-Rebecca Preston, MA, Spiritual Director
I attended a much needed Silent retreat recently. It was only one day, but the benefits of it lingered for much longer. As I write I am still wrapped in the hope given to me while on retreat. I know that the idea of a silent retreat can be overwhelming for those new to the practice, but those of us who have experienced it, often come into it with an almost greedy expectation of encountering God. This past weekend did not disappoint.
For the last couple of months, I have been re-reading for the third time, Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard. I think three was truly the charm. Dissecting the book with the input of other seeking women helped to infuse the gems from the book into my spirit. However, I’m not naïve enough to think that this will be my final reading. There is more to glean.
In chapter 12, Dr. Willard gives a list of scriptures to further examine the characteristics of “children of light”. He suggests taking these scriptures on retreat and meditating on them. I took the challenge.
My focus here was on 2 Corinthians 3:12-4. (If you are not familiar with this passage, you may want to read it now, because I will be referring to it.) While reading this passage, I asked myself: what is Paul saying here about the qualities that a Christ follower would possess?
I came to verse 18, and rested for a bit:
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate (or reflect) the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
What is His glory that we reflect? How do I do that?
Continuing with the reading of this section, I began to become discouraged, for Paul does indeed speak of the characteristics of people who call themselves Christian. When they are hard pressed, they are not perplexed, crushed, or in despair. When persecuted, they do not feel abandoned, struck down, or destroyed. They do not lose heart.
Confronted with this list, I knew that I was far from being this person. I often lose heart easily. My focus is often on the seen, and not on the unseen. I must not be reflecting His glory. Was I still veiled?
AS desperate as this sounds, this kind of thing is not really a bad place to be. Self-examination is hard, but the results are important. They lead us on a path of confession, and eventually, this helps to open our hearts and minds to hear what the Spirit is speaking to us.
Doesn’t that bring God glory…the recognition of our inadequacies and our need for Him?
What I heard was that God has not given up on me. Just as a father stays with his toddler urging her on towards walking, comforting her when she falls. Or as a mother releases more and more control over her teenager, in order that he will make good choices in his freedom, encouraging him in his failures of choice. So is God with me helping me in my struggles to become more like Him.
Does this not bring glory to God… the desire to become like Him and the realization that I cannot do it without the power He has promised?
While I often feel perplexed, crushed, in despair, abandoned, struck down, and destroyed when confronted with persecution or circumstances that leave me hard-pressed, perhaps the glory is in each encounter with difficulties leads me more and more towards God. The inward leaning to God becomes an outward reflection of the trust I long for and seek.
This silent retreat was an opportunity to acknowledge my desire to be His follower, to confess my shortcomings, and to renew my relationship with Him.
May I encourage you to take a silent retreat? There are often local monasteries and convents which readily host people who desire to partake in these retreats. You can simply enjoy nature by walking or sitting. Or you can take a passage, much as I did and meditate on it, asking God for wisdom and revelation. The benefits outweigh the anticipated inconvenience.
“Silence not only increases our poise and credibility, but it also enables us to be better observers and more effective, other-centered listeners. In addition, this discipline makes us less inclined to use words to control people or manipulate them into approving and affirming us.”– Ken Boa, author and speaker