We lived in Washington, D. C. for fourteen years. We loved being with the companions in faith who were part of our lives. We were grateful for the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world who were in D.C. as part of their professional concerns or who came for short visits. We even made friends with some who served on Capitol Hill. One of the downsides of living in the nation’s capital is the intensity that is part of the lives of so many. I was often caught up in the life style of a city of self-important people. More than I like to remember, I found that as I was meeting with and “listening” to one person my mind was distracted by the next person I was scheduled to be with or by the list of things I had to get done that day – a list that never seemed to get shorter. I did not have space in my life for people.
How do we create more interior space in our lives so we can connect more deeply with people?” Henri Nouwen describes the desire to be that kind of person in these words:
Hospitality wants to offer friendship without binding the guest and freedom without leaving him alone. It means primarily the creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy.
Some thoughts that have helped me think about this
Space for God precedes space for people. We begin with a basic decision to put God first in our lives. Jesus is the one who welcomes people into the deepest part of our lives because this is where he dwells. James C. Fenhagen wrote:
“Ministry is Jesus Christ expressing his life through us. It is born, therefore, not in activity, but in solitude, where through the spirit we experience the power of life from within.”
To sit quietly before the Lord allows God to reorder our inner lives and our schedules in ways that bring healing to us and to those we are with. Thomas Merton certainly addresses the issue that I, and many others who are sincere followers of Jesus, face:
“To allow one’s self to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns; to surrender to too many demands; to commit one’s self to too many projects; to want to help everyone in everything is to succumb to violence. Frenzy destroys our inner capacity for peace.”
Often the turmoil that fills up our lives has its source in trying to earn approval from God and from people. This was certainly one of the factors that diminished space in my life for the people God was bringing to me. Carlo Carretto has expressed the fact of God’s love that I have gradually am accepting and enjoying.
“Jesus’ coming and his presence are not the result of our waiting or a prize for our efforts: they are his decision, based on his love freely poured out. His coming is bound to his promise, not to our works or virtue. God is thrust onward by his love, not attracted by our beauty. He comes even in moments when we have done everything wrong, when we have done nothing – when we have sinned.”
For me to know I am loved in this way is freeing me to receive and to love others.
Other Things that Have Helpful
- Jesus encourages us to discover that his yoke is easy and that his burden is light. When I find the burden is heavy or that the yoke does not fit there are one of two things wrong. The first is that I am picking up burdens and fitting into yokes which are not given to me by the Lord. The second is that I am not carrying the burden in the strength of Christ. Joshua chapters six and seven illustrate this well. Jericho fell because the people of Israel relied on God. Ai became a disaster because they thought they knew how to capture cities and did not need to check with the Lord. The failures when we trust our resources rather than God’s are staggering.
- In the matter of Jesus rearranging our commitments to people one of the things we will learn is the “blessing of absence.” Jesus told his followers that it was better for him to go away because then something better would happen for them. Jesus can often do better things for those we love when we get out of the way and let our absence enhance his presence. I am not nearly as important to others as I might think I am.
- There are two aspects of our thinking that need to be different if we are going to see God rearrange our interior lives so there is space for people in us. The first is to change our goal about our role as a friend. We are to know that our role is to “care, not cure.” As servants of God, we are called to care for people with the love that Christ has for us, but God does not give us the power to cure others. “Cure” belongs to God. When we are obsessed with curing the problems of people then is the time to hear the words of Jesus spoken to Martha: “You are worried and upset about many things.”
The second change in our thinking is to trust in our prayers for them. I have too often relied on my efforts and talents. Asking Jesus to work in the lives of the people God brings to us is the most powerful and most humbling thing we can do – powerful because the creator of the universe is helping one of his creation. Humbling because there is no way that we get the credit. When I let go of the need to get credit, the frenzy subsides and there is space in my life for the ones to whom God directs me.
When I am at peace others can be at peace in the space in my life and however God wants to use this quiet safe place for them can unfold.