I’m sitting here in my room at the Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, CA on a cool and beautiful Tuesday morning. Gem and I are here for our monthly solitude retreat. I’ve enjoyed hundreds of days like this over the last 27 years. It’s a life-giving rhythm that we both would say has saved our lives, saved our marriage, saved our ministry. And it’s a major element of our ministry to others these days with Unhurried Living.
I wanted to write a bit about this experience to you in our web and email community. I know that for some of you, this practice of solitude, silence and prayer has become an important and meaningful rhythm in your life. For others, it is an unfamiliar but perhaps desired experience.
Yesterday, we arrived at Prince of Peace a bit before dinner. Gem and I took a walk around the stations of the cross to unwind a bit—an unhurried walk. We talked a bit about our hopes and intentions for this 24-hour getaway. When we make a retreat like this as a couple, we arrange for two rooms so that we can both enter into a season of true solitude—alone, but alone with God.
This morning, I rose early and joined the monks in singing the psalms in the sanctuary with simple plainsong melodies. This practice first became a meaningful one for me seventeen years ago when I began my training in spiritual direction at the Pecos Benedictine Abbey in New Mexico. There was something about singing the psalms as prayers that deepened their impact on me. Singing the psalms with the monks is always a special moment for me.
This practice of what one of my mentors, Wayne Anderson, called “extended personal communion with God” has been a primary contributor to my recovery from addiction to hurry. Yesterday, I arrived at the retreat center feeling irritable and a bit anxious inside. There have been many good but stressful opportunities in my schedule lately. I’m grateful for them, but they can also drain me.
As I awoke this morning after a quiet night at the monastery, I found my soul had quieted some. I felt less anxious and more peaceful, less distracted and more focused, less self-absorbed with insecurities and more God-rooted in confidence. Solitude retreat is a place where I encounter God in all these ways. I remember who God is. I remember who I am. And I bring that back to my life and work back at home.
One of the reasons this rhythm has been so important is that solitude awakens me to kingdom reality. In one of my favorite books in prayer, E. Herman observes that “if there is a better cure for self-deception than solitude, it has yet to be discovered (in Creative Prayer).” In solitude, all the facets of my self-deception are eventually exposed if I’ll let them be.
The masks I wear to appear other than I actually am to others. The games I play instead of living simply a life of love. The false identities I have taken on as a way of trying to make a name for myself when I already have a true name given to me by a Father in heaven who loved me before I was born. I remember these things alone with God.
For Gem and me, one of our favorite parts of the ministry of Unhurried Living is sharing with solitude with others. We love inviting friends in ministry to be alone with God together with us. A few weeks ago, I joined the staff of a Dallas area church in a retreat day together. We built a couple of hours alone into the day to enjoy God for ourselves and to bring the people in our lives into God’s presence prayerfully. We’d love to serve your leadership team if you’d like. (Reply to this email to find out more).
The very first resource we developed after we launched Unhurried Living was an online course called “Influence from the Inside Out: How to Develop the Habit of Unhurried Time With God.” In it, we provided resources, video training and spiritual guidance to help someone make three personal retreats. The structure of the course is very similar to the kinds of retreats we guide for leadership teams. (If you sign-up via this link, you can take the course for $15 off).
We launched Unhurried Living to help people live what I had written about in An Unhurried Life and now in An Unhurried Leader. This little online course is one of our best ways to help you continue or to establish life-giving rhythm of solitude retreat in your life and work.
Finally, Gem and I are inviting a few of you to join us on our personal solitude retreat at the monastery here in Oceanside, CA November 1-3, 2017. At present, we have thirteen rooms and a number that are already reserved. We’d love to share a couple of days alone with God together with you. You can find out more or sign up on our website.
Sitting here in my room, I hear birds singing for the first time in a long time. The noise of my own worries and hurries has drowned out their song. In solitude, I’m hearing the music and seeing the beauty of the world God handmade. What a generous God we have. What a loving God we have. I hope you’ll find a way sometime soon to entering his presence to be alone and quiet a bit. You just might hear his voice reminding you, once again, just how dear, precious and beloved you are to him.