I’ve thought a lot about successful spiritual formation in the midst of of surviving parenthood. Last week I acknowledged the value of escaping to some far-off mountain to be with God, but immediately recoil at the very thought of fitting long periods of quiet into my often chaotic life. You can catch up on the first part of the post HERE.
But, then I take a look at the life of Jesus. Would anyone dare describe his life by using words like tranquil, quiet, silent, or solitude? In the book of Mark, one of the first items on Jesus’ ministry agenda was designating twelve disciples. Could you imagine going on a long and stressful road trip with twelve strangers from different walks of life? First off, there were two sets of brothers on the trip (and we know that brothers never argue). The group was a nice mix of smelly fishermen and hated tax collectors- good luck finding tranquility with that group!
Then Jesus began a ministry of preaching and healing the sick. Quickly crowds gathered and grew and followed Jesus and his disciples wherever He went. In fact the word “crowd” is used 127 times in the four gospels. Wild crowds of needy people were a constant reality for Jesus. For example, after a long day of preaching and ministering it says, “At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them (Luke 4:40). Or, another time a large crowd had gathered to hear him preach and be healed from their diseases. Scripture reads, “the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all” (Luke 6:19).
This had to be exhausting and messy work. Could you imagine the people pushing towards Jesus and showing him some nasty-looking rash while yelling, “I’m not sure if this is infected or infectious, but could you heal it- it’s itching like crazy!” Jesus would then touch and heal as many people as he possibly could. Living in Cleveland I’ve had many friends who’ve worked for the Cleveland Clinic hospital. I’ve learned if you see some kind of stain on their hospital scrubs, don’t ask what caused it because you probably don’t want to know. Healing people is unappetizing and messy work.
But, this is why Jesus came- to be with sick people and heal them. After the religious leaders got upset that Jesus was eating with “sinners”, Jesus told them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17). This messy work was not an anomaly, but the daily routine of Jesus. Not only was it his routine, but Jesus was called to the chaos.
As he was trying to explain to his confused disciples who he was and why he came, Jesus explained, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.” (John 6:38). God’s will was evidently for Jesus to be in the midst of the people, working in the chaos. If we were to ask, “Where was God”, during Jesus’ ministry the answer would be clear—God was in the chaos.
But, I feel our common view of God is that He waited in the quiet moments on the mountain for Jesus to come be with Him. God would then fill Jesus up, and then send Him back out into the world, like a spiritual pit stop in the race of life. This view only raises the question—where does God live- up on the mountain, in quiet, with clean white robes, or down amongst the people with who knows what staining his dusty, dirty robes?
If God’s at work amongst the chaos of the crowd, then why do we constantly fight to flee that chaos to truly be with God. The bulk of Jesus’ ministry was amongst the people and that’s where God was working and speaking and moving! Maybe, by our constant desire to flee to a quiet place to hear from God, we’re actually missing his voice all together.
I suggest the necessity to add a new spiritual discipline to our spiritual toolkit. We need to first understand that God works and speaks and is present in the chaos of life. That’s good news because 90% of our days are filled with chaos, including people, jobs, deadlines, customers and kids. Then, each morning as our feet hit the floor and we take a deep breath, attempting to mentally prepare for the chaos we are about to endure, we should remember—God is in the chaos.
So, instead of fighting to flee these chaotic times, let us lean into the chaos of our life, ready to meet God there. Yes, God will meet us on the mountain, but He is also at work on our way to soccer practice. As we are hurrying to get to work, let us remember, “God is at work right here and right now.” When you’re struggling to catch up on e-mails while hurrying to prepare for a meeting that’s about to begin in five minutes remember, “God is at work- even here.”
Chaos reminds us that we are not in control. It forces us to give up the grand illusion that we have any control in life. It forces us to submit, while reminding us of our emptiness and need for help to get through- maybe even to get through the next moment. It brings us face to face with our ever-present need for God.
No, your soul may not feel serene as you walk the loud hallways of your high school, or are hurrying to make dinner before gymnastics. But, God’s presence in our life is not based on our feelings in general; more specifically our subjective feeling of serenity is not the only indication we have of his presence or nearness. I would imagine Jesus was not feeling very tranquil as a crowd of needy, sweaty, sick people tried to touch him. But, that is exactly where the presence of God was at work.
Practicing the spiritual discipline of chaos is about leaning into the chaos of our life, ready to meet God in the chaotic moment. It’s about being present, as opposed to always wanting to flee. It’s reminding ourselves that we are not in control and have a constant need for God’s help- especially in the chaos. And, it’s the reminder that the work of God is messy, but often in the midst of the chaos of life. I want to challenge you to practice the spiritual discipline of chaos this week. God is in the chaos.
I love this challenge in my life because it helps reframe my ability to succeed spiritually. Instead of having to wait until I have grey hair and my children are moved out of the house to have spiritual success, I realize that this portion of my life more mirrors the daily ministry of Jesus. I have the daily opportunity to meet Jesus in the chaos of my life. I can radically deepen my faith through my craziness, not in spite of it.
Balance: Practicing the discipline of chaos is helpful, but remember that life’s always a balance. Jesus ministered daily in the chaos, but he still did find moments to flee the crowd for rest and prayer. We can become unhealthy by overemphasizing quiet or chaos.