Your cell will tell you everything

Go and sit in your cell and it will tell you everything.

I believe that this little aphorism originates with the desert fathers. I recall hearing it while in seminary, but Eugene Peterson brought it to my remembrance two weeks ago in New York. He was talking about the years he refers to in his memoir, The Pastor, as “the badlands.” A time when vocational clarity was hard to come by and during which he wrestled with insecurity about job performance and ministry effectiveness amongst other things.

Who, when wrestling with such things, doesn’t think about making a change? Nine years into his call, Peterson began to think about going somewhere else. He approached his General Presbyter who advised him to immediately start another building campaign.”Americans like to have a project to work on.”

Instead, Peterson decided that he would do nothing. God’s word to him was, “Go to your cell and it will tell you everything.” Instead of starting a building program (sometimes a moment more to a pastor’s ego than to the glory of God) he decided he would do nothing. He would pray. He would read Scripture. He would Sabbath. He would love his people. He would stay in his cell and God would provide the answer there.

It’s a challenge to find God’s word to us in a culture that expects transience–that expects it, even (or especially) of pastors. Move to a bigger church. Seek out a more lucrative position. Relocate to a more cosmopolitan city. These things aren’t necessarily bad, but they oughtn’t to be our first instinct.

Our first thought should be for God to teach us in our “badlands” how to be more like Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. I’m grateful to Eugene for reminding me of this.

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