Sunday, January 25, 2009

Silence and Simplicity

What would God say to you if you gave him 6 days of silence to speak to you?

Some of you will be envious of me, and others of you will think I'm crazy (it's the story of my life, so don't worry, I'm used to it!)... but I just came home from a very special 6-day silent retreat following the Spiritual Exercises as laid out by St. Ignatius, preached by a very intelligent and holy priest.  

Six and a half  full days of silence, with two days of travelling made for eight days of retreat away from the cares and responsibilities of being a very busy wife and homeschooling mother of five small children. phew! I really needed it!!

God was gracious enough to move mountains for me to be able to attend this retreat:  the great financial generosity of a friend (thank you!!!!) and the unexpected two week holiday that my husband so selflessly agreed to use to let me go.  He took care of homeschooling, housework, cooking, carpooling and bedtimes all week.  For these gifts I am eternally grateful. 

Not only did I have eight days of meals made for me, dishes washed, freedom to read what I wanted and think without being interrupted... I also had overflowing amounts of time to be silent.  To have the room and time in my mind and soul to let go of the daily concerns that occupy me and tune into what is truly important.

I gained a painful but good amount of self-knowledge on this retreat.  To have that many days in a row of complete silence (except for a few talks given by the priest each day), and no work that needs to be done, you have a lot of time to think and pray.  A lot of what I was thinking about was who I am, who I have been given to take care of, and how I am doing at it.  

I realized, with great surprise, that I have been so prideful in my life.  I have always wanted to be and worked towards being the smartest, the most knowledgeable and the best at everything I do.  I have such a drive to be perfect.  Not to compete with others, and not to judge others...  I love other people, and I have always taken great joy in helping others...  Just this drive to compete with the expectations that I have for myself.  I am never afraid to start a new project... I can take on homebirth, homeschooling, gardening, gluten free cooking, writing, music, drama, chemistry, math, ancient history, latin, running an entire Vacation Bible School with only a few weeks to prepare... you name it!

This perfectionism is a curse though, and it causes me to have a hard time trusting other people. I want to be in control of everything all the time because I want to make sure that everything in done just perfect.  I can often come across as very judgemental and stubborn.  I guess I am sometimes LOL.

It turns out that it's ok not to be in control of everything, for everyone, all the time, and everything doesn't have to be perfect all the time.  In fact, my idea of perfect might not even be God's idea of perfect (surprise!), and it's probably not my husband's, or my children's idea of perfect either... so I have to relax a bit now and then so I don't drive all of them crazy when they try to live with me.  

I also learned, that all this time being a 'Christian', I had missed the most important part of it.  That God loves me for who I am, for who he created me to be, and that he wants to talk with me, to love me and to help me one day at a time as I go through this life trying to be perfect.  

All this time, I was just trying to be a good Christian.. because I love trying to be perfect, living all the rules and knowing all the knowledge.  It was like learning math, or another language... or how to play a really cool game.  But it turns out, that God is so much more than just a bible story or a game book.  He is the author, the creator, as well as the one playing with me.  Not my opponent, but on my team, whispering the answers in my ear.  I have finally learned how to hear his sweet voice. How quietly he hides, waiting for me to seek him out.  My heart is full of wonder and joy!

One of the most life giving things that I realized, and that I will keep in my heart like a precious treasure is that I don't need to go away into solitude to find God!    He is always there, waiting for me to turn my gaze to him, and each morning that I take a small part of my day to greet him and listen to him, I grow closer to his love.  

If I consistently spent as little as 10 minutes each morning for even 2 weeks in a row, truly coming to Him as a child, knowing he has something to say to me, wanting to learn from him how to love, giving more of myself bit by bit and basking in his genuine love for me... I would come closer to him than if I spent another entire 6 days in silence with him.  

How is that possible? Especially in my crazy, noisy, busy days with five small children and homeschooling to boot?

