full service care to children suffering from cleft lip and palate abnormalities. You see, there are a lot of programs like Smile Train and our own CURE Hospital which do corrective cleft/lip surgery at no cost, but the unpublicised and long-term need that these children have after the surgery is orthodontic and dental care to fix teeth and jaw issues that continue to lie underneath what appears to the casual observer to be a “fixed” smile. Edward has a heart for these children, and we’re hoping to care for these kids with compassionate orthodontic care.
Additionally, I’ve been working on applying for a USAID grant to fund some new housing for our medical trainees, and helping to develop some relationships between the Hospital and a few organisations in the United States that would need to partner with the Hospital on this grant. Then there’s my ongoing work on the Water Committee, with a key presentation scheduled for tomorrow that will hopefully take some more positive steps forward towards good stewardship and management of water here in Kijabe. And the Sanitation Project, Pediatrics Wing, and Palliative Care Building are just going gangbusters…you can’t walk more than 100 metres anywhere around the Hospital without hitting new construction.
You see…I have a lot on my mind.
So, Thursday night, 830p, class. We were discussing how to be intentional about planning time for relationships in a personal Rule (including things like a regular date night with your wife, ‘dating’ your kids, seeking reconciliation in a damaged relationship, etc). I had a lot of reasons to not read anything significant into John’s question:
“Mwalimu, how do you pursue restoration of a broken relationship with someone who isn’t interested in reconciliation?”
You see, I have a lot on my mind.
He wasn’t satisfied with my answer of “well, there are lots of ways, but the important thing is that you’ve recognised a desire to reconcile.” So he asked again.
“Yes, mwalimu, but how?”
I thought to myself, there’s no way I have time to give this question the attention it deserves. And I gave the same reply and moved on.
You see, I have a lot on my mind.
And then he asked a third time, later in the class.
And I sensed the Spirit gently nudging me, opening my eyes a bit wider: Andy, there is something deep going on in John’s life, and I’m a part of it…pay attention to him. And so I did. I gave him some undivided attention, recommended a book for him to read, and we discussed the first steps of seeking restoration of relationship.
I am grateful that in the midst of the everyday tumult of life, God is still leading, and isn’t terribly impressed or moved by human-initiated busyness. Pay attention. Sometimes the din around us is too loud to hear his quiet, unhurried voice…and we need to ruthlessly seek to maintain that balance of contemplation and activity in order to not lose our bearings. Sometimes the din is self-created, and we need to say ‘no’ to some things because our life is out of balance…
Because we encounter people like John regularly. And I am learning that whether or not we pay attention to them, and to what the Lord might be doing in their lives has eternal significance in a way I don’t really grasp in this life. I am also learning (and teaching my students!) that we cannot simply choose to pay attention to the Lord’s leading unless we have first done the hard work making sure that there is margin, space in our daily lives to discern his leading.
It IS hard work. It’s really, really difficult. But this hard work isn’t something that’s unique to the West or to Africa, to Benedict’s fifth-century monks or to us in 2012…it’s common. What is uncommon is when we recognise it, and submit our schedule, our activity, to the scrutiny of God’s leading and guidance.
**for more on developing your own personal Rule, see the excellent tools put out by Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.