DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

On Oxford, Exhaustion, and Discernment

Written by: on September 13, 2019

In 2 weeks, I’ll be embarking on a learning adventure for my Leadership of Global Perspectives Doctorate of Ministry program. This adventure will require full sensory attentiveness to the fast-paced cosmopolitan city of London, as well as the historically nostalgic streets Oxford. While I’m giddy to visit both, Oxford has captivated my imagination ever since my seminary professor stood before the class, in his argyle sweater vest, spiffy bow tie, and round-rimmed spectacles, sharing snapshots of his educational experience while at Oxford.

 

Since its mythological inception by King Alfred the Great in 886, and its first official name documentation in 912, Oxford has grown and morphed into what are now 38 private colleges and six permanent private halls. For over one thousand years, Oxford has weathered invasion, corruption, affluence, and poverty, while becoming a world-renowned academic institution and a tourist destination for millions. From the content within the classroom to the architecture that houses those classes, Oxford’s contributions to its community and the world are remarkable.

 

Kings, mathematicians, writers, and great reformers of the Christian faith have walked its halls and sat in its pubs, dreaming and discerning new ways of leading others, contributing to society, and communicating the Gospel. Oxford greats of the Christian faith include Richard Kilby and Richard Brett, the two main English translators for the King James Bible; John Wesley and George Whitefield, the founders of Methodism; and literary masters Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, and C.S Lewis.[1]

 

As I consider this “great cloud of witnesses,” I have to wonder how often they sat in the dark of night, alone, wondering what their purpose was? How many times did they cry out to God asking for revelation of God’s will in their daily lives? In what ways did the events surrounding them spur them into action? Who did they trust to speak into their lives to help guide them along the divine path that was planned for them since before time began? In short, what did discernment look like in their lives?

 

Henri Nouwen, one of the greats of the modern contemplative movement, describes discernment as “faithful living and listening to God’s love and direction so we can fulfill our individual calling and shared mission.”[2]On the surface, discernment sounds like a walk in the park. But if it were easy, then within my ministry context, the top questions heard would not be:

 

“How do I know God’s will?”

“How do I know if it’s really God speaking to me?”

“What is God’s purpose for my life?”

 

These questions have plagued those that love God for millennia. But as a follow up to those questions, we would do well to ask, “What does faithful living and listening” entail?

 

Faithful living and listening takes intentional effort and sustained attentiveness to the presence of God in our days. Key spiritual disciplines, such as corporate worship, silence and solitude, prayer and meditation all play an important role in developing a posture of deep listening for God, rather than constantly speaking to God.[3]Noticing God’s voice through faithful writers and spiritual companions provides other opportunities for discernment, as does noticing events in our local and global contexts.[4]

 

Twenty years of desiring to faithfully follow Jesus have affirmed the importance of such efforts in my days. But as I sit here in the quiet of the night, after a very full week, I find myself exhausted. Since the start of school, I have struggled to find my rhythm, to clear out spaces where silence and solitude prevail. I need those spaces like I need air in my lungs, water in my body, or laughter in my soul. Lately the days have felt rushed as I try to keep up with schedules and responsibilities. In the hurry of the next, I am often missing the gift of the now. I’m afraid that by the time I arrive in London and Oxford, coming fresh off another full week, that I will be even more spent. I really do not want to arrive in that condition.

 

I want to arrive rested and ready to take in all of the goodness of God through learning, exploring, and engaging with new friends. I want to be open and ready to receive the wonder of a city filled with new sights and sounds and smells. I want to embrace the tension of what is and what is to come as I embark upon a new chapter of life. I want to be shaped by the words I read and the conversations I hear, including the echoes of wisdom of the past and prophetic proclamations of the future.

 

In order for these desires to happen, I have to do what I suspect countless others in the “great cloud of witnesses” have done throughout generations; I have to say no to the busy and yes to the purposeful.

 

I have to reacquaint myself with the un-comfortableness that comes from practicing stillness. I have to center down into the Presence of God and remember who I am, to claim my belovedness, and to delight in God’s glory and grace. I have to trust that in doing so the details of the days will fall into place and direction will unfold. I have to know deep in my spirit that my primary vocation is abiding in Jesus, and at the end of the day, if I am apart from Him, even if my to do list is marked with little check marks of progress, I will have achieved nothing. Absolutely nothing. For the ability to discern that truth and more, I am grateful.

