Narratives in Silence

“We are shaped by our stories.
And these stories, or narratives are running and (often ruining) our lives.”


[James Bryan Smith][1]

Discerning God’s direction in life is often messy and confusing. The stories that we have picked up in life often times do not serve us well. We need regular periods of silence to help us identify these stories, examine them with God, and replace them with the truth of Jesus.

Whole-life formation in the Jesus Way begins to occur when we start to pay attention and trust Jesus with our entire lives: HEAD (ideas, thoughts, assumptions), HEART (emotions, desires, passions), HANDS (actions, choices, habits).

Jesus was very concerned with what his original 12 disciples thought about – what they thought about God, what they thought about themselves, and what they thought about living in this world.

Jesus knew that if real formation was going to take place in his disciples, then they were going to have to recognize the false stories or narratives that were directing their lives.

If real formation is going to take place we have to recognize the false stories or narratives that direct our lives. - Matt Alexander Click To Tweet

The narratives or stories we believe and live by shape our understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. Unfortunately, we all have believed false narratives and these lies are directing our lives. We all have untrue understandings of what God is like, our identity, and what “the good life” is all about.

“The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near.
Repent and believe the good news!”


[Mark 1:15]

The word repent in the Greek literally means “a change of mind.” Jesus is essentially saying “Change the way you have been thinking – a life of interaction and intimacy with God is available to you now.” Following Jesus has a lot to do with having our minds continually changed to his way of thinking about what God is like, our identity, and what it means to live a “good life” in this world.

We need to continually be identifying, naming, and exposing the false narratives that drive our lives so that we can fully receive the true narratives of Jesus and his kingdom.

“What comes into our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
[A.W. Tozer]
[2]

Identifying false narratives from our families

The narratives that we live out in our lives can be influenced by many different sources, but the three big influences are: family, culture, and religion. Our family of origin impacts the way we understand God, ourselves, and life.

Our family of origin is an extremely large influence in our formation, whether we like it or not. And there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is when we go through life without realizing how we have been shaped by our family narratives and values.

When we are unable or unwilling to identify and name false narratives in our lives, it becomes increasingly difficult to hear God and discern his will because we are living by false narratives rather than true narratives.

The messages and scripts that are handed down to us are not always healthy, true, empowering, wise, or loving. These false narratives end up forming us in unhealthy ways and we get into ruts if these messages go left unexamined and transformed.

Below are some common examples of false narratives that often stem (consciously or unconsciously) from our family of origin.

  • “I am alone.”
  • “God will love me if…”
  • “Loud, angry, constant fighting is normal.”
  • “Something terrible will happen if I make a mistake.”
  • “Money is the best source of security.”
  • “Duty to family comes before everything.”
  • “Nice girls don’t get angry and big boys don’t cry.”
  • “Men can be promiscuous, women must be chaste.”
  • “Conflict and tension is bad and should be avoided.”
  • “Sadness is a sign of weakness.”
  • “Reacting with your feelings without thinking is okay.”

Jesus’ desire and dream is for us to experience his abundant freedom and life – for us to live in his Father’s available kingdom of healing, hope, and love. Jesus wants us to taste his fruit – intimacy with God, self-awareness, joy, discernment between truth and lies, and deep inner peace.

“The process of spiritual formation in Christ is one of progressively replacing…destructive images and ideas with the images and ideas that filled the mind of Jesus himself. Spiritual formation in Christ moves toward a total interchange of our ideas and images for his.”


[Dallas Willard][3]

In order to experience Jesus’ freedom then we have to pay attention to our narratives and how they influence our lives. Particularly the narratives that have become so deeply formed in us from our families of origin.

The primary way that Jesus did this in his own life – the main way that Jesus resisted the temptation to live by false narratives – was to spend consistent time with the Father in solitude and silence. When we read the gospels, we notice that Jesus had a regular rhythm of getting off by himself to be with God.

“Silence is God’s first language; everything else is a poor translation.”


[Thomas Keating][4]

Many people are afraid to engage in solitude and silence because it is a bit foreign in our society. Or because they are concerned about what may come up in themselves. No matter what may be exposed, we can take great comfort in our God’s love, grace, and acceptance of us. We have no reason to be afraid.

Doing a Desert Day

A Desert Day is a 3-4 hour block of time to get alone, listen to God, and pay attention to the narratives that run our lives. This was a key practice of Jesus because it is only in solitude that some of our hidden, false narratives can be exposed. There’s something about being alone with ourselves and God that exposes what we truly think and believe.

It is also where we can more clearly hear and receive the voice of God. It’s where we can receive Jesus’ narratives in our lives. We can hear and receive the truth about God, ourselves, and the world as we engage in solitude and silence. We often spend lots of time on all sorts of things, but neglect the time to examine our lives and enlarge our souls.

The goal for this time is to begin recognizing and naming our narratives – both true and false narratives, allowing the Spirit to highlight areas of our lives that have gone unexamined.

We open ourselves up to God’s loving presence, asking the Spirit to guide us to truth.

We can face ourselves and the ways we have been malformed because we are loved so fiercely by God.

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[1] The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith

[2] The Knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer

[3] Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard

[4] Invitation to Love by Thomas Keating

About the Author
Matt Alexander

Matt Alexander

Matt Alexander is the co-founder and Lead Pastor of Rhythm, a network of Missional Churches scattered throughout Miami, FL, and a church planting coach and writer with the V3 Church Planting Movement. Matt is married to Evette and they enjoy life with their 3-year old daughter Emery and an extremely fluffy cat, Jada.

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