Before you read this post, I need to preface it with a big caveat. It’s a post about taking regular time for silence and solitude, but before I write about that practice, I want to note that there are seasons in which prolonged (by which I mean, longer than a few hours) retreats are impossible. This seems especially true with very young children. (Ironically, this also may be the times of life when retreats are desperately necessary. If you are feeling that sense of desperate need, I do encourage you to consider ways to receive what you need–whether that’s paying a babysitter for help, asking a friend or relative for help, or, especially if you are in a long-term care situation, looking for official respite care.) But this post is intended for people who could take time to rest and, like me, forget or neglect to do so.
A few months back, I heard a podcast interview with Ruth Haley Barton. She was talking about her latest book, Invitation to Retreat, and she mentioned her practice of taking a workday once a month, a 24-hour period once a quarter, and 3 or more days once a year of silence and solitude. I nodded along as I listened, as if I too had a practice of taking time away to rest, to listen, and to respond to the whispers of God’s Spirit. I’m an introvert, and I’m a writer. I spend a fair amount of time in solitude. I could happily curl up with a book and a journal and a cup of tea all day every day. Regular rhythms of rest through retreat? I’m all over that, or so I thought.
And then I realized that I was deluding myself.
Here’s the thing. I’m a planner. I diligently use a daily calendar. On Saturday or Sunday morning, I take the time to review the goals from the past week, make sure I did everything on the to do lists, record victories and setbacks from the week, and set intentions for the week ahead. Once a quarter, I schedule a work day with my calendar and my planner to think and pray about goals, to review the past few months, and to plot out major events and plans for the season ahead. (For what it’s worth, the one I use is the Full Focus Planner designed by Michael Hyatt. I like it a lot.)
I had tricked myself into thinking that quarterly planning was the same as regular times of silence and solitude.
Barton says that solitude–time alone–is a container that holds many of the other spiritual disciplines. Solitude holds space for silence. And silence is a posture of trust, of openness, of patience, of listening.
But solitude can also be a container for something else. Instead of showing up and looking and listening for God’s presence, I was looking and listening for myself. Turning off the wifi signal and abstaining from email for the day with my planner at my side is not silence. It’s a healthy and helpful practice, and I’m glad I do it. But planning and goal setting is not the same as waiting and listening.
So I heard Ruth Haley Barton on this podcast and looked at my calendar and decided that I needed 24 hours away. I asked a friend if I could use her beach house. I arranged child care with Peter. I packed up a cooler of food. I gathered the books I’ve read and journals I’ve written and planners I’ve planned for the past few months, and I drove to the shore.
The first thing I learned was that I was tired. I sat in the window seat of our friend’s living room, with the sun warming the cushion and a view of marsh grass and a tidal river in the distance, and I fell asleep. A few hours later, with plans for a productive evening of self-discovery, I found myself yawning so often that I decided to go to bed. And then I slept for nine hours (I typically sleep for 7 at the most, and I don’t usually wake up to an alarm). I woke up, went back to that cozy window seat, read the Bible, prayed, and . . . you guessed it. I fell asleep again.
Nearly half of my dedicated hours away were spent asleep.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
In the course of that time, I also went for some walks. I took a run. I prepared food. I read a book.
He leads me beside the still waters.
Already, It was time to go, and I felt like I hadn’t even gotten started. I hadn’t become uncomfortable with the state of my own soul, which Barton warned would happen at some point. I hadn’t explored all the things I had learned in the previous months. I hadn’t read through parts of the Bible like I thought I would. I hadn’t spent any time praying for other people.
He restores my soul.
It was a start, with the God who is patiently and tenderly calling to me, the God who cares far more about shaping and forming my heart than about what I produce for Him.
So now one of my stated goals for 2019 in my Full Focus Planner is a regular rhythm of retreat.
Two other notes. One, I’m writing in my newsletter this month about what to do while on retreat. Sign up here to receive my newsletter and read about 11 tips on taking time away to listen to God’s voice in your life.
And two, in keeping with the need for seasons of rest and refreshment, I’m taking the next two months off from writing new blog posts. I’ll be posting guest posts as well as older content, so you can continue to check in, but I’m also taking God’s invitation to rest this summer. I’ll be back in September.