When I Hung Out With Monks

What do you do when something you always believed was important actually goes against everything you’re wired for?

I’m studying for a Doctorate of Ministry in Spiritual Formation. Essentially, the degree is to become an expert in being with God, all so I may better teach others how to do the same. That’s it. A With-God Expert. A Professional Friend of God.

For the first three months of the semester, we’ve been assigned various readings covering different historical figures whose works relate to spiritual formation (Evagrius Ponticus, St. Theresa of Avila, Søren Kierkegaard, that kind of stuff). These three months of study culminate with a one-week intensive class at a monastery in southern Indiana called St. Meinrad’s.

I came into this week with plenty of expectations: Tons of new insights that’ll inform my spiritual formation department, new models to radically form congregants’ spirituality, rich theological discussion with classmates. It was suppose to be a week entirely devoted to professional development.

But it had not been that. Far from it. Everything about this week went against how I’m wired, flying in the face of all my expectations. Here’s how:

1. It was at a monastery in southern Indiana, nearly 12 hours away from my home in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

2. I had to spend a week away from my newlywed wife (literally, we got married on Saturday, March 23, had a 1-week staycation, and then I flew out the following Saturday).

3. Since we were at a monastery, all smart phones are turned off for the entire week. I have no contact with the outside world, no newsfeeds to scroll through, no YouTube videos to fill my life with noise, no snapchats to my gorgeous (newlywed!!!!) wife, and certainly no emails to make me feel busy, needed, and important.

4. Class lectures had not been as insightful with rich, theological education, but had rather been centering, prayer-filled, and contemplative, prone to go wherever the Spirit willed it.

5. We worshiped with monks 5 times a day. While it’s pretty cool to say I go to church with monks 5 times a day, it was a worship style with rituals and liturgies that are foreign to me.

6. This is perhaps the most frustrating of all: We were given so much time strictly for solitude, silence, and stillness. Nearly 8 hours of our schedule each day is for us to simply be with God….

Notice the irony here?

Experiencing the thing I’m studying to be an expert in is the very thing that goes against everything with how I’m wired.

I’ve always believed we need to spend time with God—to get to know him and be still and read his word and pray, all through life-giving rhythms and habits. But when the entirety of our days are filled with an infinity of crowds, noise, and busyness, legitimately being with God—the God of all creation—becomes an intrusion.

There was absolutely nothing “productive” about this week. I hadn’t been given any models for new ministry, rich insights to transform our spiritual formation department, scratched my itch to talk deep theology near as much I intended. Yet I was so quick to deem this week as a waste of time because it was mostly devoted to actually—

Be.

With.

God.

And I’m a pastor, mind you.

I have so many agendas—so many needs I feel like I have to meet—that to come away for an entire week from my wife, my home, my job, my congregants, my teams, all so I can spend a week of uninterrupted time with God—and not count it as vacation—seemed so counterproductive.

It’s not until you recognize time with God as counterproductive that you can recognize just how off your priorities are.

We have no idea how many things that seem so vastly important to us actually get in the way of our friendship with God until we’re completely stripped of all of them—especially the things we don’t want to let go of. We can be in “solitude,” but we do so in a coffeeshop. We can be in “silence,” until our minds make noise for us. We can be in “stillness,” but our Apple Watch still notifies us.

To be with God at greater depths, you must be stripped of what’s most important. How can we be fully present with our great Divine Friend if we don’t eliminate the things that distract us? If it doesn’t feel counterproductive at first, then you’re probably doing it wrong.

5 comments

  • As I read this, I immediately feel as though my generation has failed you. When I was growing up, Sunday was a sacred day; or at least a day that no one went to a restaurant or store. Many states had laws restricting what you could purchase on Sunday, and most businesses simply closed. My generation created a big box, get it any time you want it culture. This has resulted in many people never having any solitude. I fear that there is no correction.

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  • I was on staff for 6 years at our denomination’s largest megachurch. Once a month, we had a staff meeting that lasted for several hours. I am a doer, not a sitter. Sitting in that meeting, my brain was going a million miles an hour, thinking of all the things I needed to do that day. It was frustrating to be taken away from my work for what I considered to be unproductive time. After a few months, I began to realize that I was getting poured into during that time in a way that helped me to pour myself out to others. If I didn’t stop and get filled up every once in a while, I would have nothing to offer others. It so hard for those of us who want to do God’s work to stop working so that he can do a work in us.

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  • Pleased to share this with other lovers of St. Teresa on the Carmelite Quotes blog, Elijah’ s Breeze. Great post! You are knocking on the door of the Interior Castle.

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  • I needed this reminder, especially in this season I’m in. Thank you for sharing. I’ve read other posts, and you’ve helped me take next steps.

    Keep it up!

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