Just been flipping pancakes in assembly at a local primary school. It’s always a challenge making the connection between the pancakes and the time Jesus spent in the wilderness in a way that young children will understand.
Or in a way that I understand to tell the truth.
As someone who likes to keep busy, it’s hard to imagine forty days and nights on my own with God. Being busy often springs from my need to justify my life to God and to others, and perhaps especially to myself. And here’s the danger, I am sometimes busy not so much to serve God as to block out what God may be saying and challenging me to do and be.
Henri Nouwen, in his book Out of Solitude, invites us to reflect on the tension between the discipline of solitude and the demands of contemporary life. He reminds us that it was in solitude that Jesus found the courage to follow God’s will. He remarks that it is in solitude that we become aware that our worth is not the same as our usefulness, and suggests we can learn much from the old tree in the Tao story about a carpenter and his apprentice:
A carpenter and his apprentice were walking together through a large forest. And when they came across a tall, huge, gnarled, old, beautiful oak tree, the carpenter asked his apprentice: “Do you know why this tree is so tall, so huge, so gnarled, so old and beautiful?”
The apprentice looked at his master and said: “No . . . why?”
“Well,” the carpenter said, “because it is useless. If it had been useful it would have been cut long ago and made into tables and chairs, but because it is useless it could grow so tall and so beautiful that you can sit in its shade and relax.”
I wonder if I have become so preoccupied with my ‘usefulness’ that I’m losing the ability just to spend time with God, and to become the kind of person in whose shade others can ‘sit and relax’.