Monday, June 16, 2008

Retreat Gleanings

Silence may be a little crazy to blog about; perhaps it is even oxymoronic! LOL But, silence, quietness, rest, stillness and tranquility are things that God had begun to teach me before retreat, which were reinforced while there. So those of you that know me in real life - are you laughing now?! You all know I love to talk. I think that spending most of my life as an only child, moving a lot and being really different than my peers, brought this chattiness out of introverted soul as an adult.

Talking and more specifically, writing have been my main technique of working through problems. I have faced some tough stuff in life - not as bad as some people, but for long periods of my life it seemed like one struggle or grief after another. They were the kinds of things that our enemy uses to distract us from God. Like we learned in our sermon yesterday, when our eyes are on our circumstances, we fall, we fail or we make things more difficult for ourselves, even compounding the consequences! When God is our focus and we trust in His guidance, we can face ANYTHING, no matter how tough!

This reminds me of hiking. Yes, you should watch where your feet are going, but if you focus only on what is directly in front of you, it will cause you to fall, bump into something, lose your direction or worse. But if you look at what's in front of your feet and then look up to where you are going, you at least have a better chance of making it there safely! Many times during hikes, the process is not always fun. But I liken it to Paul saying:

13Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Part of maturing in Christ and in life is learning to keep pressing on. God does not ask us to callously forget, however, when we keep focusing on the past or solely on our circumstances, it becomes egocentric and harmful.

About three weeks before the retreat Hubby and I decided to go on a prayer journey together. Instead of looking at some of our circumstances which are quite discouraging and sometimes feel impossible, we decided to devote time each night to lifting up our concerns and especially about a certain area. I am not sure what I thought when we began... A HUGE BILLBOARD?! That certainly would have been helpful: HERE IS THE WAY, WALK YE IN IT! LOL I don't know about you, but God rarely speaks to me in an audible voice, sends big signs or presents ideas in obvious ways.

Some may feel that He hides His will. Though I have had times of frustration, I do not feel that He hides anything from those who seek. In fact, Ephesians 1:9-10 read:

9And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

I believe God wants us to know and that just like me, when I am excited about learning something new, He wants to share everything with me. But He does not spill everything out to be trampled on, abused and disrespected. As Jesus spoke in parables so that those who "had ears to hear" would know, God created us to be thinking, responsive beings. His desire is for us to interact with Him. He delights in us and He treasures the time He has with us. Often we do not value that time and view it as an interruption in the rest of our busy lives. How ironic when all we have in life is His and from Him. Every good and perfect gift came from Him. He lavishes us with His love and the Scripture is filled with references to our relationship with God being like that of a Lover and we are His Bride.

So, shortly before the retreat, as Hubby and I are praying together, I feel God telling me to be still. When I have gone through chaos in life, I have often quoted to myself, Psalm 46:10, "Be still and know that I am God." I have not had a lot of success at the "be still" part. My approach to struggles is to problem solve - make a plan of action.

But now He was asking me to be still. There was a magical silence - like the deafening roar of silence I experience after an intense ASL/Pantomime session with my deaf neighbor and I realize that we have been communicating in an intense sound free bubble separated from the rest of the noisy world! It was also the peaceful silence that one experiences in a fresh snowfall. There was no awkwardness, no squirming and no struggling to force back all the thoughts that press in from the day and from my mind wandering. Wow! This I knew came from God because nothing like this ever comes from me. The only discomfort I felt was that Hubby was there with me, waiting for words to leave my lips. I worried he might even fall asleep, given it was late at night and we were praying in bed! At the time I thought "Okay this is neat" but I did not put all the pieces together until retreat. It was difficult to leave those quiet respites. I wanted to stay there in His presence, enjoying what our retreat speaker referred to as "snuggles" from God.

Fast forward to the retreat. Man was my brain full when I got there! The previous weekend was the home school conference where Sally Clarkson spoke and my mind was reeling with thoughts, ideas, plans and questions. How could I fit anything more in there?! The topic of the retreat was spiritual disciplines. I have read a little on this topic and wanted to read more. That weekend was a good way to get my toes wet as we learned about prayer, Bible reading and Sabbath keeping. We interacted with each other at our tables, we learned from the speakers' insights and presentations and we were given supplementary material to implement what we learned during our quiet times. My Hubby, who now teaches education classes, would have given her an A+ on her facilitative teaching format! :o)

Imagine my surprise as I read from page 14 of our retreat booklet under the Prayer of Rest: "In this kind of prayer we come away from the to do lists and activities and just do nothing. Rest. We don't pour forth words and questions and confessions. We sit in attentive silence...This is a type of prayer where we simply exist in God's presence and let him love us and bring to us whatever he wants, rather than pushing a concern or agenda of our own. We may come away with answers, or we may just come away knowing that he loves us and we are forgiven and special and that God is with us."

