This post is mostly for the external processors and the extroverts, I think. But I would love it if it has some purchase for other kinds of folks too. We need to have an inner life to be fully ourselves, and there are all kinds of ways to skip across the surface of life. Fortunately, I think there are all kinds of ways to get down below the surface, too.
Introspection, imagination, spiritual awareness — we have these capacities as human beings — but there are lots of reasons to avoid these places inside us. Pain lives down their too, with trauma, anxiety, heartache, memories we wish we didn’t have. Below the surface is not exactly safe, but if we never go down there, we will never develop essential parts of who we are, and we never get the chance to be freed from all those burdens. An inner life is an essential part of a whole and healed life.
Jesus obviously had an inner life. He was always going away to be by himself. After he was baptized in the Jordan by John and God announced to the world who he really was, the Spirit led him out into the desert to be alone for 40 days (Luke 4). After John was killed he went out to wild places to be alone, but the people followed him. He fed five thousand plus, but then he still needed to be alone. He sent the disciples across the lake ahead of him so he could stay and pray (Matthew 14). When he went to the Mount of Olives for the final time it says in Luke that they went “as usual to … the place.” He had a prayer spot where he usually went to be alone with God (Luke 22). Encounter with God does not require solitude; I am sure that Jesus was always aware of God’s presence no matter where he was; but if Jesus, God’s beloved son, often went to be alone, why wouldn’t we?
Well, as I said, it’s scary down there below the surface, or we just didn’t think to do it, or no one has helped us, or we’ve tried and it doesn’t seem to “work.” Here’s a maybe novel take: play board games, or, at least, notice what happens when you do,
Board Games May Be a Way In
In the pandemic, I’ve been playing a lot of board games with my family. My ten year old son is now capable of playing just about any level of difficulty game, and it’s really fun to have enough people in the household to play a strategy game. However, it has become a constant refrain as we play, “THIS IS A STRATEGY GAME!” Which is a response to his constant revelation of what he plans to do, what cards he needs, and how close or far away he is from winning. He just can’t stop talking.
My mantra, “This is a strategy game,” could be more than just advice for how to win; it could be instructions for having an inner life. Some people come across this interiority naturally. There are children who, as they play by themselves, are happy to invent stories that never need to be shared. Some folks are naturally more content considering the world without outward comment, or more entertained with their own imaginations. I am not one of those people, and neither is my ten year old; so I am always looking for ways to develop the inner life in me, and now in him.
Quietly measuring your strategy in your head, so as to not reveal your plans and not hamper your own goals by giving an advantage to your opponents in a board game is the same muscle you might use to consider the ravens and wild flowers (Luke 12), or to be still and know who God is (Psalm 46), or to grasp how wide and deep and high and long the love of Christ is which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3). This is not a stretch; it is just a step. I think spiritual disciplines require hundreds and thousands of small steps like this. Yes, “This is a strategy game,” might as well be a prayer.
Life is for THIS
Our whole lives must be appropriated for the spiritual journey
- Because that is WHAT LIFE IS FOR, God created us for the purpose of revealing the SOMETHING-MORE of our human experience;
- We are not as strong as we think we are, and thus, BABY-STEPS ought to be our comfort zone;
- And, because of that tininess, WE MUST USE EVERYTHING that comes our way for our development.
So board games, yes, they are for developing the spiritual muscles to have an inner life. Even in a group, we are waiting and watching as much if not more than we are seeing and saying. There might be more than we are holding now. Hold on a little longer. And, definitely, hold your tongue.
What was Jesus doing up on all those mountainsides? Maybe the best word would be CONNECTING. He was spending dedicated, conscious time being in his Father’s presence. Slowing down, seeking his next move, considering the options — all while knowing he is not alone. Pausing quietly to seek counsel with yourself is a great step toward pausing quietly to seek counsel from God. When we realize how much is going on inside of us, we will begin to understand our true scale and imagine how much bigger God made us to be. The water beneath the surface might as well be infinitely deep.
“Blessed fact that he hath made us so near him! that the scale of our being is so large, that we are completed only by his presence in it!” — George MacDonald in Hope of the Gospel “The Remission of Sins”
So take all the opportunities you have. Board games is only one, and I hope it is quirky enough to open up the potential for you to consider many other opportunities for growth as the opportunities they are. Nothing is nothing more than meets the eye. Nothing is nothing more than what you have in hand. And almost everything, especial you, IS MORE than what you have already considered.