Why and How to Have a Silent Retreat

I decided to write up what my monthly 24 hr silent retreats kinda look like. I think everyone’s will look different. These are just helpful things I’ve learned along the way and hopefully at least one will benefit you. I considered this uber long title- I Get Away for 24 hrs Every Single Month and it is the Best Thing Ever!!!

I think each person will have different reasons for why the need to retreat. Here are some of mine:

  • I NEED IT. PERIOD. I am a stay at home mom of 4 kids and homeschooling 2 of them. Our youngest came to us when he was almost 2 years old and I feel like I have never done this parenting thing before. I am being stretched in all new ways.
  • I NEED MARGIN. Just like a page needs margins to not look unruly and chaotic, so does my life. Just like a song needs pauses, so does my life. Just like a piece of art needs whitespace to give the eyes rest, so does my life. I need the space to just be me.
  • I NEED PEACE. This set aside time allows my life to regain balance if it has gotten out of whack.
  • I NEED THE SILENCE. I love being a mom. I feel like it is one of my vocations/callings. But being on duty all the time is hard. Don’t get me wrong- I have an AMAZING husband who carries so many of my burdens for me like regularly doing the dishes that I despise, playing with our youngest after lunch so I can take time for centering/contemplative prayer, does the bath time routine so I can take more time to enjoy time locked in my quiet bedroom, surprised me with a weeklong relaxation retreat in Montana last month, and the list goes on. Even with him being so supportive and my partner in crime- the life of a mom (primary caregiver) is no joke. I can’t tell you how many times I hear “Mom!” yelled. I often pause and feel bad for complaining about this. I have a friend who wishes her young daughter would be able to communicate verbally. But it was this friend that said we cannot compare the crosses that we each have to carry. So I try to release the guilt and live free.
  • I NEED THE SOLITUDE. I need time not to be needed. I just want to wipe my own butt. In the 17 years of mommying of 4 kids I feel like I have been wiping someone’s butt for most of it.

So why a silent retreat? How be silent? Isn’t that just for weird hermits who live in the desert? Is this really for me as an extrovert?So many of my heroes of faith talk about the treasure that silence offers.

We need to find God,

and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness.

God is the friend of silence.

See how nature- trees, flowers, grass – grows in silence;

see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in the silence…

We need silence to be able to touch souls.- St. Mother Teresa

Author Dallas Willard says that silence and solitude are the most important of the Christian disciplines but also the least practiced. I want to learn and grow in wisdom from those who have walked this path before me.

I started this practice after reading Ruthlessly Eliminate Hurry. https://www.amazon.com/Ruthless-Elimination-Hurry-Emotionally-Spiritually/dp/0525653090 I know this is a nicer way to make this link look but I’m writing this at my silent retreat and I don’t want to call techie hubby to figure it out;). I read this book at the beginning to the COVID pandemic (2020) and started implementing it. It is no doubt one of the sweet treasures that has come out of the this crazy year.

Before I share my tips just remember that this is meant to be LIFE-GIVING, RESTORATIVE, & A GIFT TO YOUR SOUL. There is so much freedom in how yours can look. There are not oughts or shoulds. I do need to say that if silence/solitude/stillness currently has no place in your life this may be harder your first time. If your life is dominated by activity/noise/informantion overload then the change in pace may seem unnerving. But if you can get past the possible initial awkwardness/discomfort then there is a sweetness on the other side.

Here are the steps I use:

