|Wooded Glen Retreat Center, Henryville, Indiana|
"In and Out" makes me think of burgers, because I’m from California where In-N-Out Burger is the best. There are very few In-N-Out Burger restaurants in Texas where I live now, but you can bet I know where they are and I make a point of visiting them when I can. Their name is a description of their service method – quick food that you can eat on the go, something that was a new idea when they started, but is now our standard way of living. We’re all in a hurry to get somewhere, so we want to get in and out in a hurry.
In and out is also how water stays clear. This past week I was at the Wooded Glen Retreat Center in Henryville, Indiana. It’s a beautiful place…deep blue sky, lush green trees, and a lake. But the lake is not connected to any streams. It’s self-contained. Water comes in when it rains, and seeps out through evaporation, but that’s not enough in-and-out to keep the water clear all the time. One morning we found the lake covered with a layer of scum. Water needs the process of circulation, flowing in and out, to keep it clean.
I need that too. I need input – reading, hearing, listening, watching, absorbing information and life and the world – and I need output – discussion, writing, singing, playing, preaching. If I only have input, the collection of all that information in my brain becomes chaos. If I only have output, I put out nothingness. With both, in the middle there is processing and growth and renewed clarity.
It’s the same with our spiritual lives. Eugene Peterson, in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, says that “men and women who believingly follow Jesus (what we commonly call ‘the Christian life’ or ‘Christian spirituality’) are best guided and energized by a fusion of Scripture and prayer.” We get input, we hear from God, through the Bible, and we give output by talking to God in prayer. Peterson says that these aren’t two separate entities, but rather a “fusion” of the two together through which the Holy Spirit works to form the life of Christ in us.
One of the ways I make sure I’m doing both parts is to write about the scriptures I’m reading. In my journal my writing is addressed to God. Sometimes the output is simply pondering, asking God questions about what I’m reading, or just a thoughtful, “hmmmm…..” For my husband Rob, the output is often a song or a poem.
In the business world, this process of taking in and letting out is focused on throughput. The goal is a higher level of productivity through faster, more efficient throughput. In-N-Out Burger was designed to sell more burgers by getting people in and out more quickly. In my life, though, I’ve found that faster isn’t always better. For me throughput is more about simply allowing the processing to happen by making sure I’m doing both the taking in and the letting out. Neither works as well without the other.
What does throughput look like for you?
The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. -Psalm 121:8