The Agony of the Firework
(Coffee with Gordon Macdonald)
A friend of mine sent me a text message several weeks ago that pendulummed me to both poles: the quaking state of shock and a quiet introspection. I’ve known this guy for several years now and would somehow accompany his name with the great ministry that sparked me to discipline myself even more. Well, I envied the guy. He’s really great at what he does – and not just this, many people are so blessed because of him. <Insert my name on the list>. I’ve watched him carry on God’s work like a firework in the night sky, and people would – and this isn’t an overstatement – crazily cheer for its bang. He’s the firework. He’s like the John Lennon of the ministry; or in our case – Harry Styles. Well, thanks for asking, I’m Zayn Malik by the way (Why am I even discussing this?). See him bloom and you’ll also flower. He can Beatles himself into stardom. Yeah, he’s that good.
That night however, another side of him surfaced into the light and the hidden craters that were seen reached their deepest – eroding the very world he created on the visible. “I miss God so much,” he said. Those five words were heavy. Each word was pregnant with ellipses and exclamation points. I asked him why he said so and revealed to me that it wasn’t any disgusting sin or whatever; but too much work, even in the ministry. It could kill our quiet, quality time with the God of love, he says.And it has been going on, he adds, for more than a year. We met several days ago and, over coffee, talked things over. The feeling’s like ‘not spending quality time with a lover’, he says – and this is why he said he was missing “God so much”. We tried to slice the moment and see through the events that transpired – what were the things that woke him up to the reality? When did it all began? What does he mean by “missing God” and “being busy”. We started leafing through the chapters of our lives. That time, the firework display ended, and we had to look intently at the cold, black sky once again.
In his book, Ordering Your Private World, Gordon Macdonald postulates the problem: “If we think about it for very long, we may discover the existence of an inner space of our private world- about which we were formerly ignorant. I hope it will become apparent that, if neglected, this private world will not sustain the weight of events and stresses that press upon us. Some people are surprised and disturbed when they make such a self-discovery. They suddenly realize that they have spent the majority of their time and energy establishing life on the visible level, at the surface…” (p.2) Macdonald writes that most of us do “not really seek an ordered private world as a top priority… In short, we try to bring order to the inner world by beginning with activity in the outer one…” (p.273)
What Macdonald sees as the private world is the inner soul – the man behind the curtain and the real character behind the reputation. It’s what me and my friend saw as the very thing we can easily neglect, thinking that our busy, socially-active, good public reputation is the most important. “We are naively inclined to believe that the most publicly active person is the most privately spiritual,” says Macdonald. But it isn’t. I have far been hypnotized by the lure of unproductive busyness, thinking that the quantity of my public activities measure the quality of my private life.
“If my private world is in order,” Macdonald writes a memo – “ it will be because I am unafraid to be alone and quiet before Christ.” Me and my friend both checked our lives in the light of our daily quality time alone with God. Macdonald, who I think was figuratively part of our coffee time that moment, pens four exercises that we often neglect:1) Pursuit of solitude and silence; 2)Regular listening to God; 3) Experience of reflection and meditation; and 4)Prayer as worship and intercession.
I laughingly thanked my friend for his “agonizing misery” gave me good wisdom. He laughed with me, of course, after giving me a quick jab on my left shoulder and calling me “crazy”. I told him about my recent trip to Canlaon and told him to look for a copy of Gordon Macdonald’s book and devour it. That is, after Scriptures, I quacked. We made it a point to make our quality time alone with God our priority – that it should define our daily schedules and activities and not the other way around. I’ve learned that I ought to discipline myself seriously so that my, in Socrates’ words (Phaedrus), “outward and inward man be one.” We even laughed that that was the basic definition of “crazy”: there’s a gigantic discrepancy between the inner and the outer self. My inner man, disciplined towards grace-full godliness, should define my outer man.
“Do not allow the public activities of your outer man to overtake the spiritual disciplines of your inner self Twist,” I told myself. And, oh yes,I was busy talking to myself that I did not actually see that my friend was about to go. I giggled at the insane thought of me breaking my mental ice, and tapped him on the shoulder – “Oh yes my friend, we can indeed be very crazy sometimes…”