It is in our very lives that he wants us to find him.  Our daily routine, our families, our work, our friends.  For me, it is in learning to love each of my children even when they are all crying for my attention at the same time and supper is boiling over again on the stove.  It is in learning that each one of them is a gift to me from God and a little candle that I am to care for and shield from the harsh winds and freezing cold.  It is seeing in them, a reflection of myself, and learning how God takes care of me.

When Jesus came to the earth, he summarized all of his teaching into two 'new' commandments that encompasses all of the bible:  

Love your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your mind, and
Love your neighbor as yourself.

You can't separate them. They come together.  As a mother, praying on retreat is a wonderful break and chance for renewal, but it is only half of the picture, and only half of how I can find God.  I need both!

Where do I find God in the chaos of noise and mess and fatigue?  Sometimes it's very hard, especially when I get weighed down in my heart and fatigue clouds my vision.

He is there though!  In the quiet solitude of my soul as I go about my day.  In the few moments I can find to make time to listen to him, one day at a time, and most especially in that time I take to enter into a conversation with Him one morning prayer at a time.  

So, I am home.  I am where God wants me to be, and I am happy.  I am setting my alarm for 6:15am each morning to save the quietest, most peaceful part of the day for Him, and I am listening and trying to follow.  

I used to ask myself what God would say to me if I had a whole week of silence... feeling sorry for myself that I couldn't ever get that much time to myself.  "Why didn't I become a nun?," I would ask on those especially noisy days. When will I ever be able to find God in this chaos?

Now I know to ask myself a different question... 

What will God say to you  if you only had 15 minutes of silence a day to listen to him?

A beautiful resource for morning prayers can be found in the book "The Better Part" by Fr. John Bartunek LC. It has reflections on the gospel readings for each day, and aids to starting a deep conversation with Christ.  I have grown more in my prayer life since using this book, than I have in my whole life.  His opening chapters on the basics of prayer are so so helpful and inspiring:
"Prayer is Christ speaking to you in your heart, revealing himself to you in accordance with what he knows you need to discover, to know, to see.  At the same time, prayer is your attentive listening to that revelation, your response to what he reveals, and the trusting, reciprocal revelation of your heart -- your needs, your hopes, your desires -- to him."  - Fr. John Bartunkek, LC, "The Better Part: A Christ-centered resource for personal prayer".

He teaches that before we start any sort of prayer, we need to take a moment to recollect ourselves and remind ourselves of the presence of God. Traditional catholic teaching calls this making an act of faith, hope and charity.  What it really is, is reminding ourselves that God has called us to himself.. that he wants to talk with us, and that he has something to say to us. It reminds us to listen more than we talk.   To remember that we need God. We are not just saying rote prayers and being a 'good' Christian.  .  I used to do this quite often.  He suggests some opening prayers that you can use to help you in your own prayer life.  I think they are quite beautiful, and I encourage you to find this book and read it!  


Tina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tina said...

I am so happy for you. I started setting my alarm clock last week after reading, "A Mother's Rule of Life". I can truly understand what you were saying about perfectionism and pride. I fight that too, realizing that I have to become perfect in such a different way than I had originally thought. You might enjoy the above mentioned book. It helps you make your own rule of life, similar to one used in a monastery, but tailored to a mom's life. It has helped me organize my life according to the five p's. Prayer, Person, Partner, Parent and Provider. It helps you put God first in a very practical way. The book is written by a homeschool mom who was ready to give up homeschooling, but organized her life according to her own rule. Perhaps you have read it. It has changed my life.

God Bless and welcome back home.

ps. I should have proof-read my comment. I deleted it and now I hope that it is typo free. :-)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful! Stunning! Very though provoking.

Thanks for your personal thoughts.

Barb said...

God bless you, Mel! God has a most delicate and gentle way of helping us to open our whole being to His way. What a beautiful retreat weekend.

Lots of love,


Valeri Zwick said...

How very wise of you Melanie, to realize your perfectionism at such a young age. Good luck, you will do just fine. I love you, Aunt Val