WOW! Knock me over with a feather! God had given me this snuggle time and was telling me: "Theresa, you are not in charge of the world, you are not even in charge of all your problems. I am God. I can get the job done. I'll let you know when I need your help. Let's just sit here and enjoy our time together." It reminded me of when I want to just sit and enjoy time with Hubby and he is restless because some job here or there in the house isn't done and so he pushes himself until everything is done and then we don't have time to be together. It always makes me feel sad and in a very small sense, abandoned. Here I had been doing the same thing to God and He was saying, "Theresa, let's just spend some time together. And if you are able to keep from talking and thinking for just a little while, I would like to share some things with you." WOW! Okay, so this might be just an obvious conclusion of a very long blog post for you. But, for me, it was earth shattering and a pivotal life changing moment.

"Be still and know that I am God."

So, during the rest of the retreat, whenever we had time to do other activities, I chose to spend time alone. That might seem anti-social, but I felt like God brought me to that point to LISTEN, not to DO. Or as our retreat speaker emphasized, sometimes we need to stop being Do-ers and start being Be-ers. (That is really going to freak out the spell and grammar check! LOL) Fortunately I had brought a spiral notebook with me, so I wrote and wrote and wrote. It was like that time in quietness along with the definition of that prayer time, added together to make a key that unlocked many of my thoughts and brought clarity and in some areas direction.

When I had written out my thoughts, I began to do some Bible study which I have continued at home, starting with the words quiet, quietness and quieted. One of the verses which I looked at first was Isaiah 30:15, which of course was written to the Israelites long ago, but I saw an application in my own life now:

15 This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it.

That hit me full force..."but you would have none of it". Okay, the Lord has my attention now. I'm listening. Quietness and trust are my strength. He is my strength. I am seeking more answers to what it means to be quiet, still, peaceful, tranquil, meek, gentle. These are the qualities that are often used to describe godly women and godliness. In 2 Corinthians 10:1, Paul even appealed to the Corinthians by the meekness and gentleness of Christ.

God is powerful and loud and BIG. He is mighty, awesome, fearsome and Holy.

Paradoxically He is meek and gentle, quiet and full of peace.

What an incredible God we serve, who takes time from all His concerns to hear the concerns of our hearts - even the ones we do not know how to voice. He meets us where we are. When we seek Him, He answers. He never abandons, He never leaves, He never forsakes us and He never fails.

Who am I to presume to have the answers or solutions to my circumstances? Yes, I need to engage my brain and apply wisdom, but Godly wisdom is the key. It is by His wounds that I have been healed and it is by His strength that I can do all things required of me. Isn't He wonderful?

If you have some experience in the spiritual disciplines and especially if you have had experiences where He quiets you, I would love to hear. Hopefully more women from our church will take the challenge that Susan has presented to share what we learned from retreat. The challenge is also open to people who want to share how God teaches them at retreats even if they did not attend ours. Susan is cool that way! :o) Thank you Susan. Thank you God! Thank you D for all your hard work in the retreat presentation and materials. And thank you, my cyber sisters if read this far!


Anonymous said...

Wonderful! Absolutely wonderful!

Charlotte said...

Our noise, our business, our purposes, and all our fatuous statements about our purposes, our business, and our noise: these are the illusion.
God is present, and His thought is alive and awake in the fullness and depth and breadth of all the silences of the world. The Lord is watching in the almond trees, over the fulfillment of His words.
(Jeremiah 1:11).
Written by Thomas Merton, who was a monk at the Abby of Gesthemane, and wrote some good stuff.

Marci said...

It is often hard for me to be still as well. I too want to fix the problem, to figure it out, make a plan, etc. However, in the last 3 years God has brought somethings into my life that I had no control over. Some issues with our son (who was of age), then in Aug. of 2005 I got bacterial meningitis and almost died. I came home from the hospital as weak as a kitten with raw nerves. Then less than 2 months later, my dear sweet mother unexpectedly died. Over the next year, I spent lots of time with my Dad to help him through the loss and learn how to do household things. Then we had a failed adoption, then more problems with my son, etc. What God gave me was Psalm 131. I think of that Psalm and being visual, I mentally (or maybe it is spiritually) crawl up on God's lap and rest against His breast as that weaned child. He holds me and the world goes on.

My Dad was in a horrible accident a long time ago. I got him a plaque (I have looked and never seen this saying again), but it went something like this. Sometimes God stills the storm. Other times God holds the child and lets the storm rage. That is where I have been. Yet, there is peace there.