I've always been struck by Jesus' actions in John 20:24-29. By this point, most of his disciples have recognized him as the risen Lord, but Thomas is asking for more proof. His anxiety is high as he says (in what I imagine to be a desperate voice): "Unless I see the mark of the nail in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe." ¹
Jesus responds… a week later! Now, I love Thomas. I think his expression of doubt is vulnerable and honest and that when Jesus engages his questions, he gives Thomas exactly what he needs – proof. Jesus meets Thomas where he is at, just like Jesus does. But Jesus waits a while to do so. He takes a beat. Jesus does not meet anxiety with anxiety. There is a pause that happens between Jesus' first conversation with Thomas and the second.
I wonder what transpired over that week, chosen by Jesus and chosen for Thomas. Did Jesus perform more miracles? Was he having fascinating conversations in the marketplace? Was Thomas agitated, or did he have deep peace? We do not know the answers to these questions, but perhaps we are not meant to know. The Spirit was at work, tilling the soil of Thomas' soul as he waited on Jesus to respond.
In the world of spiritual formation, we talk a lot about silence, stillness, and inner peace. Pause, or letting some time pass before responding or deciding, can utilize these practices. And, pausing as its own spiritual practice invites our souls into a space of purposeful waiting. Pause does not mean that nothing is happening. Rather, it is time that allows for deep, sometimes uncomfortable spiritual work.
Like Thomas, we all have times when we want answers now, and like Jesus, we all encounter people demanding a wise response now. Jesus models for us a better way, a slower way. Of course, Jesus meets us in our need, and sometimes that means giving us a green pasture ² so our souls can wait and learn just a bit more before rushing to complete a task, finish a conversation, or make a critical decision.
During a recent pause in my life, where Jesus invited me to wait before making a move, I told my Spiritual Director, "Jesus was kind and disruptive." He was kind in that he showed me strength, grace, and love. But Jesus also worked on my soul by challenging my desires and preconceived ideas. Jesus messed with my peace so that I could have a more profound peace.
We can take a page from Jesus' book when it comes to how and when we respond to the demands around us. By pausing, we allow His Spirit to move in with the wisdom and insight needed to do the work of being human in relationship with others, as peers and leaders.
Years ago, when I first began preaching with some regularity, a ministry colleague pulled me aside and kindly observed that my sermons were theologically strong but that I seemed to rush through them, leaving no room for anyone to digest the words. I started placing markers in my sermon manuscripts, typing the word PAUSE in all caps. Now, I cannot barrel my way through a sermon. I see that word and slow down; I wait and give space. Honestly, sometimes the Spirit shows me a different word or phrase to use than the one I planned. This practice keeps the sermon more about God's work and less about mine.
Pause as a spiritual practice can mean days or months of waiting, or just a moment of quiet during a conversation. Spiritual pause is an act of humility and trust, reorienting us to the God who has the power and gentleness to shift frustrating and seemingly impossible situations.
¹ John 20:25, NRSV
² Psalm 23
Alyssa Bell is a tent-making Co-Associate Pastor at Emmanuel Presbyterian Church in Spokane, WA along with her husband Matthew. They have two daughters, Theresa and Susie. While serving the church, which she loves, she pursues complimentary vocational avenues like teaching and spiritual direction. Alyssa recently completed her Doctor of Ministry degree in Leadership and Spiritual Formation and is in the Spiritual Direction Training Program through the Companioning Center. She has a heart for mothers who minister, either in a church setting or elsewhere. For fun Alyssa enjoys walking, making music, reading mystery novels, and completing puzzles.