I’m a big proponent of silence and solitude. It’s one of the most important things I do for my ministry. Once a year I do my best to do an eight-day silent retreat. It often ends up being six or seven days, but eight is always my goal. Last year was an exception due to the pandemic. I missed it. My soul missed it. I missed the impact it has of drawing me back to the center—a way of helping me remember, at a deep level, what this is all about.
The pattern of the retreat is always the same and this year was no exception. It takes me the drive to the retreat (about seven hours) and about another day to settle in, to be fully there. I’m then able to let go of my list and the concerns and duties that are pressing on me. When I finally “arrive,” God begins to bring issues to the surface to which I need to attend. Most often it is about relationships that are or have been challenging. I may sense an invitation to let go of resentment or anger. Or the eyes of my heart may be open to something I have done to another to which I’ve been blind. I may have excused it as part of my personality or justified it because of the circumstances. The Spirit gently lays it before me, and I have opportunity to address it with God. Whatever the invitation, a big part of my role is to stay there. It’s tempting to run away from the dissonance of facing myself. Even in silence and solitude, I am a master at finding ways to be distracted.
On this retreat, I again received this invitation. I was invited to look at myself honestly regarding ways I have not treated people well. It was hard! My pride repeatedly welled up and sought to justify me. In every situation I could explain my actions away. This oscillated with shame when I would allow the awareness of my wrongdoing to emerge. The shame was at times overwhelming. Thankfully, I meet with a spiritual director once a day when on retreat who walks alongside me. This is crucial to the “success” of this time. The director can see my blind spots, encourage me to stay present, and normalize what I experience. On this retreat, he helped me recognize shame as a grace from God. Rather than move too quickly to happy feelings, he encouraged me to stay with it and take it to God. I was given scripture from the life of Jesus and a psalm with which to pray each day. These texts kept me grounded in who God is—allowing the Word to read me. I experienced “the gift of tears” often that week–cleansing my heart from pain I’ve held onto for too long.
As is my practice, much of my time during the retreat was spent outside. I walk until I find a good place to sit and spend time with scripture and in prayer. The three daily meals create a rhythm to the day as I return to my place of lodging for them. I frequently sleep a lot during the first part of the retreat–an indication of both physical and emotional weariness. It also reflects the hard work of staying present to the soul work that is happening. God digs deep as I allow it.
On many retreats there is a shift that occurs at some point. It happened this time near the end of the week. I was feeling helpless in the shame—as if I had to rethink my whole ministry in light of my failures. This was not conscious, but the shift occurred when I realized the invitation was not to throw it all out and begin anew, but to continue the path I was on and trust that God will continue to transform me. That was the great grace of the time—to recognize God’s faithfulness in loving me despite my weaknesses and mistakes along with the recognition (yet again) that God is willing to use me as an instrument despite them. I do not understand this mystery, but I am so grateful!
It took me a while to work up to eight days of silence. I would not recommend starting there but to carve out a couple of hours to “waste time with God.” It’s truly amazing that the God of the universe pursues us and wants to be with us! When we respond with availability, we are able to let go of distractions and give God full access to us. It’s a way of saying “yes,” have at it, Lord. I am fully yours.
Grace and peace to you,