By nature, I suck at solitude. I'm one of those loud, noisy, always singing, always talking to myself people. Ask my younger brother--When we were kids, I heard the phrase "Shut up, Susette" in the backseat of our car more times than you can imagine. ('You mean you DON'T want me to sing the Newsies soundtrack on repeat during a four hour car ride? How could this be?').
In my 20s, I would drive myself crazy looking for things to do, so that I wouldn't have to be alone in my apartment. I'm much better at being alone now, but for the past few years, any second of silence is being filled with music, or a podcast or audio book.
In the past year, I start practicing spiritual disciplines. THEN, my cool introverted colleagues went on a 'silent retreat,' and, since they're better Christians than I am (wink), I decided I should do it, too. Very spiritual reason to go.
I was terrified of all that alone time in the weeks leading up to my retreat, and then, during the drive up to Big Sur, was struck by an intense feeling of peace.
A big flood of relief.
I wasn't going to be alone, I was going to spend time with my Best Friend.
When I had almost arrived to the retreat center, I remembered the verse:
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matt 11:28-29 NLT
Rest. I could trust Him, as I was taking a big out-of-character leap, to give me what I needed.
How'd I do? Let's confirm that silence is a skill to build, instead of something that can just "be done." I caught myself talking and singing numerous times (maybe dancing) throughout the weekend. By the end of the first full day, though, I realized that I was experiencing God's presence in a very tangible way.
I'm used to experiencing Him emotionally, breaking through a wall of my thinking and brain chatter, and pushing through to find Him. Even then, I'll receive minutes or seconds of His presence, usually paired with an intense emotion, before I kick back into automatic noisy mode again.
But during this retreat, His presence was THERE. He was just....here next to me. Surrounding me. Not emotionally or through a thick wall. Just here with me. While I was reading, walking, washing dishes, preparing meals, packing my car, listening to monks sing. Here.
I didn't have to try hard to practice His presence. Because of all my solitude, I felt Him without doing anything. It blew my mind.
When I got home, I talked to a few people about my HUGE discovery. It turns out, it ain't news. There are MANY people (including my introverted and wise husband, and countless monks and nuns in the past 1700 years or so) who experience God like this very easily. Who knew?
If you're new to this, try it for 5 or 10 min.
-Set an alarm on your phone (then chuck it across the room)
-Sit in a comfortable chair
-Look at something pretty or close your eyes
-Sit in silence
-Think about God being around you. He's before you, behind you, with His hand on top of your head. Like a big, supernatural hug.
Chew on this verse:
Psalm 139: 5-6 NASB
You have enclosed me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is too high, I cannot attain to it.
Resist urges to check your phone, get up, or write anything down. Just sit. When the alarm goes off, (don't forget) celebrate the fact that you did something good for your brain today.