Last summer I went on my first 10-Day Silent Retreat. It was a challenging and glorious experience as I joined 40 others laying aside the hurried, pressed madness of daily living to do the simplest of things: watching, listening, hearing, and seeing.
No talking. No looking others in the eye. Only intentional, constant quiet.
By the end of the 10 days, I felt clearer, more energized and hopeful than at most any point in my life before (my good wife Monique’s experience at home with the kids was another story). I walked out of that retreat center feeling a new creature.
All because of stopping.
One of the inevitable questions we discussed in the wake of this experience was this: how can we build more of THIS into our regular family life? There’s only so often someone has the luxury of going for an extended retreat like that. What if we decided to take one day to ‘retreat’ as a family more consistently?
Hmmm…More silence and stillness – and more space. Some slowing down. Once a week…
Theoretically, what soccer fans call “stoppage time” is a key part of the Christian blue-print – what we call the “Sabbath.”
Yet there seems to be a major disconnect: anyone slightly Buddhist knows how essential it is to “retreat! You need to get away from the world.” And the Christians theoretically are DOING IT…but often superficially or begrudgingly.
Usually, we talk about the Sabbath as a time we can’t do certain things we usually do (things we maybe would like to still be doing). But I had just returned from voluntarily giving up my day planner, cell phone and 9-5 job (things I usually like to do) – and I felt great!
Hmmm (again)…consciously letting go of ‘usual stuff’ for a period of time – to make time for something deeper. And then coming away feeling a lot better…??
This didn’t really click for me until we listened to President Nelson’s talk on the Sabbath Day as a “delight” later that fall – and began to hear more and more emphasis from our leaders about making this day something special.
More than a day of not doing things – in so many ways, they were reminding us of all the things we GOT to do on Sunday because we didn’t have to do all that other stuff (we had a great excuse not to…).
And that did it! What if the Sabbath Day could be as refreshing, nourishing and healing as a weekly mindfulness retreat? Could that alone actually be life-changing?
One reason this question intrigued us was how far removed from that possibility our weekly experience was. It was common at the end of most Sundays for Monique to be more exhausted than after most any other day – since the day became essentially the same Kid Wrestle, but minus the normal weekday kid activities and structure. And for my part, I often ran myself ragged between different callings and people in need. Rather than a “delight,” there were weeks that we admitted dreading the Sabbath.
And yet President Nelson had explained Jesus’ teachings about the Sabbath being made “for man” by saying, “the Sabbath was His gift to us, granting real respite from the rigors of daily life and an opportunity for spiritual and physical renewal.” He later quoting Isaiah’s teaching about how to make the Sabbath a delight to the point that, in the ancient prophet’s words, “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord” (Isaiah 58:14)
That was not our experience! So what were we missing? After another exhausting Sunday, we decided we’d had enough: There’s got to be a better way! What needs to change for this day to become more like that mindfulness retreat?
My first idea was trying a semi-silent retreat at home where we wouldn’t talk – letting the chatter of the children be the only sound. But we ended up sticking with simpler ideas. Over the next couple of weeks, we explored various adjustments – everything from shutting off devices for at least part of the day, to blocking off more time for just sitting together and talking or reading. The changes were simple. Overall, we asked ourselves the question President Nelson had raised, “What sign do I want to give to God?”
We decided that we didn’t want to be so BUSY that day that we couldn’t be present to each other – or to God. And we made changes to remove distractions like internet news, Facebook, e-mail, texting and endless sport updates.
Even more, we tried to replicate some of the things we loved about mindfulness practice – stillness and silence.
And guess what? It worked! Or better put, silence works. And stillness too!
In our experience, we found that things settled down in the silence and stillness. It’s there, when we are present, that we find God…or maybe God finds us?
Even with simple changes, Monique and I have begun to relish and look forward to the Sabbath day again – as one that nourishes our relationships with each other and our God. We’ve begun to feel the rest that the word “Sabbath” itself means in Hebrew.
We’d love to hear about anyone else who has experimented with making your Sabbath more of a ‘retreat’- and a place for silence and stillness…Please share your thoughts below!
 After my SILENT retreat, she told me she had been on a 10 day NOISE RETREAT!