31 Days of Unexpected Joy: Silence (Day 5)

31 Days of Unexpected Joy: Silence (Day 5)

Retreat feet.
Retreat feet.

Folks who know me well and not-so-well might be surprised to read that silence brings me joy. Well, that’s one of the reasons this series is called “unexpected,” my friends – you never know what you’re gonna get!

Anyway, silence did NOT always bring me joy.

A trip in the way-back machine will show my younger self surrounded by a LOT of noise – the bigger the car stereo system, the louder the rock concert, the rowdier the party – I sought out the noise, and the noise was more than happy to be found. I believed these things were bringing me joy.

I’ve often joked that God knew it would take having the incomparable noise of life with five young children and a husband to get me to want to spend time, alone, in a chapel filled with nothing but Jesus in the Tabernacle and my thoughts. Don’t get me wrong – I still crank up TobyMac in the minivan and get down to Lecrae in the living room. But it’s different now. I’m not as apt to seek noise for its own sake anymore. I’m not trying to drown God out … usually. I want to actually be able to hear Him.

And yet, I do still struggle with silence. I sometimes struggle with it mightily. Because I am out of practice actually entering in to the silence. And that is because I lack discipline.

I suffer from what Buddhists would call “monkey mind.” My thoughts swing from branch to branch like busy little monkeys, and more often than not, I have seemingly several dozen monkeys swinging around simultaneously with no end in sight. Admittedly, my mind can be a very scary place. I have not figured out exactly how to calm the monkeys yet, but I have a sneaking suspicion it doesn’t involve bananas. Rather, I must regularly invest the proper amount  of time to be still and know that He is God. 

So, late last month, I found myself on a silent retreat. Again. You read correctly – silent – as in, no talking whatsoever. It had been four years – way too long – since my last silent retreat, and it took me all the way until the final Mass on the final day to begin to feel like, perhaps, my soul was beginning to start to become acclimated to the rhythm of silence and prayer.

My time at silent retreat this year solidified three things:

  1. I need more silence in my life, not less.
  2. Daily silent prayer/meditation and weekly Adoration must be non-negotiably present on my schedule.
  3. No retreat or program or new good endeavor can take the place of spending time with Jesus, and only I can do the necessary work to spend time with Him. I can’t outsource that.

Today I had a chance to reflect a bit on my very first retreat into silence over at CatholicMom.com – how my spiritual director tricked me into going and how it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It is still bearing fruit today, lo, these six years (!!) later.

My advice? If you’ve considered going on silent retreat but aren’t sure, DO IT. If you’ve been before and have another opportunity to go, DO IT. If you haven’t considered it because it scares you, consider it and DO IT. Be not afraid of the silence, my friend. You will find God in the silence, if only you seek Him.

Until tomorrow, God bless y’all!

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” -Luke 5:16

“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:23

“One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” -Luke 6:12

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Confessions of a [former] silent retreat reject #vintageRCM

Confessions of a [former] silent retreat reject #vintageRCM

Happy Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Calah’s post over at Patheos today struck a chord. I, too, have struggled through the excruciating cone of silence that is a silent retreat, yet was ultimately pleasantly surprised by the experience. The following post was originally published FIVE YEARS AGO this month after my very first silent retreat. Wow. That was two children, a few jobs, and one epic cross-country move ago. Interestingly, I make a few references to writing more about the experience, but I never did. Perhaps it’s time for another silent retreat?? Mum’s the word!


Let’s just get this out of the way now – I’m a talker.

While I’m not the chattiest of all the women I know, I think I could hold my own in a talking contest. Especially if I got to talk about faith and family and the state of the world. I’m not a big fan of chit-chat; I like to go deep.

So when my spiritual director suggested I go on a women’s retreat as a kind of  “capstone” experience after meeting with her for six consecutive weeks, I thought it sounded like an awesome opportunity to connect with other like-minded Catholic women to learn some cool stuff and share about our faith. It took surprisingly little time to talk my husband into letting me go for the weekend (thanks, Hon!), and it was all set. My first retreat by myself. Yay!

The funny thing is, going in to it, I had absolutely NO IDEA that it was a silent retreat. None. I mean, there wasn’t anything indicating as such on the retreat flyer, and my dear spiritual director didn’t happen to mention it, interestingly enough.

Upon arrival, someone casually mentioned, “Ladies, enjoy your conversation with dinner, because there won’t be any talking allowed after that point.” Huh? Saywhaaa? A women’s retreat with no talking? Isn’t that an oxymoron? I quickly surmised that either this was the 3rd circle of hell, or that someone would be coming out with a video camera soon to tell me that this was all an elaborate hoax.

But, no – they were serious. And, after a brief stint of sheer panic, I genuinely smiled and had to chuckle as it finally sunk in. I thought about how, yet again, Our Lord has a pheNOMenal sense of humor. Did I mention I like to talk??

