Who am I? What am I here for? What matters most to me? What matters least?
Yes, these deep questions are scary to answer for ourselves, and we often find ourselves so busy that we couldn’t possibly have enough quiet time to sit still and discern and pray about these questions. That is where I found myself early this spring. A friend invited me to join her on a silent retreat. Yes, 24 hours where I wouldn’t talk to anyone. No phone, no texting, no social media. Sounds amazing, I’m in!
I was craving some time alone and since it was a special time in my church (Lent for those who are Catholic or other Protestant and Orthodox faiths), it seemed like the perfect time to see for myself. As the weekend got closer, I was getting more and more ready and excited for this new experience. I was becoming more aware of the lack of silence in my life, I couldn’t wait to see what this is going to be like. Two teenagers, a husband, pets and two businesses. No time alone and no time to sit and be quiet.
I took the two-hour drive to the mountains where the retreat was held. This retreat was for Christian women and led by three younger priests. The priests were very dynamic, funny, and really engaging so I was eager to learn from them. On Friday night we were able to talk and introduce ourselves to the group. We had a fun happy hour and a lovely dinner. On Saturday morning after our service, it was complete silence until Sunday morning after Mass.
Twenty-four hours of silence – how many people encounter that in a year? In truth, it wasn’t complete silence. On Saturday we could meet with our spiritual director for 20 minutes to review different Scriptures and talk about where we were in our spiritual life. We also focused on our fears and desires. We wrote down our deep desires, mid-level desires (something on our bucket list but not critical or urgent) and superficial desires.
While walking in nature or sitting by the fire, I had so much time to reflect and journal. I prayed and thought about a lot of things in my life, particularly for my teenage children, and what life will look like when we become empty nesters. Walking in the mountains, I became more aware of what was around me. I was noticing everything. Even the simple things like the crackle of the fire caught my attention.
This discovery allowed me to glimpse a euphoria similar to the one of Billy Crystal’s character in City Slicker’s experiences when he found his “one thing” that pointed to the purpose of his one precious life. We find it when we sit in stillness, allow the mind to rest and listen to our inner knowing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I unlocked the secrets of the universe or anything. But I do have a clearer understanding of what’s important to me and of the path ahead. And as Jack Palance (Curly) advises, once we figure that out, “The rest don’t mean crap.”
My weekend retreat reminds me of the words I wrote a year ago when I reflected on the difference between travel and taking a journey. “Travel is physical movement, exploration of new parts of the world. It moves you outward and away from your known universe. A journey is emotional, perhaps spiritual, an exploration of a new part of your identity, your soul. It moves you inward … yet still possibly away from your known universe. Travel introduces you to new people and places. A journey introduces you, or reintroduces you, to yourself and others.”
I am now a huge fan of silent retreats, or retreats of any kind where you can get some time alone to think, journal and pray by yourself. You can’t hear God unless you are silent. This retreat was for less than 48 hours, but there are retreats that are eight days and longer. I am not sure I am ready for that, but I will definitely attend another weekend retreat like this one.
We are so attached to our phones. I realize even more now that we are missing SO much when we have our faces on a screen. And we Moms are constantly in go mode. We are playing “Beat the Clock” all the time trying to juggle family and business life, and taking the kids from place to place. So the importance of slowing down and reflecting is underrated.
Try to give yourself the gift of silence now and then. We ALL need to carve out time to be still. Even if it is just 20 minutes a day. Your sense of inner peace depends on spending some of your life energy in silence to recharge your battery, remove tension and anxiety, reacquaint you with the joy of knowing God and feel closer to all of humanity. Going into the quiet and listening will heal and inspire you. I know you will be as refreshed, renewed and energized as I am.
I’d love to hear about your experience and my prayer for you is that it is sooner than later.