Unplug From the World

"In stillness: Sanity is found. Sense is made of things.
The roar of the enemy is stilled, and the soul can listen to its Maker."
Waymaker by Ann Voskamp

It was an accident.
I've shared this before, but in August of 2019, I went on my first retreat—a retreat I somehow paid for, drove to, and checked in for without ever realizing it was a silent retreat. Discovering this unexpected detail left me a little excited … and a lot nervous! And I’m pretty sure God, well aware of what He had in store for me that weekend, simply looked down at me and smiled. That retreat changed my life as I encountered Jesus in a new and profound way, a way I’d not realized was even possible. And by His Grace alone, I will never be the same again. (You can read about my first retreat here. You can hear more about about my first encounter with Jesus here.)

Go empty.
Two years later I once again registered for a silent retreat—this time with intention. When I clicked that “submit” button on the registration form I didn't know the retreat would take place during a very stressful season of my life. But God absolutely did.

As the retreat approached I was filled with a mix of emotions. I couldn’t wait for it to begin, as I longed for a reprieve from my daily stress. Yet I felt guilty leaving others during a stressful period. And, oddly, I felt a bit of anxiety, concerned that despite my efforts to avoid it, I would find myself comparing this retreat to my first one. After all, one can only have their first real encounter with Jesus one time. Would I somehow feel let down if this retreat didn’t provide the same sort of life-changing experience as the first? Yes, comparison is the thief of joy … and the enemy knows exactly what traps to throw in my path.

Fortunately I voiced my concerns to a Spiritual Director, and she gave me much needed advice: Go empty.

In other words, lay down my expectations for the retreat. Lay down my hopes for what might happen. Lay down my plans for what I wanted to “accomplish.” Place it all at His feet, and open my heart to receive whatever He had in store for that weekend. So that’s exactly what I did.

Well, sort of.

Because my innate desire for control seems to be the hill on which I am intent to die. And it’s the very piece of me He calls to die each and every day.

So I tried to go empty. And I thought I was—even as I placed my Bible, a journal, a devotional, a spiritual book, a coloring book, and my colored pencils into my bag. Retelling this story it’s obvious: I need help!! And that’s exactly what He gave me, as I arrived at the retreat to discover I’d forgotten one of my bags. The only items with me were my clothes and my Bible. Feel free to laugh at my expense. I am...

It’s personal.
This retreat was an entirely different experience from the first, but just as impactful. It revealed how incredibly personal God’s Love for me is, and this is very different from simply knowing I am loved by Him in a general sort of way. It also birthed in me the desire to make a retreat a yearly tradition.

Now in case you’ve never before been on a silent retreat, let me elaborate. Each of these retreats was what is sometimes called a Preached Silent Retreat. A facilitator periodically gives a presentation on a topic, and in between the presentations you’re given time on your own to reflect, pray, rest, read, walk around the property, etc. So words are spoken during these retreats; they just aren’t spoken by those in attendance. Participants remain in silence the entire time—and it is this silence that allows one to better hear God’s Voice.

The message of creation.
A couple months ago I registered for another silent retreat, a simple act that, on its own, filled me with Peace. And last weekend I once again started my year the way I now hope to start each new year: embracing silence with God while intentionally escaping the busyness of everyday life. I counted down the days until I set my “out of office” notification, loaded my car—this time without a small library—and typed the location into my GPS. And, reflecting on the advice previously given to me, I tried to release all expectations as I drove the two and a half hours to the retreat house.

Now if you consider only my luggage, I did a much better job of arriving empty. But old habits die hard, and I may have suggested to God several things we could work on together during the retreat. You know, if He wanted to.

As the retreat progressed I realized God was not pursuing any of my suggestions. And to be honest, I briefly questioned whether anything significant would happen during the retreat. But I know that when our hearts are intent upon seeing and spending time with Him, God will always make Himself known. 

Finally, as I sat alone in a wooden rocker on the front porch, I was able to settle into the silence.  And as I did, my senses gradually awakened to all that was happening around me. Time stood still as I was gently overwhelmed with countless little details—details that were at once both contradictory and in complete harmony:

The sensation of both the cool breeze and warm sun on my skin at once.
The trees with evergreen leaves standing besides those with bare naked branches.
The sun setting before me as the moon rose behind me.

Somehow the balance and harmony found within the opposing details of God’s Creation stood out in a way I’d never before noticed. It was as if I was seeing the world around me for the first time. And I was seeing it all through His lens. And it was beautiful. Awe-inspiring. Absolute perfection. And, with certainty, it was all created with great intention.

Soaking in every little detail, my mind drifted to some of the situations in my own life, situations that often carry opposition and contradiction, ones I normally view as conflict and receive with angst. Is it possible that harmony and beauty exists in these situations as well? And could it be that the reason I don't see it is simply because I've never paused to view them through God's lens?

His invitation. His gift.
Pondering these questions I set out to explore the grounds surrounding the retreat house. And as I did, I slowly came to understand all He was offering me on this retreat:

“Come,” He said,
“Come away with Me.
An old house by the river
Is where we’ll meet.”

Unplug from the world,
and stay a few days.
Leave your cares behind;
I want you to play.

Sense the warmth of the sun
Through the crisp winter air.
In the still afternoon
Feel the breeze blow your hair.

Watch a ladybug leap
As her wings quickly flutter.
Spy a boat traveling far
On the slow moving river.

Grab your coffee and blanket
While the sky is still dark;
Fix your gaze upon heaven—
Catch a shooting star.

Listen as birds serenade
The new morning sun.
Hear leaves fall like rain
In the silence of dawn.

With shades of orange and pink
I will color the sky.
You can watch the sun disappear
While I make the moon rise.

Soak in My Creation,
And spend time in My Word.
You’ll learn the language I speak;
My Voice will be heard.

I had you in mind
When I created all this
Come see, hear, and feel it—
Receive it as gift.”

Como Retreat House, St Francisville LA
Thank you to the women present who took much better pictures than me: Julianna Dougherty (a,b, d, e)  Nina Schultz (title photo), and our retreat facilitator who captured the setting sun, ablaze with His Glory (c)







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