"Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

When God says, "Halt!"

The apostles returned to Jesus from their ministry tour and told him all they had done and taught. Then Jesus said, "Let's go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile." He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn't even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone."  Mark 6:30-32 

I recently read through the memoirs of my Grandpa Gritters. My grandpa was an active minister for over 50 years. In 1982, at the age of 76, he wrote his memoirs— apparently excerpted from the many diaries he kept throughout the years. My dad asked if I would be willing to retype these memoirs since the ink of the old typewriter Grandpa used was starting to fade. I’ve so enjoyed reading Grandpa’s words.  He was a born story-teller! As I read his long-ago penned words, wonderful memories flooded my mind. I could just picture the coziness of sitting on the couch with Grandpa and my brothers and sisters, listening to Grandpa weave a crazy tale, complete with the scent of pipe tobacco and peppermints!

Here’s a small excerpt from my grandpa’s memoirs:

"Halt," said the Lord. "HALT!" A strange thing happened. My study was suddenly moved from our house to the hospital in Pipestone. Who ever heard of such a thing? I had long been bothered by something, a sort of stomach trouble which just did not go away. Various doctors in various places had diagnosed it as one thing or another, but nothing brought relief. In Pipestone the doctors said that it was pancreatitis (big word, but it meant trouble with the pancreas). But it was not that. Anyway, I was in the hospital for five days in mid-December of 1961. During this time I felt quite well, and I didn't have to lie prone abed...I could get up. At this time I was barely acquainted with my church. I got into thinking: "How can I best be a blessing to this people?" Mom, who visited me three time every day, brought me a notebook and pencil. And I wrote down what goals ought to be achieved and how I would best reach them. What work must be emphasized, and how to get at that work. Then I would fall asleep again. Had some food...talked with visitors...and then back to this business of goals again until the nurse ordered "lights out." In that sense, room 105 in the hospital became my study." (Rev. Martin Gritters, 1961)

Grandpa wrote these words shortly after beginning his pastorate in Pipestone, MN. He and Grandma moved there in October of 1961, and apparently Grandpa became ill in December. As I was typing these precious words of my grandpa (“Halt,” said the Lord, “HALT…”) I had to chuckle to myself. This was just vintage Grandpa! Then it brought to mind one of the lessons God has been teaching me in my personal study of Jonah. 

A spiritual discipline God has been calling me to explore and practice is that of solitude and silence. Ruth Haley Barton’s book, Sacred Rhythms, speaks to this important discipline. She defines solitude as "a place in time that is set apart for God and God alone, a time when we unplug and withdraw from the noise of interpersonal interactions...” Barton goes on to say, “Silence deepens our experience of solitude, because in silence we choose to unplug not only from the constant stimulation of life in the company of others but also from our own addiction to noise, words and activity.” (Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms, p.32). In silence and solitude we are given space to notice God’s presence and to respond to it. The distractions of life are left behind and we can focus completely on God. In the quiet stillness, “God can come in and do what only God can do.” (p.41)  (To learn more about the spiritual discipline of solitude and silence, I would encourage you read Sacred Rhythms as well as An Invitation to Solitude and Silence, both by Ruth Haley Barton.)

As Jonah sat in the belly of the fish, I’m sure he not only spoke to God (we read his words in Jonah 2), but that God spoke to him. In the muffled quiet of the deep, God had Jonah’s undivided attention. Spending time alone with God in silence and solitude is so important to God that sometimes He resorts to some pretty interesting methods to get our attention. When Jonah was running away from the job God asked him to do, God provided a very unique way for Jonah to be still and listen. When my grandpa was busy, busy, busy with his ministry, God gave him no choice but to ‘halt.' Before moving to Pipestone, Grandpa had been struggling for years with some deeply divisive church/ denominational issues and I can’t help but wonder if he was simply exhausted physically, emotionally, and perhaps even spiritually. As Grandpa spent several days in “hospital room 105,” I have a hunch God not only used that time for Grandpa to develop ministry goals, but also gave him some much needed rest for his exhausted body and soul. 

God invites us to a quiet place, too, away from the noise and commotion of life. As we enter the holiday season, and all the busyness and commotion that comes with it, how important it is to accept God’s invitation to sit quietly with Him. In the quiet, we can feel His presence and hear His voice whisper to our weary (and very busy) hearts. Shhhhhh. Be still and know that I am God.

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