Knowing that God is everywhere and involved in all that we do as educators, what does it mean to “create space for God,” and why is that necessary or even important? God does not need space, he occupies all of it.
Often, however, we tend to live in ways that do not allow God to occupy much space in our lives. He gets crowded out by all sorts of things. These are mainly good things—things that are in response to his call to exercise dominion over his creation, to execute justice and mercy, to respond to brokenness by attempting to bring healing, to worship, to create, to do all manner of good things. And while some of the things we do to occupy our time are not always so good and worthy, for the most part, we, as Christian educators, are doing things that we intend for the good of our students and their future.
The 70 or 80-hour work week is all too normal. The manifold demands upon us are endless. The needs are often overwhelming. Our own expectations are seldom ever satisfied. And because we are committed, sacrificial, and capable of much, we will most frequently strive to give more, to do more, to work harder (and smarter), even to the point of exhaustion at times.
And as much as we evangelical types speak of the need for a personal relationship with God, the truth is that our relationship is rather anemic. Undernourished. Disappointing. We speak of knowing God and relying upon God, but we secretly might have to admit that is more a matter of words than experience. Truth is, we are running on fumes, and God is a distant provider and watchkeeper for whom we are grateful but not intimately involved with us. We ask him for many things and are grateful when he responds as we had hoped. But we do not have time for intimacy. We may actually be frightened of it. Such begins the road to weariness, to a slow, debilitating existence, more like death than life—not a flourishing that produces baskets of fruit.
Many years ago, Henri Nouwen wrote a piece entitled Moving from Solitude to Community to Ministry. it can be found on the internet in a number of places and was reprinted in the Leadership Journal in the spring of 1995. He has great words of wisdom for us as we seek to give ourselves to the King, the work of his Kingdom, and to his children that occupy our classrooms. I will confine my comments here primarily to the solitude dimension.
Nouwen says that often in ministry, he would strive very hard to do things on his own. If that did not work, he would seek others out to help him accomplish his goals. And if that did not work, maybe he would start praying.
But in Jesus’ life, the order is different. He refers to Luke 6:12-19 which reveals a time when Jesus spent the whole night in prayer, then met up with his small group of disciples in the morning, and finally went out with them to minister to the crowds in the afternoon—moving from solitude to community, to ministry.
While it may take some sanctified imagination to consider what happened during that whole night of prayer, it is not too hard to assume that it probably did not consist only of Jesus asking his Father for things. There had to be real conversation, back and forth, sharing of many thoughts and feelings, and maybe most of all the Father reminding Jesus of just who he was— his beloved Son, in whom he took great delight. With all the voices Jesus heard trying to make him into what they wanted him to be, with the voices that wanted to reject and condemn him, with a myriad of voices like we cannot imagine, I am quite sure that the Father spent considerable time reminding Jesus who he really was—his beloved Son. His love for Jesus did not depend upon what Jesus was doing, it was dependent upon who he was. That definitely must have preceded any discussion about what his Father wanted him to do next.
Surely these were times of great intimacy between Father and Son, and they seemed to provide not only the direction of the next part of Jesus’ activity but also provided the grounding, the rest, the energy, all things he needed in order to keep going. And it also provided the Father the opportunity to shower his love upon him! Jesus’ solitude with the Father gave him the opportunity to breathe life from the intimacy of his Father’s love. He then was able to move out into community and ministry (topics worthy of their own attention in another time and place).
Solitude and the silence from the cacophony of noise that bombards us daily—become a major source of our path toward intimacy with God, just as they did for Jesus. Going deeper with God is a prerequisite to going deeper with anyone or anything else. Christian Deeper Learning that takes students out of the textbooks and intellectual gymnastics and engages them in making a difference in the world—into writing their own part of God’s big story—may just require that teachers and students alike be given the challenge and opportunity to create enough space for God in their lives to foster the intimacy that God desires and we so desperately need.
What if the school calendar was structured to give teachers a space to be with God—for more than just a few minutes? What if the school day included time for students and teachers alike to reflect on what had been studied that day? What if a period of silence was incorporated into the classroom activity each day? What if students were given a place on an exam to write or talk about what they feel God has said to them about their learning and life during the time they were given to talk with him about it?
And what if those who plan to attend the CDL6 conference in March 2023 were to:
• take a day of solitude to meet with God as they begin the conference,
• move then into the community of fellow sojourners learning more about Deeper Learning during the conference, and finally
• go back to their schools to engage in their God-given ministry as educators?
What might the space they create to be with God do for their work with God? Sounds something like the Jesus pattern, does it not?