By Kathy Tuan-MacLean

The Spiritual Discipline of Indifference

You can run but you can’t hide.

For the past several weeks, God and I have needed to talk about my attitude problem towards a set of decisions my husband Scott and I are making. As I wrote in my blog post, Tempted to Join eHarmony, Scott and I are polar opposites on almost every spectrum that exists. That makes decision-making especially hard.

But like Jonah of whale fame, I ran around avoiding the conversation with God. Last Tuesday, after a morning cancellation, I had two free hours that I just knew would be the opportune time to have a heart-to-heart with my Creator.

What did I do instead?

E-mail.

Expenses.

Printing of some documents I need for the Team Days I’m leading with my ministry team.

It’s amazing how much ministry, Bible reading, and even prayer you can do all while avoiding talking to God about what really matters in your life.

I printed a document Adele Calhoun* had sent me on seeking discernment with leadership groups. I want to help my ministry team become “kinder and gentler” because most of us are on the edgy, opinionated, plunge-into-debate side of the spectrum, and I want to welcome and attract staff who aren’t like us.

So I read the document and halfway through it talked about three kinds of prayer necessary for group discernment:

  1. The prayer of trust: that we would know and trust that dwelling within God’s will is the very best place to be.
  2. The prayer of indifference: that we would be indifferent to everything but God’s will.
  3. The prayer of wisdom: that we would hear the wisdom of God’s will.

The prayer of indifference?? Like Jonah’s “Aha!” moment as he sat in whale vomit, the prayer of indifference hit me in the gut.

I’m indifferent to nothing! I have a passionate thought or opinion on just about every subject under the sun. In fact, this is part of why Scott gets so frustrated with our decision-making process. He points out that I care so much about everything, I can’t get everything I want even making the decision just by myself! So of course I’m a little unreasonable when attempting (or not attempting) to compromise with him.

Indifference is a hard word. It seems antithetical to the way humans should be. Elie Wiesel says that indifference, not hatred, is the opposite of love. But in the prayer of indifference, we pray that we will be indifferent to everything except God’s will. Jesus teaches us that the top two commandments are:

  1. Love God
  2. Love others

So unlike a Buddhist prayer of indifference where we detach from all things, the Christian prayer of indifference would be one where we furiously attach to what God wills, but become indifferent to everything else.

Hmmm.

I haven’t yet gotten to the place of actually praying that prayer yet, but at least I’m thinking about it. Which is probably better than avoiding God by just doing e-mail.

 This piece was first posted in Kathy’s blog, Plumbing Demons.

*See Kathy’s blog, beginning with Little Kathy/Big Kathy, for six reflections on the topic True Self/False Self inspired by the spiritual retreat she attended with Adele Calhoun.

About the Author

Kathy Tuan-MacLean serves as Associate Director for InterVarsity’s Graduate & Faculty Ministries (GFM), supports the Boston Faculty Fellowship as its campus staff, and just celebrated her 25th year with InterVarsity. Kathy has a PhD in Human Development & Social Policy from Northwestern University. Her dissertation was on “The Interracial Friendships of White & Asian College Students,” a topic that capitalized on her passion for racial reconciliation. She’s married to Scott and has three children — one in college, the other two in high school. Her latest adventure in the blogosphere can be found at kmactuan.wordpress.com.

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