“Oh please just let me please breakdown”
~Jack Johnson, “Breakdown”, In Between Dreams
The above quote by Jack Johnson reveals what is rapidly becoming a universal cry of modern humanity. We live such fast-paced, technologically driven, and relationally shallow lives that the cry of our heart is “please just let me please breakdown”. Our capacity for overwork is causing us to burnout. But while God did call the first human couple to work in the Garden of Eden, and while the entrance of sin cause work to become more painful and difficult, He did not intend for such work to define us or rule us. Timothy Keller prescribes the biblical antidote when he encourages people to recover the spiritual discipline of Sabbath-keeping. “Since God rested after his creation, we must also rest after ours. This rhythm of work and rest is not only for believers; it is for everyone, as part of our created nature. Overwork…violates that nature and leads to breakdown.” 1
One way of obtaining such Sabbath rest is by participating in a spiritual formation retreat. I have had the good fortune to be able to attend the “Gift of Silence” retreat at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs. It has been a real blessing to my walk with God in the past and so I’m pleased to announce that another retreat is scheduled this October 12th, 2013 at Glen Eyrie. If you read this post and you live in Colorado Springs or nearby, I encourage you to sign up (I provide more details on how to do that at the end of this post. If you cannot attend or live somewhere else, I also offer some suggestions and resources.).
You may be wondering, “What is a ‘Gift of Silence’ Retreat?” At such retreats we do spend a little time together, meditating on God’s Word corporately. But most of the day is spent individually in prayer and Scripture reading. This is not the typical Protestant retreat of hearing oh-so-many lectures and doing oh-so-many activities that one walks away feeling more worn out than when they began (especially if you’re an introvert like me). These retreats are designed to carve out space and time in your life to enable you to go beyond the flurry of thoughts in your head and to really open up to God. Further, we’ve offered the retreat in the past at both Glen Eyrie and at the Mount St. Francis Catholic Retreat Center. If the day provides pleasant weather, then most retreatants choose to spend such time outdoors where God’s Book of Nature can also inspire.
But perhaps you’re not certain if this retreat is for you or if you’ll get anything out of it. How exactly does one listen to God? And how does one know if God is speaking of it’s only one’s own thoughts? This response usually arises because, when we live such hectic lives and we then slow down in solitude, we are frequently unable to settle down physically and mentally. We find ourselves filled with excess energy and barraged by distracting thoughts and worries.
The above concerns are understandable as I have experienced them myself. In fact, at the first retreat I went on (at Glen Eyrie) I had only been there once before on a tour and found myself more interested in exploring the grounds than in settling down to be with God. My advice is threefold. First, if you find yourself antsy, don’t resist it. Explore. But be languid in your movements and open to God speaking in the environment around you. The spiritual life is a journey. Perhaps by moving physically God will show you something that speaks to your innermost being and is confirmed from His Word. This is what happened to me on my first retreat.
Second, after you’ve moved around and you begin to feel more calm and relaxed, your thoughts may still be racing from one worry or distraction to another. I encourage you to, one by one, visualize these distractions by developing an image of them in your brain. Then, taking deep breaths, visualize the image exiting your mind and body as you exhale. I have found this habit particularly helpful before I open God’s Word as it enables me to empty my mind of distractions so that it can subsequently be filled with the Word of God and open to the Holy Spirit’s whispering.
Third, beyond any questions or concerns you might have, if you really pay attention to what is occuring inside your heart you will find yourself drawn to the idea. As Bryan Bishop points out in the packets that “Gift of Silence” retreatants receive:
We also take this time because deep down we know we need it. We crave it somewhere inside ourselves, but the noise of the modern world drowns out that quiet thought. Our cell phone alone now calls us to Facebook and to news and to emails from work and to our shopping list. We surf the Internet while watching TV. We talk and drive and eat and listen to music all at the same time.
We almost have no quiet spaces left. 2
If that’s not reason enough to attend one of these retreats then I don’t know what is! Nevertheless, you may find yourself resistant and uncertain. In the art of spiritual direction it is important to pay attention to areas of resistance. They usually are indicators that there is more going on at a deeper level. If, despite my responses above, you still find yourself resistant to the idea of a spiritual retreat you would be wise to ask yourself why you feel such resistance. Where is the resistance coming from? Is it possible that you have allowed your calling to become so entwined to the values of productivity, busyness, and significance in the lives of others that you fear the removal of their approval or a loss of meaning and value? These are difficult questions to ask oneself, and I leave the results to you and God, but engaging in introspection in areas of resistance can reveal places where dramatic transformation and healing can occur.
If you’ve read this far, either you really liked this blog post or you just want to see what resources are available! As you take a look at the resources, prayerfully consider if one of these, or something similar where you live, is what God is inviting you to take part of.
Gift of Silence Retreat– For more information and to sign up for this, go to https://www.woodmenvalley.org/index.cfm/pageid/3537/index.html. Register soon as space is limited.
Glen Eyrie– Innovo Spiritual Retreats at Glen Eyrie offer the option to spend 1, 2, or 3 nights there. For more information visit http://www.navigators.org/us/ministries/gleneyrie/retreats/innovospiritualretreat or call 877-488-8787.
Sacred Heart Jesuit Retreat House– A silent retreat center in Sedalia, CO (near Castle Rock) that offers individual or group retreats. You can stay overnight or go for the day. They offer spiritual direction as an option. For more information visit www.sacredheartretreat.org or call 303-688-4198 ext 122.
Potter’s’Inn– A retreat center in Divide, CO that offers a variety of retreats and events. One can find out more about forthcoming events at www.pottersinn.com or by calling 719-264-8837.
Contemplative Worship Service – Some churches may offer services that are more contemplative in nature. These may be difficult to find, but you may want to start with churches that tend to be more liturgical in style. For those in the Pikes Peak region, First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs offers what they call “Oasis” – contemplative service that is offered at 12:15 PM on Thursdays.
Day at a Park– If going to a retreat center is not a possibility for you at this time, then I encourage you to spend a day at a park. Find a place to sit, away from any activities of others, turn off you cell phone, and bring yourself before God and His Word.
Technology Fast– If even going to the park is not on your radar, then at least consider fasting from technology for a day. This won’t be easy, but turn off the television, iPod, smart phone, e-reader, or whatever else distracts you and open God’s Word. If you’re at home, maybe look around. See what you notice taking place outside and in the world around you. You might be surprised.
1 Timothy Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (New York: Dutton, 2012), 235, emphasis mine.
2 Thanks to Bryan Bishop for allowing me to copy and past that part and some of the resources at the end of the post from “A Gift of Silence-Our Day” Word Document, March 23, 2013.