In 1929 Winston Churchill was driven from his political life and entered into what the ambitious and ‘crushing it’ among us today might consider a “lost” decade.
After being in parliament for 30 years, he was out of office and at home. What followed was a period of recharging himself by engaging in activities which fed him. He spent a great portion writing, traveling, as well as the well noted painting and bricklaying. He remained engaged but at a pace outside of public servanthood which allowed him to regain focus.
In the context of Ryan Holiday’s book Stillness Is The Key, emphasized was Churchill’s ability in this time period to read and write, to sit and do nothing, to take the temperature of the world around him others were too busy to figure out. It was this time in the 1930’s he would focus on the concerns coming from Germany. His contemporaries would call his focus and alarm sounding “scaremongering” about the leadership in Germany. It was his time away, painting during the day, writing as found to be inspired, that allowed him to read into what others were dismissing.
Which is why Churchill is called back to lead Britain once the realization became reality through war. He had become still enough, slowed down enough, while staying active enough to focus his attention on an issue which prepared him for a moment in time like World War II.
Holiday asks if the dynamo and larger than life figure Churchill could have taken on the task at hand to lead his country during such a pivotal moment in history if Winston didn’t get still for a decade. The obvious leading answer is no, and Churchill would have been the first to say so.
Churchill wrote about the importance of every prophet’s forced exile into a wilderness. Into a time and place, as Holiday pens it, “of solitude, deprivation, reflection and meditation.” This was a decade of time. It wasn’t an unproductive time. It just took a different form of productivity by slowing down and gaining an energy and focus we can only find once we’ve exited the rat race, turned down distracting noise, and focus intensely on things which matter most.
A time being in wilderness which prepares us for strength. Not weakness.
John Mark Comer pivots our normal way of thinking about wilderness as a place of weakness in his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry. He notes the word eremos, translated as desert, is the place Jesus enters into a number of times throughout the Gospels.
The issue with our modern day goggles is the word eremos in Greek can mean a number of words, such as desert, lonely place, quite place, wilderness, solitary place. And it is in these places, or figurative deserts and wildernesses, where Jesus enters to gain strength for what is next. Not to become weak from the slower place. It’s where He would go to charge up, to regain energy, to establish connection between Him and His Father.
The wilderness is not a place of weakness. It is a place to restore by stripping away all which does not matter and drains us. All the things hijacking our attention. Causing distraction so we can’t see the inevitable around us.
What strikes me most about Churchill’s anecdote above is through the near ritualistic engagement of reading, writing, painting and more, he becomes very clear with the concerning rise in power in Germany. He gains a form of clarity on a single subject which prepares him to take some of the most important actions in history during WWII.
Churchill’s abilities were birthed from a period of stillness, rest, and reflection.
The wilderness prepares if we are willing to do the work found inside the intentional slowing down of life. There is work to be done inside of stillness for sure. But apparently, a work which is elusive even when everything designed to busy us is slowed down.
“I think we’re all lost till we’ve walked in the wilderness.” – My Epic