Thursday, October 25, 2012

How Two Days of Silence Reset My Soul

He could see that I was walking with a heavy limp, barely getting through the days. 

A torrent of emotion lay just beneath the surface and tears streamed, involuntarily, for over an hour and for no particular reason as I sat, slump-shouldered, in my counselor's office. 

Have you ever taken a silent retreat?

No, I replied. But I've always wanted to.

Well, I think you need one and you need it soon. You've got to find a way to make it happen. 

It wasn't the first time wise counsel had given me permission to do that which duty, pride, and expectation had blinded me to. And it wasn't the first time my husband also recognized my need and agreed to do whatever was necessary to save me. 

The sixteen months leading up to that appointment had been horrendous and by July of this year, I was unraveling in every way imaginable. Chronic headaches and unshakable exhaustion were constant companions but they were nothing compared to the state of my weary soul, a soul that was dealing with far too much in its graceless, tapped-out state. I could barely take care of my kids, much less myself.

I needed a break. Just a day after that counseling appointment, I got one.

For two and a half days I sat in near silence at my parents' house. They were mostly gone that whole time and because they live in the mountains, far removed from noise and commerce and distraction, I had the perfect place to crash. No e-mail or internet or phone calls. No one needing me. No duties or lists or errands.

Initially it was awkward. On my first full morning, I scrawled in my journal:

This feels strange. And wonderful. And necessary. But strange. I sit in silence, summer rain pouring from the skies, candles lighting my room, a garden oasis outside the window to my right, a statue of St. Francis of Assisi standing watch...

Over the course of the next two and a half days, I slept, prayed, journaled, hiked, cried, sat in perfect stillness, watched Pride and Prejudice, and read The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning from cover to cover. It is a classic and will always be one of my forever favorites, for its words reflect the true heart of the gospel of grace. Its message was exactly the one God ordained for me during that time away. 

As I reflect on the retreat, I see that it was both rest and conversation. Yes, conversation even in the midst of silence. From beginning to end, the Father and I "conversed" about some much-needed things. Quiet, rest, and time away provided the medium through which I could finally listen, meditate, and respond. 

It was a reset button for my body and my soul. 

I went away empty and trembling. I came home full and bit steadier. 

That was nearly four months ago and I haven't written about it here because it's difficult to articulate the mysterious mingling of the sacred and the deeply personal. The details of all that transpired remain private and tucked away.

But that silent retreat is on my mind since I'm feeling the need for another one. Because of how I'm wired and because of how my own life story has unfolded and continues to unfold, I'll probably continue to need some time away two or three times a year.

And though it may appear like I can say that with confidence, just typing that last paragraph invites guilt to hover like a thin shadow over my shoulder. 

My, aren't you a needy one, she whispers.

To Shadowy Guilt I reply, Why yes, I am terribly and exceptionally needy

And in my need, I find my Savior and my rest.

The Savior who opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

The Shepherd who makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters, who restores my soul. 

The Comforter who blesses the poor in spirit and gives them the keys to the Kingdom.

The Mightiest of all Kings who reminds me that salvation is found in repentance and rest, quietness and trust.

Our culture preaches the false gospel of productivity and Christians have swallowed it down too, living out a subconscious theology that God helps those who help themselves, make it to the top, and save the world while they're at it. 

The weary mother's version of that insidious theology is that God helps those who help themselves...and who cook, clean and decorate with finesse. And stay fit and healthy. And cheerfully volunteer at schools. {Or cheerfully homeschool.} And bless their husbands with respect and prayer and plenty of time in the bedroom. And if they work, they better balance it all well. And if they stay at home, they better make the most of that "free time." And if they want children who are balanced and enriched, well, let the chauffering to practices and games and lessons begin. And let's not forget Bible studies and making sure we're doing our part in church and in the community.

With lives and expectations like this, there is no time for rest. And that is precisely the problem.

Could it be that a refusal to rest is a refusal of grace? 

Sarah Young says this in Jesus Calling:

Lie down in green pastures of Peace. Learn to unwind whenever possible, resting in the Presence of your Shepherd. This electronic age keeps My children 'wired' too much of the time, too tense to find me in the midst of their moments. I built into your very being the need for rest. How twisted the world has becomes when people feel guilty about meeting this basis need!...I have chosen you less for your strengths than for your weaknesses, which amplify your need for me.

In my own life, I'd spent years striving and accomplishing and poo-poo-ing rest, even though I was unknowingly exhausted. When I decided to stay at home over five years ago, the striving didn't change; it just switched forms. Any crisis that came down the pike {and let me tell you, the crises have come} simply landed atop a house of cards. You can guess what happened. 

And so we've been rebuilding. Rebuilding with rest. If it sounds counterintuitive, it's because it is. I preach rest because I believe it but not because it comes naturally. I talk with weary, burned-out moms. I cry with committed, stressed-out wives in struggling marriages. I grieve with women who are carrying around baggage so heavy, I want to find a wheelbarrow. Sometimes we just have to stop before we can go on again. But rarely do any of us stop unless a breakdown or serious crisis forces us to.  

Life is hard. It's too fast and too much and we are made for rest. God took a whole day out of one week to rest. It's still his design for us today. Jesus, who was perfect and also God, took extended time away, alone, to pray and commune with the Father. How much more do we, who are not God, need deep and regular renewal and rest? 

Sure, certain seasons barely allow for it and though Jesus is certainly faithful to be our rest through busyness and appointments and calamity, sometimes we need a tangible and extended rest, the reset-button-for-our-bodies-and-souls kind of rest. 

What may seem like a luxury may actually be a life-saver, a marriage-saver, a mom-saver. It's not a cure all, but it may be an integral part of the prescription. 




  1. Oh, Marian, you are so wise. Be still and KNOW that I am GOD is so true. But it is very hard to actually do. For young Mom's like you, even Sundays are NOT a day of rest. They are a day of sacrifice.

  2. One of my dear friends goes once a month to this place:
    it has been a life-saver for her.
    maybe one day when you guys are up visiting, we can go together for some silence and solitude. The only problem would be me wanting to grab a jar of nutella and sneak into your room and stay up all night, talking and laughing.
    thanks for the reminder of getting away and listening for a change...


  3. Although you know that you (and you, too, Liz) are welcome here anytime, it is not always empty and quiet. But when it is, come and rest here.

    Marian, I have a treat to show you that just may be become a re-treat for you.

    Beautifully-written and incredibly wise words in this post. Rest . . . often and intentionally.


  4. MAY be an integral part of the prescription? No, ma'am. It IS an integral part. The fact that it's so often ignored doesn't mean it's not an integral part. . . shades of "few there be that find it"!

    Oh, the ways we refuse grace. That's a good way to put it. And if we refuse it for ourselves, we're refusing it for our loved ones, too.

    Thank you so much for writing this.


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