Solitude in the City

A few years ago on the cover of Leadership Journal there was a beautiful picture that will stick with me for a long time.   It showed a man camping out with a tent in Times Square.   It was a picture of stark contrast – in the middle of the hustle, distractions and noise of Times Square there was a person practicing solitude.   Perhaps the reason why I loved the picture so much is because that is how I long to live.  I love the city.  I love the people and the noise and the distraction.  To me it is a sign of life and a reminder of God’s love for this multitude of people that I am bumping and crashing into as I walk down the sidewalk.  I desire a solitude kind of connection with God while being surrounded by dozens of people.

However, without a centered focus I know that the city will eat me alive.  I can feel this starting to happen from time to time.   When someone cheats me out of money or the person in front of me is walking slowly and can’t walk a straight line.  Or, when I have been pushing and shoving to get on the taxi for 30 minutes with no success…I can start to feel my face flush and my blood pressure rise and I approach the fight or flight phase. I can feel the city instincts kick in of – It’s survival of the fittest and every man for himself.     And, its easy in that moment to feel like all the other 5,499,999 people who call Addis home were put here to make my life difficult.  It is not a pleasant nor a healthy feeling.

On Saturday I experienced this a bit.  I needed to go to the Mercato to look for appliances.  There is something about going to Africa’s largest marketplace.  The sights and sounds and people and cultures are breathtaking.   However, there also are the merchants who want to get every dime out of me that they can as I try to bargain with them, the shouts ever 20 seconds of “Ferenj” and “You, You, You”  and every 2 minutes I am asked for money.   All of this is exacerbated by the fact that its hard to blend in when you’re one of the few foreigners braving Mercato that day.   However, it is a built in assessment of how I am doing at living a life centered on Jesus in the midst of the city.   I can say that I was not pleased with my assessment on Saturday.  The city got the best of me.  It showed me that its time to rest and refocus and rebuild my times with Jesus.

I know that this is going to be a huge need as we move across the city.  We will be moving into an area that has great need.  These are the kind of needs that can grind you to bits emotionally and physically because there are no easy answers and the frequency of real crisis comes fast and furious.   Yet, that image of the pitched tent in Times Square continues to beckon me.   It seems to me that its the way that Jesus did ministry.  There was no shortage of need or crisis or busyness that He could have occupied Himself with.  Yet, He was focused only on His Father and did only what He knew The Father to be doing.

I’m glad to have had the experience in Mercato before we start this new phase in Korah.  It was a good time to check how I am doing and to make some corrections before we submerge ourselves.   And, it was a reminder of how important it is to make sure that I am relating deeply with The Father on a daily basis and taking rest and time to reflect along the way.   Today I read a quote that summed it all up so nicely in The Little Book of Hours – Praying with the Community of Jesus.  It reads, “Prayer is first and foremost about a relationship, and this relationship fills our life with meaning and purpose.  Prayer, therefore, is not so much an exercise of piety as it is an exchange of love.”  What an important reminder for someone who has become a bit parched and dry along the way…Jesus, I look forward to being caught up in an exchange of love with you.  Help me keep my focus on you.

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