 

 

                  [1]Paul Sullivan. The Secret History of Oxford(Gloucestershire, UK: The History Press, 2017) 13, 15, 44, 67, 80, 128-131.

                  [2]Henri Nouwen, with Michael J Christensen and Rebecca J Laird. Discernment: Reading the Signs of Daily Life(New York, NY: Happer Collins, 2013) 3.

[3]Nouwen, 10-11.

[4]Nouwen, 41-81.

About the Author

mm

Darcy Hansen

7 responses to “On Oxford, Exhaustion, and Discernment”

  1. mm Greg Reich says:

    I as well am trying to find my stride as well being a bit intimidated by the thought of visiting Oxford. Being a country boy at heart formal environments are sometimes challenging. It is more from a deep desire of simplicity than an intimidation of being formal. As I read both Sullivan and Nouwen I found myself being reminded of Psalms 46:10 “Cease striving and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” My propensity for constant motion doesn’t always serve me well, but the knowledge that God is God and he is not impressed with my constant striving reminds me to get out of His way.

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      Greg,
      Its good to know I’m not alone in trying to find my footing at semester start. As I read your words though, I wonder what the difference is between “constant striving” and simply discerning and abiding in Christ to do and be that which is planned? How do you know when “to get out of His way”? Is there a specific sense you get within, or something else? What does your discernment process look like for that?

      • mm Greg Reich says:

        Darcy
        Good questions! I am not sure I can express myself in a way that can truly convey what I was trying to convey. Have you ever been in a Mary and Martha situation where you know you should be sitting at the feet of Jesus but you just keep working? Have you ever had someone voice a need and given them advice only to realize they weren’t asking for advice they just wanted someone to listen? There is a time to do what needs to be done and there is a time to rest in the presence of God and trust that what you’ve done is enough. I get in Gods way when I don’t take the time to truly see the need and listen to the Holy Spirit on how to respond.

  2. Nancy Blackman says:

    Darcy,
    It’s actually reassuring that others are having trouble finding a rhythm. Is it first semester normality or other reasons?

    “…I have to say no to the busy and yes to the purposeful.” How do you imagine that you will do this? How will it become so practical and so fluid for you?

    I pray that your days are not so jam packed that you won’t have time to sit in the quiet presence of the triune God. I pray that God will clear a way, like parting the sea, so that you will know without a doubt that that appointed time is the time you are meant to be quiet and still, even if it doesn’t make sense. I pray that instead of exhaustion you will have immense energy.

    Let’s face it…we all are here right now. None of us know how this will finish. I’m thankful that one of the first books is Nouwen’s because not only are there many who have paved a path for us but that we also stand with others ready to pave a path for the next and the next.

    Blessings,
    Nancy

  3. Darcy Hansen says:

    Thank you for such beautiful grace. Coming straight out of the Mdiv and rolling into this, I knew I would be tired. I haven’t fully processed what the past 5.5 years have been or will be, and the stretching is exhausting. Combine it with everyday life, and I’m pretty worn thin. Thank you for the prayers. May God hear and respond according to God’s will. And the Nouwen book make me super happy to read. It’s filled with sweet confirmations that I am where I am to be, even though I don’t always understand the whys behind it all. Grateful for those who have gone before, those with, and those that will follow. 🙂

  4. mm John McLarty says:

    I share your hope that our time in London/Oxford won’t be clouded by the fog (see what I did there?) of exhaustion or feelings of being overwhelmed or the pressure of trying to absorb every ounce of potential learning in the very compressed time we will spend there.

    There’s been so much to do and think about, on top of all of the other things that were already needing to be done and thought about. I’m chewing on your reminder to faithful living through “sustained attentiveness to the presence of God.” I believe that God will work through this academic process to teach us the next things God wants us to learn. But I think the point of these first exercises is to remind us that this will come through the process, not merely in checking assignments off a list. And as someone who loves to check assignments off a list, this will be a challenge for me!

    • Darcy Hansen says:

      I love the check list, too! And if I do something not on the list, I add it and then check it off. I’m thinking that its possible to be attentive to God even in the checking off of responsibilities. Hopefully? Remember to breathe and take moments to be still. That’s my mantra right now. See you soon!

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