"If we create space in which God can act and speak, something surprising will happen." – Henri Nouwen

Despite the fact that this blog is a public space, where anyone can read or comment, often I feel like it's just a place for me to work through life lessons I so desperately need – and want – to learn. When I write posts like "Just Say No" or "Free to Fail" or "Why Perfect is Boring" it's not because I've got these things figured out. (Far from it!) I wish I could confidently say no, embrace failure gracefully, and love my messy, imperfect self. I'm not there yet, but I find it hugely helpful to wrestle with these issues out in the open, and to learn from you all that I'm not alone in the struggle. Community is a beautiful thing!


But what I want to write about today actually precedes community. It's the discipline of creating space in my life for solitude. When I think of the word discipline, I usually think of punishment. But Henri Nouwen, a Catholic priest and author who spent much of his life serving mentally disabled people, defined spiritual discipline as "preventing everything in your life from being filled up." (Deep breath.) "It means that somewhere you're not occupied, and certainly not preoccupied. In the spiritual life, discipline means to create that space in which someting can happen that you hadn't planned or counted on."

Wow - what a revelatory statement, especially for this particular (overly-busy, overly-stimulated) time in history. Think for a moment: when was the last time you were still? When you had a space of time where you weren't occupied or preoccupied? And when was the last time your schedule was open enough where there was even a potential for spontaneity?


On Monday, I wrote about learning to say no, but that's just Step 1. Step 2 is this concept of creating space – of intentionally preventing your schedule from being completely full. This is SO hard for me: to say no not because I'm already busy, but because I'm guarding a chunk of time for rest and solitude. Try and explain that to people these days, and you'll definitely get weird looks. But it's so vital to living an abundant life, both spiritually and creatively.

In this New Year, I'm trying to carve out blocks of unplanned time for thinking and journaling, for appreciating beauty (whether on a hike in the woods or in an art museum), and for prayer. Time to hear from God, and to allow space for the super-natural to occur. I'm also trying to wean myself off my iPhone during the moments of downtime I already have: on the subway, while waiting in line, heck, even while using the bathroom! It's amazing how we manage to fill even those little spaces with a barage of information and mindless scrolling. It's never-ending.


This topic is especially near and dear to my heart right now because Brandon is about to leave town for a month. He's heading to a clinic in Florida to do some specialized treatments for his Lyme, and I'm staying behind to continue working on the cookbook. I'm going to miss him like crazy, so my natural tendency is to start packing out my schedule with coffees and dinners and drinks with girlfriends, church events, and yellow table gatherings. But a wise friend cautioned me that I have to absolutely guard my time over the next month. Not to exhaust myself with a zillion social events, but to intentionally pursue the things I've been called to do (like this cookbook!). And to make time to rest. So I'm heeding her warning and going to try to keep my schedule fairly open...at least enough for God to surprise me.

P.S. If you're interested in reading more Henri Nouwen, I highly recommend this paper (from which the above quotes were taken). It's been totally life-changing for me.

(Photos by Brandon Carl)