Resisting Silence

Gravel crunches under my tires as my car crawls along the narrow lane. I scan the names on each of the cabins, searching for the one assigned to me. I finally spot it, with its grey weathered wood, nestled in the shadows of dense trees. A flutter of excitement knocks on my chest and a smile creeps along my lips; I have been anticipating this space for a few weeks, needing it for a few months.

Twenty minutes later I have lugged my small suitcase and a bag of groceries inside, unpacked, and snooped through the kitchen cabinets. Now I lean against the kitchen counter and let my eyes sweep across the modest space.

A single bed covered with a patchwork quilt sits against one wall. A few steps away, in the middle of the cabin, a tired recliner squats atop a braided rope rug. The recliner faces a picture window, which looks out on the quiet activity of the forest. A few steps past the recliner is a dining table, set with one placemat and napkin, a simple display of hospitality.

My mind wanders back over the weeks that led me here, and I remember how full my days were last spring with parenting, volunteer work, finishing a two year course, and chairing a ministry committee, among other things. I pushed hard to make it to June, when many of the activities I had been involved in would come to an end. I handed in my last paper, chaired my last committee meeting, and sent the last of the thank-you notes from a fundraising event at my kids’ school.

When my kids bounced out of their classrooms on the last day of school, I greeted them with hugs and Slurpees, ready to celebrate the gift of summer. Our summer days stretched long and lazy, and I thought the change of pace was exactly what I needed. Maybe it was, for a while. But whenever I thought about how glad I was to be done with all of the things that had kept me so busy, a nagging question would beg for my attention: What now? Was there something new waiting for me at the end of the summer? Would the endings be replaced with beginnings?

With the kids home all day, I didn’t have room to ponder those questions. Instead, I acted as peace-talk negotiator in sibling arguments, snack maker, house cleaner, and activities coordinator. Without any moments to myself, this introvert began to feel frayed at the edges, snapping too quickly at my kids, craving a spaciousness that I couldn’t find. My emotions felt a bit like the cabinet over our stove: so crammed full and cluttered that opening the door a little risked everything tumbling out

I started researching retreat centres and chose this one: a cabin in the woods where I wouldn’t have to talk to anyone or take care of anyone else for two days. I longed for space to write, to reflect, to pray.

The longer I walk, the more I sense the invitation God is offering me: Be here.

Now, having arrived in this space, I take a deep breath and wonder what I should do first.

And as I do, the excitement of being here drains out of me, leaving me restless, antsy.

“This was a mistake.” The thought crashes into my head, leading the way for others to take up residence: “You should be with your family.” “You’re missing out on special moments with your kids.” “You’re asking others to sacrifice for you.”

I try to push those thoughts aside, but I can’t seem to settle into the quiet. I unpack my journals and books, and I realize I neglected to pack any pens. With a perfect excuse to delay my silence, I skip out of the cabin and back into my car to drive to the only nearby store.

When I return, the sun is slipping lower in the sky, and I go for a walk to avoid the stillness of the cabin. I traipse down a path through a field of tall grass and name each of the reasons I shouldn’t have come, offering them, one by one, to God. As I do, I release the people I’ve left behind into God’s care.

The longer I walk, the more I sense the invitation God is offering me: Be here.

My body begins to relax, and I notice for the first time the humming of insects, the butterflies flitting around me, and the wildflowers splashing the green grass with colour. Purple coneflowers, butterweed, wild geraniums. Be here. I sigh in thankfulness and allow myself to surrender to the silence and solitude of this space.

During the next day and half, I move slowly, whether I’m on a walk or eating a meal. I allow myself to simply be present where I am, to soak in the quietness, to relish the details of nature. I take time to watch a fly get trapped in a spider’s web and the quick, fluid response of the spider as she wraps it tightly with her silk. I read a book, cover to cover, simply for the pure enjoyment of it. I write in my journal, spend time in God’s Word, sit by the pond at sunset, and watch deer strolling through the woods. I take a nap, linger over my coffee, let my hands enjoy the soapy warm water as I wash my few dishes.

On my last evening I walk the labyrinth at the retreat centre, allowing bits of scripture to come to mind, leaning into the words that feel significant. They are words of hope and reassurance, words that remind me of who I am and who God is.

When I wake the next morning, I am ready to return home. Not because I want to avoid the silence, but because I have been refreshed by it. I turn out the lights, close the front door, and load my things into my car, feeling more settled than when I’d arrived. I whisper, “Thank you,” as I drive away from my little cabin and back toward the city.

Julianne Gilchrist
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