It felt selfish to leave for the weekend, and I almost backed out. The next week was filled to the brim with daily technical rehearsals for the play that two of my children were in. Immediately after that, we were leaving to visit family out of state for almost two weeks. As soon as we got back it would be the mad rush to decorate for the Advent/Christmas season. Was it really the best time to leave my family for the weekend for a silent retreat?
I had not been away from my children overnight in years. When you do not live near family, and you have a child with specialized medical needs, you are pretty much on call 24/7. Plus, when your husband is a pastor – he is on call 24/7. Consequently, you just do not take time for yourself. As parents and caregivers, we need to take time for ourselves to rest and renew.
The beauty of silence is in the beholder
The Sunday before, another woman in my Sunday School class asked about the weekend. It was funny how the other members of the class reacted.
A weekend of silence? Almost all the women sighed with longing. No dishes, no chores. No loud toys or loud children. Just peace and quiet.
The men mainly had a different reaction. Aren’t you going to be bored? What are you going to do? “I would go crazy.”
The retreat was held on the campus of the Sisters of Loretto convent near Nerinx, Kentucky. The campus is beautiful, surrounded by a patchwork of rolling farmland and wooden swaths all painted with the dramatic auburn hues of autumn.
The Silent Retreat begins
The silence began after supper and a time of worship. We all retreated to our individual rooms. With the exception of community meals eaten in silence, we all went about our own paths quietly.
Oh, how the introvert in me revealed at this time! No need to focus on making small talk with other people. Instead, I could focus on listening to myself and listening to the voice of God speaking to me.
I took stuff to occupy my time. My Bible and my journal were there beside me. I was a few days behind in following the readings and used this uninterrupted time to revel in catching up.
My room had a window that perfectly framed a view of a pond with trees and rolling hills beyond. One of those gloriously large old windows with a wide sill – perfect for a book and a cup of coffee. I settled into a comfy chair with an afghan on my lap and the sound of quiet.
There is always so much to do as a mom. We watch television while folding the laundry. We wash dishes while helping a child with homework. Even when we try to take a relaxing bath, often times a child comes in to talk or we are catching up on some reading. It takes a while for the multi-tasking frenzy of our brain to focus and settle. At home there is always something more to be done, but not at a silent retreat.
A Quiet Retreat or a Silent Retreat?
There is a difference between quiet and silent. Quiet is the narthex to the sanctuary of silence. A narthex is a fancy word for the gathering space outside of the worship space. In the earliest days of the church, only the baptized members were allowed into the sanctuary. Baptisms took place in the narthex or in a nearby space. This was the area where those not yet baptized could gather.
Quiet is a transition place. We take a retreat, a break from the noise of the world that wars around us. Often we retreat into screens: television, computer, and phone screens. These are a different type of noise and input. We are still listening to others and filling the voices that override the One Still Small Voice.
When we are intentional, quiet can go deeper into silence and stillness. It is the creating of space for God to speak to us. We are clearing out the clutter around us to hear His voice. Instead of us doing, we are still enough to see what God is doing.
Observation & Silence
Classical Education teaches science in the younger years through observation. Slow down and tell me what you are seeing. Go deeper and make more observations.
After a while, we are like children – we stop fighting the nap and give in to the rest of silence. It is as if your whole being just slows down and settles. The peace and stillness plant a seed of craving for more.
I am not in charge. God is in charge. God is real. He speaks. God doesn’t need to catch up with me. I need to seek God and then follow God.
Noise draws us away from God
As a culture, we fear and flee from silence. We have special genres of music for the elevator and for waiting on hold. Even the grocery store uses the music played while we do our modern hunting and gathering to manipulate us into buying more. We are no longer constricted by the music stations that we can tune into in our homes and in our cars, we can choose from any type that we want and have it streamed to us.
Music has this mysterious pathway into our brains. It is amazing to me how easily my children will learn something when that information is paired with a great tune. This power is wonderful when it is something that I want them to learn, but very disturbing when it is a commercial for a product or words to a song that seems strikingly awkward and too mature when sung by my elementary-aged daughter.
We are a culture that is always getting more and more visual and auditory input. All these things crowd out the voice and hand of God speaking to us.
Silence: Space for God to speak
In silence, sometimes God speaks and I am inspired by ideas of what He wants me to do or new ways of understanding. Sometimes it is me pondering deep things in this safe space. Other times it is a silent stillness of resting in the knowledge that I am God’s.
It reminds me of cuddling a child and wishing that you could freeze that moment as you soak in their baby smells and soft hair. The weigh of them against you. The contented blissful rise and fall of their chest and the steady quiet beat of their heart. That moment when all is right in their world, and even though as an adult you know all of the challenges that the world has to bear down – you too put that aside to truly be in that moment. To a child of God, this is the deep stillness of silence.
Sacred Space in Daily Life
How do we find this sacred space in our daily lives and not just on a retreat? We have to tame the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest monster! We are like addicts going to them when we need a hit to fill the quiet or uncomfortable hiccups in our day.
We need to limit our times spent on email and browsing the computer. Oh, how easy it is to collapse after the kids go to bed and enjoy the quiet house while entranced by the computer screen. The inertia to move is so great that time flys by.
Could we have spent time reading the Bible or praying then that we were too busy to do earlier in the day? Did that time bring us closer to God and his kingdom?
When we drive in the car, do we really need to listen to the radio or can we use that time to be still and listen and talk to God?
Can we find space in our lives to hallow and guard the stillness and quietness so that the One still small voice can speak to our hearts.
How do you make room for silence and for God to speak in your daily life?