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The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
July 26, 2011
Where Inner and Outer Intersect
“What is God doing in my life?”
Most of us want to know the answer to this question, but often our busy lives get in the way. Parker Palmer, author of The Active Life and Let My Life Speak, teaches that it is possible to be deeply connected with God in the midst of our busyness.
“Over the years, I have felt called to help people explore the connection between our inner and outer lives, which I call life on the Möbius Strip,” remarks Palmer. “The Möbius Strip is a perplexing object as what seems to be the outside surface of the Möbius Strip is actually the inside- and vice versa. Contrary to the idea that our spiritual and day-to-day lives are separate from one another, the message of the Möbius Strip is that there is no separation.”
Jesus himself taught about the connection between our inner and outer lives:
“If you do not judge others, then you will not be judged. If you do not find others guilty, then you will not be found guilty. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you.” (Luke 6:37-38a)
In order to learn more about this connection, Palmer says that reflection and contemplation are necessary.
“Contemplation must be partly done in prayer, journaling, and silence,” remarks Palmer. “It is equally important to reflect out loud with your community – a community who will not try to fix or save you, but instead asks good questions, which will help you discover more about God and yourself.”
Other times, contemplation must happen despite how busy we might feel and even when it feels counterintuitive.
“Take, for example, the situation before Jesus fed the 5000: Jesus’ disciples returned from preaching, healing, and casting out demons and most likely wanted to share with Jesus all that they had experienced. But Jesus did something counterintuitive. He told his disciples: ‘Come away with me to a quiet place and rest a while.’ If we had been the disciples, we probably would have wanted to plan how to regroup and then go do more the next day!” says Palmer.
Contemplation is not only more necessary than we might think, it can take many forms. Periods of failure, sadness, and discouragement are powerful forces that can drive one to contemplate.
“Usually, when I succeed at something, I don’t much think about it,” says Palmer. “I mainly pat myself on the back and think that I’m pretty cool. But when I fail, I have to reflect on what led to this failure? And what might God be trying to communicate to me through this failure? And what truths can I hold onto as a result of this failure?”
Burnout is also another opportunity for contemplation. According to Palmer, burnout happens when we try to give what we don’t possess.
“Take an apple tree, for example,” says Palmer. “An apple tree was created to produce apples. And after it does, it regenerates, and then produces more apples. Giving ispart of the cycle of growth and regeneration for apple trees – the same is true with us.”
When burnout happens, we should ask ourselves these questions:
- Do I know what my gifts are?
- Is there a way to offer my gifts to the world that stimulates more growth?
- Am I overreaching myself and being somebody that I’m not?
- Am I trying to give something I can’t?
“The world has millions of needs, and each of us has been created different to meet those individual needs,” says Palmer. “Unfortunately, we tend to try and address the millions of needs…and six months later, we want to escape.”
“What if instead, we had a deep sense of who we are and what our gifts are, and approached the world with that compass in hand? We would probably end up serving in one or two places versus a hundred. We also most likely would approach the world with a deep sense of: ‘This is where I belong.’ ‘This is where I can feed and be fed.’ ‘This is what makes my heart sing.’”
In the end, contemplation helps us experience more freedom, joy, and it helps us make more life-giving decisions.
“I love Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation or calling,” says Palmer. “He defines vocation as that place ‘where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” Could you imagine what the world would look like if we as Christians knew ourselves and God so well, so that our deep gladness met the world’s deep needs?
Our world would look drastically different.
Amy Hauptman is an InterVarsity Campus Leader at Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno, NV, and a part-time Campus Staff Member at the University of Nevada, Reno. She graduated from UC Davis in 2006 with a BA in Comparative Literature. She has a heart for the ‘towns’ and ‘villages’ of college ministry (the junior and community colleges). She would also say that the three driving forces in her life, besides her love for coffee, are to see, learn and enjoy as much as possible.