  1. Set day and time. Put on your calendar and family’s/spouse’s calendar. This sucker stays unless someone broke a limb, is bleeding profusely etc.
  2. Schedule life-giving hangout. I like to schedule this before or at the beginning of your time away. I love to roll into my time away having just spent an hour with my spiritual director. https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/how-to-find-a-spiritual-director/ . She asks great questions for me to ponder during this quiet time away. She helps me if I am in a discernment season. I have also hung out with a dear friend right before. This friend also asks great questions and gives great perspective and encouragement.
  3. Decide where you’d like to retreat to. I used to have a local retreat center right here in my city. I would rent a room and my 3 meals were provided. There was lovely outdoor spaces to wander, walk, read and write. I have also drove 1.5 hr away to a prayer center. Once I took a whole weekend at a prepared retreat at a monastery 8 hrs away. That was a fun road trip with some friends. We talked on the drive there and back but while there did our best to stay silent. A hotel room at the beach would work or an AirBNB at a desirable location is great as well. Currently our budget limits my paying for a place away so I have spent many at our church. We have a cozy sitting room and to be honest it is so easy, close to home, and free. You just have to think what places would help you relax. So there is no way that sleeping on a couch at church would be restorative for my husband who is the lead pastor. Change of Place + Change of Pace = Change of Perspective, a nugget of wisdom I learned from author Mark Batterson.
  4. Pack Yummy Food and Drink. Your destination may provide meals but it’s nice to have munchies and drinks. Nothing can stall the creative process or just chillaxing when your stomach is growling. If you want to eat guac for dinner, do it. If you want to eat Ben & Jerrry’s Americone Dream ice cream before that guac dinner, do it. 😉
  5. Pack a journal, Bible, and maybe some books you are reading if you are a reader. I tend to overpack in this arena. I just want to have a resource if I desire to read it. Most of the time these go untouched. I tend to read several books at a time so I pack all of them. It is nice to have a journal to capture thoughts and possibly new dreams birthed in your heart. Silence and solitude give your soul a safe place to come out from hiding. I love to practice lectio divina https://kimicopeland.com/category/lectio-divina/
  6. Think through what actives restore you. I love to walk and be outside. I love to write and read and journal. I enjoy watercolors. I love yoga that relaxes my body, none of that hot sweaty stuff. I enjoy watching the sunrise if I am at the beach on the east coast. I love sleep. I love food. I have listened to an audiobook, watched a teaching from a fav leader, watched a friend’s Marco Polo message to me. Just remember there is freedom. Listen to what would fill you up. Often out of habit and addiction we turn to scrolling on our phones thinking that it will satisfy but most times we feel emptier and more dissatisfied than before we pulled it out of our pocket the second we had a free second. Feel no shame in that compulsion because there are thousands of programmers on the other side of the screen making it addicting.
  7. Plan to unplug. It is not easy to detach ourselves from the appendage of our smart phone. If you never power down your phone this may be very hard. This is hard if you also don’t set times each day when your phone is on do not disturb. I had this habit for awhile but my appendage grew back. ;). I cannot explain the freedom that comes from unplugging. No dings to pull you away from what you are enjoying. So since I am unplugged- I am not checking email, social media, the news apps, Marco Polo app etc. Since I often stay at the church, I do like to keep it on for emergencies if I need to make a call. But I turn on do not disturb. I often will still text my hubby or a dear friend. I may even have a phone convo with a friend. I also bring my laptop to write on my blog. But I try not to surf the web etc. And today I brought it to read my daughter’s book draft on google docs. There is freedom. Follow the peace.
  8. Pack comfort items. Do you have a favorite blanket that you love to cuddle up and read with? Perhaps slippers, earmuffs for cold walks, fav tea, a candle you like to light in the dark morning hours, etc. Dress comfortable. Why I am still wearing restricting waistline jeans instead of my storm trooper pj pants at 8pm? This tip helps me realize it’s time to change. I grabbed my favorite mocha from Caribou Coffee on the way here. It was nice to sip a warm drink. I often like to buy Panera’s broccoli cheese soup and a sourdough loaf from grocery store to bring with me.
  9. Be free. This is a time free of obligations or expectations. Release expectations what you think you ought to experience during this time. This is a practice that gets richer with repetition. Keep showing up each month and watch it become an anchor for your soul each month. This is not a time to count steps, calories or use a watch. Do not be bound by time. Listen to what your body needs. If you are hungry- eat. If you are sleepy- nap. I remember reading in the Attentive Life, his advice as a retreat director to the guests was to sleep whenever needed. He says sleep is certainly spiritual. God designed us to rest. It is hard to be fully present to others and to God when we are dragging along sleep deprived. I love sharing the story of visiting my favorite retreat center and going for a walk. At the end of the trail there was a lovely bench under a tree. I sat down and rested. My rested state turned into me nodding off and waking myself with a huge head nod. I did not fear what others thought and just received the nice little nap as a gift from God. I love naps but they are very rare at home with my very active, talkative 5 year old son. My last retreat I felt tired at 6:45pm so I thought I’d take a little cat nap then get back up and read and write some more. I did not wake til the next morning at 6:00am. My body needed it. It is easy to ignore what our body is telling us. It is so easy to push through the little and even big signals our body is sending. An excellent book on this is When the Body Says No: the Stress and disease connection. The majority of the book is case studies of people getting sick from stress. So I listened to the beginning, some of the beginning and then the end. The Western world does not listen to the body as well. Today when I arrived for retreat, I decided to take a nap. I did not set an alarm but just let myself wake when I was ready.

Disclaimer: so I think this practice can be such a gift to anyone, introverts and extroverts alike. I wonder if it is easier for introverts because being alone is restorative to them. Each time I get ready to leave for these retreats my middle daughter always looks at me with a genuine saddeness for me. She is an uber extrovert and thinks this must be horrible but for this introvert- it feels more like walking into a candy shop as a small child. I encourage people to try it all the time. My husband has heard the infomercial countless times. And each time he says that he does not feel it would be restorative for him. Perhaps this is because he is borderline extrovert/introvert. But he says that getting away with me would be restorative. So I now longer push him to try a silent retreat. This past week we went to the beach for 24 hrs. Upon arrival we sat in chairs staring at the ocean, silently enjoying each others company. It was not a planned or like mandated silence. It was just so sweet to be together enjoying the majesty of the ocean. These getaways are by no means silent. We talk, we dream together, eat good food, nap, sleep in, watch several episodes of LOST (or whatever we are watching), and just enjoy each others company. There is just something magically wonderful when you change your pace and place even just for 24 hours.s

BOOKS/RESOURCES:

  • Invitation to Retreat
  • The Attentive Life
  • Invitation to Silence and Solitude
  • Strengthening the Soul of your Leadership
  • The Armchair Mystic
  • The Seven Sacred Pauses
  • Read, Think, Pray

I also love the centering prayer app from Contemplative Outreach.

*cool pic was taken by Donald Gioannatti that I found on unsplash.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s