Several months ago, I told the pastor of my local church that I wanted to teach a series on “The Balanced Christian Life”. He rolled his eyes and said, “Please don’t call it that. Even though I know what you’re going to be talking about and it’s not that tired topic, that theme has been done to death and rarely applies to most of us. God grows us in so many different ways.”
He was right, of course, but what I was trying to put forward was the reality of our public and private lives. There is both a rhythm and necessary balance to our lives to move us toward wholeness or shalom. When Jesus came to earth to live, suffer, die and resurrect, the first 30 years of his life were “hidden” and are basically unknown to us. We know from a few mentions in Scripture that he was growing, learning, working, and interacting. In Luke 2:51-52, we read, “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them… And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Did those hidden years have value? Was he being prepared for an intensive three years of very public life? Of course he was. And, yes, those years had tremendous value.
So, what can we learn from Jesus about the value of balance between private and public time in our development, growth and fruitfulness as a follower of the Messiah? When we are living a hidden life we are more open to God’s Word and God’s voice. There is no doubt that Jesus enjoyed fellowship with his heavenly Father in times of quietness and solitude. And we may do the same. While I believe that the inner dialogue we enjoy with the Spirit of God in us knows no boundaries of time and place, my experience has taught me that sitting quietly in my office or on a park bench or kneeling by a chair produce times of rich communication and peace in the midst of chaos. Most of us live noisy lives and we have grown accustomed to praying while driving to work or crying out to God as we rush from one appointment to the next. You don’t have to read too far in the Gospel of Mark to see that Jesus was a man on the move. We can identify with him in that. But, even for the Chosen One of God, there were times when at the end of a busy day everyone went home, but Jesus went to a quiet place (John 8:1) like the Mount of Olives. And the next morning, Jesus was surrounded by people who wanted to hear him teach.
During his times of solitude, we know that Jesus spoke with his Father about how he felt, about his concerns and desires for close friends and family. We also know that Jesus discussed strategy and expressed his own fears. He expressed love and respect. I assume that we should speak the same way with our heavenly Father, with the Spirit and with our brother Jesus. [Every time I write that or say that I get caught up in the unbelievable beauty and grace of having Jesus as our brother. Wow.] So, there is an aspect of our lives that requires solitude and being hidden so that we can seek the healing of the Trinity, so that we can be covered with the protection and compassion of our Creator.
Personally, I believe this is so important that God will slow us down through suffering, through disappointment, through circumstances or through tragedy. And even then, sometimes, we still don’t get it. My friends, ask God to slow you down. Ask him to repair your heart. It is the way of wholeness and shalom. And ask him for ears to hear and eyes to see. My friend Henri Nouwen said, “In hiddenness, we do not receive human acclamation, admiration, support or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our sorrows and joys and trust that God will give us what we most need.
There is also a time to be known. Now, I’m not just talking about living a public life and being in the mainstream of society. Certainly, we desire to be a good citizen and we may want to make a contribution to society. In essence, we also want to fulfill our role in God’s larger story. But, the being known that I’m speaking of has to do with being able to shed our false self or pose and being able to let a few trusted folks know who we really are and who we really desire to be. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the great value of being known by God and by some family and friends in a much deeper way.
Ever since I read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together some 25 years ago, I have longed to experience the kind of togetherness he described. And in the past few years, I’ve been privileged to taste that kind of togetherness through sharing some of my burdens with others. I’ve learned that suffering is a catalyst for community and that I miss out on rich fellowship when I chose to keep my story to myself.
The Apostles teach us to confess our sins to each other so that we can be healed and we are to bear one another’s burdens. But for most of us that seems like a mountain too high to climb. The risk of shame, the fear of pain and the anxiety of being misunderstood cut us off like an 18-wheeler changing lanes on I-75. Just when we were about to ease over—boom! We’re frozen and can’t speak.
Friends, there is more. There is more to life than we are experiencing today. Since the idea of a “bucket list” has become a popular metaphor for life’s greatest aspirations or fantastical experiences, add this to yours: Be known. Take the risk and trust a few friends with your pains and joys. Peace and freedom will follow.
Next time I’ll share another perspective on the balanced life: solitude, community and service.