Life is like a sponge…
How do you know if a sponge is full or not? How do you know what it’s full of, if in fact, it is full? Normally you can’t tell by simply looking at it. It could be full of plain or soapy water; red or purple Kool Aid. We just don’t know. It might be even be empty. If we want to know what’s inside, we have to squeeze it.
I believe our lives are like sponges. No one can know what’s truly inside us – what (or who) we’re filled with – by just looking at us. How we handle success and joyful times gives a glimpse into what’s inside, what’s in our hearts, but it isn’t always a very accurate picture of what we’re truly filled with.
If we truly want to see what a person is truly like on the inside – what we ourselves are truly like on the inside – we need to see what happens when we’re squeezed. Challenges, struggles, and trials in life squeeze us all the time. Our true character, what really fills us up, is revealed when we are “squeezed”. Hardship and difficulty reveal what is really inside us – the kind of people we really are and who/what we are really trusting in.
When I’m “squeezed” by inconvenience, rudeness, bad service, criticism (deserved or not), the loss of a loved one, unexpected bills, illness, death of a friend or loved one, betrayal or whatever other difficulty I might experience…how do I respond? Am I filled with fear, worry, panic, anxiety, anger, rage or something else? Do I yell, insult, blame, fight, withdraw, rationalize, avoid or something else? When I’m squeezed, does Jesus come out or Rick?
Now what’s in a sponge has to be squeezed out to make room for something new to be absorbed. So the question for us to ponder is: How do we empty ourselves of what is false and doesn’t belong so that the Holy Spirit can fill us with what is true and right?
Certainly the spiritual practices I’ve discussed previously and many others can help us to be filled up with the right and the good. I’d be curious to know what you’ve found helps you be emptied of what is false and doesn’t belong. Personally, I have found that spending time in solitude and silence before God to be the most significant thing I can do to place myself in an attitude and a place where the Holy Spirit can squeeze the false and what doesn’t belong out and begin to fill me with the true and good. Henri Nouwen writes,
In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me – naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken – nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. But that is not all. As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree. Anger and greed begin to show their ugly faces…The task is to persevere in my solitude, to stay in my cell until all my seductive visitors get tired of pounding on my door and leave me alone. (The Way of the Heart, p. 27, 28)
My experience has been very much like his. Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m very good with solitude and silence. I have a very difficult time quieting my mind and just sitting in God’s presence. And it’s rather uncomfortable at times – I feel so exposed not to be in control of the time. All the things – “my scaffolding” – that help me maintain the mask of the “Rick I want people to think I am” is torn away and I sit before God as the “Rick I really am”. But in that place, healing occurs. Transformation takes place. I can’t explain it. But something happens. I rarely sense anything in the midst of the silence and solitude. Rather, as I go through the day and find myself being “squeezed”, something different comes out than what used to. There’s more Jesus than there was before. It isn’t anything I’ve done. It’s something the Holy Spirit has done…it’s something the Holy Spirit is doing!
I would love to tell you that the only thing that ever comes out when I’m “squeezed” these days is Jesus…but I’d be lying. There is still a lot of what is false and what doesn’t belong infecting my soul. But…by God’s grace…something good is happening…God is changing me – slowly, but surely – into the image of Jesus.