What’s your first reaction to the thought of silence? Does it scare you? Do you run from it? Or do you embrace it as nourishment for your soul?
Last weekend I attended a silent retreat with twelve other women plus our leader. I’ve been on similar retreats involving a few hours, but this was my first lengthy attempt at silence. Because of my previous experiences, I was looking forward to it because I knew that my soul badly needed refreshment.
My early fall was busy with three trips within a month’s time, which pressured me to fulfill my responsibilities between them. After we were home to stay a while, I faced a list of to-dos crowded into my calendar. That pace and the stress I felt to produce good work meant that I avoided processing much of anything for several months, fearing that I didn’t have time to deal with it. My soul felt the results. Maybe you identify with a sense of emptiness in the midst of busyness.
A retreat was the perfect place of renewal. I spent most of the first morning simply grieving over various things that had happened in my life or dreams that were unfulfilled. I wept for people I know and strangers suffering and hurt from all kinds of sins and circumstances—injustice, loss in hurricanes and fires, violence, war, abuse, hatred, division, slander, and prejudice. I was able to better identify where I am spiritually. I spent time confessing and receiving God’s forgiveness and comfort.
But you may be wondering what the retreat itself looked like. Several friends who heard that I was going on a silent retreat were curious, also. Was it hard? How long were we silent? What did we do?
Times of silence with groups like ours look differently depending on the leader. In our case after silence began the first night, she had us gather several times to provide food for thought and pass out reading to consider around a central theme. She alone broke the silence at these gatherings unless there was a real need. We exited to go anywhere on the retreat property during the intervening hours to spend time with God as well as get our sleep. The final morning included communion and an opportunity to share.
Perhaps you need silence too. It may be just what your soul needs. Such time doesn’t require a group or a leader. For your first try, set aside an hour or two alone with God without phones or people. Go somewhere away from home where you can walk if the weather permits and think without interruptions. Take some spiritual reading to guide you to self-awareness and worship. (Ask for recommendations from friends or contact me.)
If you lead leaders, think about sharing silence with them. An hour or two of silence at a longer leadership retreat including specific material to read and respond to can be very beneficial if you can’t schedule a day apart for silence.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Whatever God shows you about yourself, he will forgive you, empower you to change, and show you the way to grow through it. If you need to grieve, he will provide comfort. Be silent and make sacred space for God.