I run. I run a lot. I run far, I run frequently. And I often do so sitting on the couch with the remote. Or surfing the Internet. Or sleeping. Sometimes I run by eating. Or spending. Anything to avoid facing the dark side of my self. I distract myself so I don’t have to think. I numb myself to ward off the demons. I fear that if I am still very long that either the dark side will suffocate me in the thick pitch of the tar or God will not meet me in the silence and I will completely alone. There are other times when I run to either deny or assuage the emptiness inside.
So I run. And our culture values and rewards this running. If I run by keeping busy I am applauded for being industrious. “Wow! That guy is so involved in so many wonderful things!” In fact, if we’re not busy beyond belief we are regarded as a slacker. Consequently, this kind of escapist busyness is reinforced by my peers. I find myself embarrassed if I have time on my hands, particularly time that others don’t seem to have. A friend calls to set up a time to get together and when he says, “Let me check my calendar,” and I simultaneously say, “My day is open,” I feel so unsuccessful and rather pathetic. No one else seems to be “free;” why am I?
I run to avoid. The darkness, the emptiness. I have come to realize that my running merely reinforces the power of the darkness and exacerbates the emptiness. I’m like Jackson Browne. Running on empty.
If it’s the darkness that plagues me I need Light to dispel the darkness but my running prevents my receiving of the Light. If it’s the emptiness that haunts me I need filling but my running does not allow me to be still in order to experience the needed filling.
Ironically, to ward off the emptiness I fill myself with that which doesn't matter and thereby deprive myself of that which ultimately matters. A busy, preoccupied man visited a Zen master for tea. The Zen master poured the tea until it overflowed the cup, and still he continued to pour. Agitated, the man cried out, “Master, stop! Why do you keep pouring? The cup is full.” The master replied, “You are like this cup. You are full of yourself—your judgments, your opinions. You must first empty yourself.”
Both counter-culturally and counter intuitively, God beckons in this manner: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) It appears that it is in silence and solitude that the “knowing” is cultivated. It is in stillness that authentic filling can take place.
It is in the quiet, in the being still that the emptying can take place. The question I wrestle with is this:
Will I stop or will I run?
These words are recorded by the Old Testament prophet Isaiah:
This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it..” You said, ‘No, we will flee. . . “”
Notice wherein lies salvation and strength. Quietness and rest; silence and being still. And notice their response. “No, we will flee.” That mirrors my typical response. “No, I will run.”
It’s a new year. May God give us grace to resist the running and embrace the resting. May we empty ourselves of the clamor, the distractions, and, in time, receive the Healer and the healing.