As I get older, I increasingly find it necessary and refreshing to occasionally pull away from everything familiar and refocus. So on Thursday, I joined the Benedictine monks at the Prince of Peace Abbey Monastery in Oceanside, CA for a forty-eight hour retreat of silence and solitude. My goal: to be with God and be still enough to hear his voice.
The monastery exudes quiet contemplation, the perfect place for a retreat. It sits high on a hill overlooking the city. The hundred plus acres offer trails for walking and praying, as well as numerous sitting areas with calming views. Guests can join the brothers for service five times a day: 1) 5 AM Vigils, 2) 7 AM Lauds, 3) 11 AM Mass, 4) 5 PM Vespers and 5) 8 PM Compline.
While strolling through the grounds, I felt like I was standing on holy ground, especially while in the stained glass chapel. The space felt like it had been set aside for God, as if His spirit was ready to commune with mine.
I took the invitation seriously. I prepared for our communion:
- First, I took a nap (cause it’s hard for me to hear God when I’m tired).
- Then, I ate (cause it’s hard for me to do anything when I’m hungry).
Alas, I was ready. I tried to clear my mind from distractions and open myself up to whatever God might say. I sat and waited, but nothing happened. I went from a walk, waiting while walking, but nothing happened. Later on, I sat again, my ears perched in expectation, but still nothing. Instead, my mind was filled with thoughts about work and questions about my love life.
Not a problem,
It’ll just take a while for my head to de-clutter
The next morning, however, mirrored the night before. Only this time, desires buried inside of my heart surfaced: the desire for companionship and the desire to be known. They emerged passionately, pungently, demanding that I pay attention. I welcomed them, and the flood of tears that followed. And then, I presented them to God in prayer. I sat and listened, still expectant. I heard and felt nothing.
It was then, twenty-four hours into my retreat, that I realized that this might be all that the weekend had for me: an awareness of my desires, plus the realization that perhaps my mind was too cluttered with all kinds of stuff to be still enough to listen to anything other than itself.
Maybe I wouldn’t hear from God the way that I usually did. Maybe He wouldn’t speak at all.
In the silence, I became okay with this. Not thrilled, but okay. (See
.) Simply being with Him would be enough for me this weekend.
On Saturday morning, with six hours remaining, I sat alone in the cafeteria. Coffee cup in hand, I felt a volcano of emotions inside of me, waiting to escape. I knew that it needed to surface but that I couldn’t force it out. I didn’t even know what it was.
I walked into the chapel and sat on the floor. I bowed to the ground, desperate to hear God, longing to feel Him. And as I lay bowed before the altar, with a heart filled with reverence, I felt God say that I didn’t need to try to force Him to speak to me. I didn’t need to bow, or open my heart, or try to quiet my mind the way I had been during the last two days. All I needed to do was sit with Him.
So, I peeled my body off of the ground and just sat. I smiled, happy with God’s response. And as I smiled, enjoying the fact that all I needed to do was enjoy God, I finally heard his voice. All He said was, “I love you.”
It was one of the few times I have heard God say these words to me, piercing my being. I allowed myself to take in the full weight of His words—that the Creator of the universe
and cares about
. I cried softly, and then the volcano of emotions erupted until I wept, aloud, and then very loudly. I was no longer silent. I stayed seated on the chapel floor for a while. I sat with God and his love for me.
The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. I walked and prayed and napped.
As I allowed myself to rest in God’s love, I became assured that there was no reason for my mind and heart to be cluttered with the swirling questions and fear that had consumed me in the days prior. My heart was in the hands of a God who loves me.
I drove down the hill, in silence, questions unanswered, but confident of God’s unending love for me. He loves me so much that He isolated me from family, friends, and yes even myself, just to tell me so.