“Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again…”
This past Thursday, I spent the day at a lakehouse to practice 24 hours of silence and solitude. The only other time I had done something like this was for extra credit in a spiritual formation class during college. I went to the Lebh Shomea House of Prayer on the King Ranch and did my best to remain silent for the retreat. My biggest memory of the experience is when I dropped a spoon at dinner, and said “Oh!” because it was so loud as it clanged on the floor; then I realized that I had said something and said “Oh!” again….it was a vicious cycle. Overall, not the biggest spiritual achievement, but it at least gave me an idea of what I was getting myself into.
To be clear: silence and solitude are boring. I turned my phone off, didn’t watch TV, and was without internet for the day. True, the scenery was beautiful and I had several books with me, but much of the day was spent staring out the window wondering if I should be doing something else. A friend told me before the retreat that the day would feel “like the first time you work out.” As in, you probably won’t experience too much that’s life-changing and there will be a lot of discomfort. Pretty accurate assessment of the day. But, like working out, the key is to start somewhere. With that in mind, I wanted to write down a little of what I did, and maybe de-mystify the experience. Practicing silence and solitude should be a more normal experience in all of our lives, and maybe we can learn together how to go about it better.
- Location: A couple at our church let me stay at their lakehouse, and it couldn’t be a more perfect spot. It’s far enough out of town to be isolated, but close enough that Erin could come and get me if something happened. But you don’t need a lakehouse. The truth is that I spent 90% of the day in 1 room sitting on the couch. The point is to find some place with few interruptions.
- Food: I decided to fast for a portion of the time. This actually began the night before, and went past lunch. Fasting is pretty rare in my life, and I thought it would be helpful to make this day completely out of the ordinary. However, fasting is a separate discipline from silence and not integral to the experience. It can be helpful, but certainly not a requirement.
- Phone / TV: I knew I had to turn off my phone or else I would check it 400 times during the day. So I changed my voicemail greeting and directed people to call either my office or wife if they needed me. I also decided not to watch TV (yes, I missed the National Championship Game…ugh) or listen to music. Thankfully, there was no WiFi at the house, so that wasn’t even a temptation.
- Passing the Time: I spent most of the day doing two things: reading and resting. During the morning, I read the book of Nehemiah and a leadership book called Derailed. For the afternoon, I read Ezra (you know, to balance out Nehemiah) and Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli. Between these reading sessions, I would rest and I had two ministry magazines that I looked through.
- Prayer: This was actually a pretty simple part of the day for me. To open the day, I said a simple prayer, “God, I am open and available to You. I’m willing to experience something new.” Towards the end of the day, I practiced Centering Prayer which is a form of prayer but really simply a way of resting in God’s presence.
- Idea Book: I tend to have inspiration and ideas in weird places that make it difficult to save and remember them (driving, the shower, etc). I figured that by spending an entire day away my mind would travel all over the place, and sure enough it did. I took a notebook and wrote down every crazy idea that floated through my brain. I haven’t gone back to look at the four pages of craziness yet.
One of my goals for this year is to spend a day away once every 3 months to rest, recharge, and refocus. Just like working out, I think that each experience will reap more benefits the next time.