13: to the soul retreat
On Saturday, after feeding my family and getting the Beastie Girl into bed for a nap (which she did not take and is not, today as we go to press, taking either - oh my heavens, I am not ready for the end of naps, but I digress...), I packed a 1960s green wool tote bag full of books & journals (narrowly missed adding in pajamas and a toothbrush) and loaded up the truck. I added in a beach chair, a towel, my camera. Two Oreos, because of course.
I’m not sure I know how to breathe anymore. Before motherhood, I had very clear ideas or what made me feel rested, of what helped my soul to breathe, of how to draw margins and engage in real rest when the times came. But now? It’s like I don’t know myself in these new and ever-changing days. I don’t always know how to rest. How to worship. How to still myself before the Father and be nourished. So I needed to go away and try to figure it out. But I knew I’d need the Father’s leading to reveal how I was to rest. So often when I get a little respite, instead of listening for His voice, I just spend all my time panicking about WHAT WILL MAKE ME FEEL RESTED? IS THIS GOOD? SHOULD I DO THAT? WHAT IF THIS DOESN’T WORK AND I JUST FEEL TIRED AGAIN AT THE END? And what I do, is that I shout at myself for hours and then have a meltdown. I knew that these precious twenty-four hours did not have space for me to have a control-freak meltdown.
I climbed into the truck and hit the road, pausing to grab a green tea full of slushy ice. I thought listening to music might be nice, but so might be quiet. So I offered my thoughts up to the Father as a prayer, “Silence or music?” I felt peace to turn on the music, so I did. This may appear silly to you and that’s okay. You may know how to rest better than I – but I felt much like a child wondering which way to go. And so for this retreat, I offered up every idea I had in prayer, asking God to show me what would bring me rest and give Him pleasure. And it worked.
I ended up at the library in the town I was visiting, reviewing old newspapers on microfilm. My grandpa was a columnist and I’d long wanted to locate his columns and print some favorites for myself and the family. I changed my dollars into quarters, got a quick lesson on how to use the microfilm machine, and sat there for more than an hour, scrolling through newspapers from the seventies, pausing each time I came to my grandfather’s column to read. I laughed aloud. I teared up. I popped my quarters in there and printed page after page of A View From the Gallery. I realized anew that I am a writer and I come from a long line of writers and it is okay to delight in the things that I was made for. I was made to write – to write nonsense, to write stories, to tell of the goodness of God when the waiting and the hoping and the longing seem so very hard.
I walked out of the library and crossed the street and sat by the river. I closed my eyes and listened in silence. I watched the water. I took photos of things like trees and pavement and sky. I stared at my shadow and moved and circled my hands through the air, watching how my shadow changed. I put my arms out and felt how the wind brushed across my body and breezed through my hair. I took deep breaths.
That evening, I spent some time with my aunt and cousins. We ate fish and chips on the sand and talked about T & L's wedding and swapped stories and we wandered down the beach and watched the sun sink lower and lower until it just pooled into the gulf and disappeared below the horizon. We trekked sandy feet back into my aunt’s bungalow and we curled up on couches and played a game and yawned at 8:30pm, remarking as to our respective ages and exhaustion.
It was a gift. A gift to be still and to listen and to breathe. I later curled up in a cozy guest room and slept soundly until eight in the morning. Another gift.
I drove straight to the beach the following morning, books and camera in tow. I sat on the patio at the café and ordered French toast and coffee. I listened to the Sunday morning hum of activity and watched the gulls swoop over and around the slowly-growing crowd. I watched the shore change colors as the sun rose higher. I pulled my chair into a shady spot near the dunes and read for hours. I stood up and prayed the Psalms aloud. I closed my eyes. I did the people-watching thing. I stared at my knees in the sun and marveled at my working body and Vitamin D and sweat and the wind.
Every step I took, every choice I made – I submitted it to the Father. And He gave me grace to hear what would bring me refreshment during my retreat. I jotted down ideas for writing and prayed over hopes I have for the future. I sang hymns of worship (yes, even aloud in a public space).
I let the great gift of stillness be mine completely and I took delight in the Father who delights in me. That is a retreat. That is the way to rest. To be the humble recipient of the gift of time, no matter how large or small.
I am not known for having a vast store of energy. But to have a little bit of it restored to me this weekend was precious. I was reminded of the necessity of scheduling such a thing, for my own heart. I need to be restored in body, mind, and spirit so that I can be a blessing to my family. So that my spirit-refreshment can yield a harvest of peace in my home. And I was reminded of the necessity of listening for Father’s voice and waiting for His pleasure before I make a decision. The idea of lifting up to Him even the smallest of choices and accepting His response is an expression of faith that declares Jesus is King, even in the minutiae. And that His life in me is expressed most clearly when I am most attentive to His voice.
Long live the soul retreat.