Finding Exile, Being Found
I got in the bed, and I proceeded to have what my grandmother would surely have said was a “nervous breakdown.” For nearly forty years, I had lived with this God that I had found, but August 27, 1999, was the day that I would enter into my own exile, an exile away from that God. Turns out, it was a place where the God I found would be forever put away, and it was the place where I would be found, instead, by the real God.
During this exile, I slept at times for 18 to 20 hours a day, unable to get out of bed. My psychiatrist said it was a major depressive episode. I was given medication, and I had an excellent psychotherapist. I had a great support team: my husband, our children, and our family. There were times I wondered why I had not been hospitalized, based on what I can now look back and see was a “hell of a situation.”
One of my friends said, “Juanita, God cloistered you to your home.” What a picture! A monk in the monastery of my home.
I believe God did do that because it was there I experienced the discipline of solitude. I didn’t ask for it. Years later, when I picked up the Life With God Bible, and I looked up the definition of solitude, it said this: “Solitude: the creation of an open, empty space in our lives by purposefully abstaining from interaction with other human beings so that, freed from competing loyalties, we can be found by God.”
In 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NRSVScripture quotations marked (NRSV) are taken from the New Revised Standard Version, copyright © 1989, 2021 The National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.), Paul says, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, and I thought as a child, but now that I’ve become an adult, I put away childish things.” That word for “put away” is katargeo, and it means there is actual, literal effort to remove, to put away. For almost two years, during my solitude in exile, God found me and helped me to “put away” that other rule-based, performance-based God that I thought I found so many years ago. In doing so, it empowered me to move through that place of exile and into real life . . . like Jesus during that period of temptation where he had to confront the beast.
Afterwards, the scripture tells us he was comforted by the angels (see Matthew 4:11). I’m grateful because in my exile, in my solitude, God found me and changed forever my “way.” Now, the way is not my way, with my false understandings of God; it’s been replaced, by God’s grace, with the Jesus way. I’ve come to know truth, yes, and grace on this way of Jesus.
There are prophets, and then there are great prophets. To me, some of the great ones were Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, when they sang this: “Ain’t nothing like the real thing, baby. Ain’t nothing like the real thing.” I couldn’t agree more.
Talking about the Real Thing: A Conversation with Juanita Rasmus
Mindy Caliguire: Juanita, your story touched everyone at the conference when you shared it, as I know it will here in the pages of Conversations. I was especially touched by the way you were able to see how God was molding you in that time of solitude, stripping you of your false views of Him and giving you a greater understanding of who He truly is. Is there anything you would like to say, any advice you would give, to those who are going through their own season of stripping?
Juanita Rasmus: Early on in my diagnosis, before I could fully comprehend the journey, God gave me a passage in Isaiah 45:3 (NKJVScripture quotations marked (NKJV) are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.).
I will give you the treasures of darkness
And hidden riches of secret places,
That you may know that I, the Lord,
Who call you by your name,
Am the God of Israel.
I was struck by the idea that God was giving me treasures out of the darkness of my depression and hidden riches of secret places. I began to believe that I would have to look for the good out of my experience. The text gave me something to hold on to, knowing that this experience—as devastating and daunting as it was— would yield me treasure.
Miners go deep into the earth to find treasure that the world longs for—but they have to remove a lot of rubble and rubbish to get to the good stuff! The stripping process is just like that. God is teaching us how to look for the truth—the gold—of who God is and the truth—more gold—of who we are in God.
While I never want to experience that depth of darkness again, the riches and treasures I’ve received as a result far outweigh the disorienting and debilitating darkness out of which I had to crawl. Behind me in the rubble, I buried the God of my childhood, who had been exacting and, quite frankly, a tyrant. I buried my outlandish expectations that I often exacted of myself and others. In the treasure I found the God of unconditional Love and acceptance. I received hidden riches in discovering that I was the beloved of God, cherished by Him beyond my comprehension.
The silence became the space I needed to be with God alone in order to sort and sift through which part was the trash and what was actually the treasure. If you find yourself going through this stripping process, be gentle with yourself, take good notes (you will want to remember what you are learning), and stay open to experiencing God as a loving companion who wants you to get to know each other.
MC: You mention that you had a picture of yourself being “a monk in the monastery of my own home.” Could you say more about what that was like?
JR: A dear friend suggested that I was being cloistered in my own home. In essence I was under spiritual house arrest or, better perhaps, I was in a spiritual ICU. I was lethargic most days, and even dragging myself out of bed was a feat. But there in that exhausted state, God had my undivided attention, no appointments, sermon preparation, or field trips for my daughters . . . no activity of any kind to distract me from the work of recovery. Silence and solitude became welcome to me. Paraphrasing the Life With God Bible, silence became an opportunity to be released from the competing interests in my life to be found by God.
In that monastic silence, I could hear God speak to me while I stared out the window toward my backyard, watching the wind’s effects on the trees. I used no energy—I didn’t have any—but I was spoken to and kept company by God.
Silence became a place for me to gain new life.
MC: Since your experience, I would imagine that you have a different perspective on solitude. How often do you practice solitude now? What are the specific gifts of solitude that mean the most to you these days?
JR: Growing up in the South, my perspective of silence was that it was a form of punishment or my proper place. “Good girls should be seen not heard” and axioms like it shaped my understanding of silence. If anything, the idea of silence was “time-out” for being too boisterous. And I was surely that as a child!
I often heard an exasperated “Can’t you be quiet!?” or “Do you have to talk so much!?” But this new experience of silence and solitude gave me an incredible freedom. I was free to gather wisdom, to sense discernment, to surrender to patient waiting without anxiety, to reflect, to experience joy and hope as well.
While in silence I have learned to cultivate listening for the still, small voice of God, and I have heard it.
I have learned to practice silence in numerous ways: daily in my car, I drive without the sound of the radio; while waiting in lines, I tune into the still, small voice. Fasting from TV is another way I make space from time to time for silence, and—when time is no object—I check into a local retreat center for a few days of “S & S”: silence and solitude. I have learned, and I recommend to others, to go slow even for just five minutes here or there, and build up a little at a time.
Finding the Real Thing: Questions for Reflection
- How are you creating an open, empty space for God?
- Do you purposefully abstain from interaction with others? why or why not?
- What are some of your competing loyalties that rob you of time with God?
- How does the 24/7 availability of technology impact your ability to be with God? when, if at all, do you take a break from these?
- What parts of Juanita’s story resonate with you, and why? what have you been learning about God these days that challenge your former assumptions?