A Quiet Place

Once a month I slip away for a day of solitude.

If you are thinking, “Wow, that must be nice, but I could never afford that luxury,” read on.

When I first considered a day apart each month–a day to leave all the demands of life and ministry behind in favor of several hours of simply being in God’s presence–it seemed formidable. Could I make the time? Surely it would be impossible to incorporate this into the rhythm of my life. And even if I could, what would I do? Oh, wait…it’s about being, not doing. (That was enough to make my Martha personality hyperventilate!)

But, honestly, desperation is the true mother of invention…or at least of intention. A deep desire to simply be still before God was gnawing at my spirit like a hungry infant demanding to be fed. Eventually I gave in, reserving a day at my favorite retreat house. It was glorious! I came home refreshed and refilled. So I studied my calendar and chose one day I thought I could spare each month for the next three months. Then, at the end of that three months, I booked a day for the next three months–without carefully studying my calendar. It became no longer about a day I could spare. Now it is about putting the retreat day on my calendar and scheduling everything else around it. Who would have thought it would work? Not me! Yet I’ve integrated this into the rhythm of my life and, amazingly, have never felt the time was ill-spent. Everything has gotten done that needed doing.

 

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Yesterday was July’s retreat day. As I got on the road, I had an overwhelming sense of Father God welcoming me, inviting me to just come and be with him. After the flurry of throwing my “stuff” in a bag (more about that in a minute) and getting out the door, his invitation triggered a necessary slowing down. Funny how that aligned with the need to literally slow the car as I left the highway for a country road. As I made the last turn onto the narrow lane that leads to the retreat house, I smiled at the cows lolling in the shade, lazily chewing their cud, hardly noticing my noisy intrusion into their morning reverie. I pulled up to the house and disembarked to the hearty welcome of croaking bullfrogs who inhabit the pond. Again I smiled. Peace began to flood my soul.DSC_1622

As is my habit, I made some coffee and then went out to the porch swing with my prayer book to begin my day with God. Sipping coffee while praying the Morning Office in the midst of the frogs’ song with a gentle breeze wafting across the porch…peace that passes all understanding.

I always bring “stuff.” I’ve wondered if I do this because I’m afraid God won’t show up and I’ll need something to fill the time…something to do. But God has never failed to show up, and I have never felt the need to do anything on these retreat days. My bag of “stuff” usually includes my Bible, my journal, a coloring book and markers or colored pencils (don’t knock it if you haven’t tried it!), a book or two of a spiritual nature, and my camera. What I have learned is that any or all of these things may be God’s “tools” for the day–things through which we connect more intimately. Yesterday it was the camera. (Truth be told, it often is.)

DSC_1733I wandered down one of the trails, snapping pictures of the flowers and a critter or two, marveling at a couple of brightly colored birds who were not willing to sit still for a photo shoot, taking in the glory of God’s creation.When I had my fill, I returned to the house and settled again on the swing in solitude, occasionally journaling a snippet of DSC_1772conversation with God, but mostly just basking in the slowness and simplicity of the day.

Later, back at home, I looked at the pictures I’d taken. I realized that many of them contained insects feasting on what God provided. I hadn’t necessarily seen them from behind the lens, perhaps because they were so small or because the sun’s glare washed them out of view. Yet there they were, getting their fill. And I realized that I, too, had gotten my fill of God today–enough to sustain me through another month of life and ministry.

A day of solitude will do that for me. I bet it will do it for you, too.

 

The Battle on Two Fronts

My husband and I went out for breakfast this morning to celebrate his birthday. As our slow_down_sign_reed_college_portland_oregon_2013conversation drifted to his recent retirement and the changes we are experiencing, he commented on how nice it is to be able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast on a weekday morning, having nothing he has to rush to do. As I thought about his comment, I became increasingly aware of my own state of being. I was revving up. We had finished our meal, and I was physically preparing to rush on to the next thing. Except, there wasn’t a “next thing.”

It seems to me that my body is hard-wired to rush. It’s not that I have a lot of nervous energy…I’m not a leg-jiggler or a foot-tapper. I don’t drum my fingers. I’m not even particularly energetic. But my body is always poised to move on to whatever is next on the to-do list.

As a wife and mother,  a homemaker, a businesswoman-turned-pastor, I have been busy the majority of my life. I learned early on that time management was essential to successfully juggling my varied roles and responsibilities. My days were for the most part carefully planned to maximize every minute so as to accomplish not only what I needed to get done, but also have time for what I wanted to do. It was not uncommon for me to pack more into a day than was feasible to do. I’ve conditioned myself to be productive, and to be productive requires being on the move.

My life has changed significantly in the last six months. I quit my marketplace job to spend more time in ministry. After two years of providing care for my mother, she suffered a stroke and died. Subsequent weeks were spent tying up the loose ends of her affairs. Then my husband retired, and the holidays were upon us. With the whirlwind of activity behind us, we are settling into a new routine, a slower pace. Time to relax over a leisurely meal, or go to a movie in the middle of the day. The problem is that my body doesn’t know how to do that. I feel as though I’m fighting a battle to make myself slow down. That’s the battle on the physical front.

But the battle is also being fought on another front, a spiritual front. All this busyness I’ve prided myself on over the years has also conditioned my spiritual self to stay on the move. I devoured books, yet couldn’t really tell you what I’d read. I would have a revelation from scripture, but wouldn’t remember it days later. Rather than take the time to process what I read and perceived, I was rushing ahead to the next spiritual thought or epiphany. Now I am learning how to sit quietly and listen–really listen–for the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Solitude is becoming something I desire regularly.

Equally important, I am learning to be still and truly listen to others. Just as I rushed physically from one thing to the next, I also rushed conversations. The temptation to think about how I wanted to respond or simply being impatient to move on to another topic meant that I often didn’t give attention to the other person’s words, much less to what might be hiding behind them.

I’m learning that it’s impossible to be attentive to the present moment when the body and the spirit are persistently rushing on to the next thing on the to-do list or on to the next thought. This business of slowing down is hard though! The battle against pushing forward, refusing to idolize both physical and spiritual busyness, is intense.

The lesson that needs to settle deep in my spirit is this: What’s next is not guaranteed. Only this moment is real. To rush past it is to lose the battle and forfeit the opportunity to experience God in the here and now. And so each evening I thank God for all the blessings of the day, the ones I caught and the ones I missed, asking him to reveal those overlooked blessings so that I may be consciously grateful for them, too. My prayer is that this tool–this examen at the end of the day–will help me win the battle of being fully present on both fronts, physically and spiritually. Amen and amen.