As I described in Silent Solitude – Part 1, in 2005 I began an unanticipated journey into the practices of what I would now call solitude and silence. The first part of that journey was personal, formative. Then something else happened along the way.
I began to feel a pull towards sharing my experiences of solitude and silence. God has been very patient and gentle with me in this regard, and he has been relentless in stirring me to offer to others the opportunity to experience what I have experienced. I am intentionally using the word experience here a lot. That is what I have mostly heard to offer. Not to become a credentialed expert and instructor; rather to simply invite people to join me in trying what I’ve tried, and…
It took time to get clarity on what to offer, and I had to overcome my fears of inadequacy and failure, and just offer it. It was also opposed, mostly by means of diminishing myself. I get thoughts about how I’m not an expert in solitude, how I fail at it so much that I have no business offering others advice or experience. I still wrestle with these thoughts. Solitude and community help me to be honest about them and to push past them.
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Finally in 2013, a few men came with me to Montana to experience the first “A High Mountain” retreat (well, the first that I know of). The name came to me from our place in the mountains and this scripture: “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.” (Mark 9:2) I describe these as personal retreats in a remote place with a small company of men. There, I introduce men to the experience of solitude and extended silence with God. It is a process of stripping away all of the other noise in our lives, so that each man has a chance to hear for himself that still, small voice of God.
I have offered three of these retreats so far (the fourth is in the works). I still wrestle with the inner voices opposing me. And the men I invite wrestle with reasons to say no: setting aside five days to go do something really uncomfortable (be quiet). Through it all, Abba keeps patiently nudging me to offer more. He has affirmed to me that my role is to create the space and set the stage, nothing much more. It’s a vulnerable role, because if God doesn’t show up it will seem very silly – I don’t offer much more, although the place and food are pretty darn good. Of course, God does show up.
Every man who has attended can tell you stories about what they heard from God. To a man they have experienced deep, intimate connection with the Trinity. Why wouldn’t they? I once heard the Father say that he loved being alone with me in Montana, and he would always leap at the chance to go there with me. I think this is true for each of us. While I have my place in Montana, you could insert the name of any place in that sentence. It helps if it’s a place with some natural beauty (a place that makes your heart jump a bit), and it should be a quiet place. But the point is that God delights in being alone with us, regardless of where that is. Jesus modeled this many times for us, including that story from Mark 9.
Photo by Lili Popper on Unsplash
This story spans thirteen years, so far. Many, many times I have been weak or unfaithful. I have had long periods where I have not wanted to pursue solitude or silence, and chosen instead to be mostly isolated from God, self-absorbed. And I am always drawn back. God, the lover, never stops pursuing me, inviting me. This is neatly summed up in one of our fundamental truths: I am broken and beloved. Looking past the victories and failures, I have grown a lot and gained ground. I am sure there is much more ahead. The path to building solitude and silence practices into our lives is not straight, short or perfect. It is a life-long pursuit grounded in God’s grace and mercy. Keep at it!