Okay, so if the younger version of myself ever heard that I would actually go to a silent retreat, let alone actually ENJOY it, I think younger me would have dropped dead from shock. Friday night through Sunday morning without saying anything out loud but prayers??? Ha! You’ll never survive, I would have told myself.

But I did. I survived. In fact, I more than survived. I – the real me – thrived. Are you kidding me??! Nothing came out of my mouth but prayers (morning prayer, Mass, confession, evening prayer, stations of the cross, the rosary, personal meditation) for almost the whole time. And it was evident the Holy Spirit was working. More on that in another post later.

Because one of the things I learned on my recent retreat is that less really IS more. I won’t go on and on about the retreat itself, but here are a few nuggets I picked up:

  • God is present in the silence. If you don’t allow silence, it will be much, much more difficult to hear God’s voice.
  • In the silence, your heart and soul can be nourished in ways you didn’t know you were hungering for.
  • When the only words you say are prayers, you realize that many words aren’t necessary whatsoever, including “Please pass the salt,” which I thought would be pretty important at mealtime.
  • Solitude can be an amazing time of self-discovery. When you are alone, you’re never really alone, because God is there, too. I took Fr. Dave Pivonka’s Spiritual Freedom with me into my times of solitude and would recommend it to anyone seeking a closer relationship with Christ.
  • Silence takes discipline, but we are all called to be obedient as disciples of Christ. Our obedience can allow God’s presence to be evident to us and those around us … more on that in a later post.

If you don’t yet understand why we need silence and solitude as an integral part of our spiritual journey, I suggest you read The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. It is a wonderful, pithy text that pulls from the wisdom of scripture and the Desert Fathers to draw us into a deeper connection with God our Father.

Watch for another post soon that will humbly tackle practical ways in which to live out the lessons of the silent retreat.

Pax Christi!

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Confessions from a [former] Silent Retreat reject

Confessions from a [former] Silent Retreat reject

Let’s just get this out of the way now – I’m a talker.

While I’m not the chattiest of all the women I know, I think I could hold my own in a talking contest. Especially if I got to talk about faith and family and the state of the world. I’m not a big fan of chit-chat; I like to go deep.

So when my spiritual director suggested I go on a women’s retreat as a kind of  “capstone” experience after meeting with her for six consecutive weeks, I thought it sounded like an awesome opportunity to connect with other like-minded Catholic women to learn some cool stuff and share about our faith. It took surprisingly little time to talk my husband into letting me go for the weekend (thanks, Hon!), and it was all set. My first retreat by myself. Yay!

The funny thing is, going in to it, I had absolutely no IDEA that it was a silent retreat. None. I mean, there wasn’t anything indicating as such on the promotional flyer, and my dear spiritual director didn’t happen to mention it, interestingly enough.

There was a slight point of panic upon arrival when someone said, “Ladies, enjoy conversation with dinner, because there won’t be any talking allowed after that point.” Huh? A women’s retreat with no talking? Is that an oxymoron? I quickly surmised that either this is the 3rd circle of hell, or that someone would be coming out with a video camera soon to tell me this is all an elaborate hoax.

But, no – they were serious. And I genuinely smiled and had to chuckle as it finally sunk in. I thought about how, yet again, Our Lord has a pheNOMenal sense of humor. Did I mention I like to talk?

Okay, so if younger self ever heard that I would go to a silent retreat and actually ENJOY it, I think I would have perished from shock. Friday night through Sunday morning without saying anything out loud but prayers? Ha! You’ll never survive, I would have told myself.

But I did. I more than survived. I – the real me – thrived. Are you kidding me? Nothing came out of my mouth but prayers (morning prayer, Mass, confession, evening prayer, stations of the cross, the rosary, personal meditation) for almost the whole time. And it was evident the Holy Spirit was working. More on that in another blog later.

Because one of the things I learned on my recent retreat is that “less really IS more,” I won’t go on and on about the retreat itself, but here are a few nuggets I picked up:

  • God is present in the silence. If you don’t allow silence, it will be much, much more difficult to hear God’s voice.
  • In the silence, your heart and soul can be nourished in ways you didn’t know you were hungering for.
  • When the only words you say are prayers, you realize that many words aren’t necessary whatsoever, including “Please pass the salt,” which I thought would be pretty important at mealtime.
  • Solitude can be an amazing time of self-discovery. When you are alone, you’re never really alone, because God is there, too. I too Fr. Dave Pivonka’s Spiritual Freedom with me into my times of solitude and would recommend it to anyone seeking a closer relationship with Christ.
  • Silence takes discipline, but we are called to be obedient as disciples of Christ. Our obedience can allow God’s presence to be evident to us and those around us … more on that in a later post.

If you don’t yet understand why we need silence and solitude as an integral part of our spiritual journey, I suggest you read The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen. It is a wonderful, pithy text that draws on the wisdom of scripture and the Desert Fathers tom draw us into a deeper connection with God our Father.

Watch for another post soon that will humbly tackle practical ways in which to live out the lessons of the silent retreat.

Pax Christi!

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