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Thursday, November 12, 2020

Spiritual Retreat: Tales from the First 24 Hours

Learning and experiencing new things interests me for the first time in a long time.  Maybe the whole pandemic lifestyle has me looking for alternative ways to spend time.  Regardless, when a friend described a weekend sabbatical he took, my internal hyper-drive fired up.  Sabbatical is not a term we use much here in Texas.  Seems all academia-like.


This was not a traditional type sabbatical, but a 24 hour spiritual retreat to get closer to God and recharge the old batteries.  I was interested.  All I had to do was take a quick look at the calendar to pick a date and clear it with work and my wife.  When you mention a religious get-away, approvals come quick.  I set my Spiritual Retreat for October 30th.


This “Retreat” had to include a digital detox.  So all electronic devices needed to be left at home or turned off and stowed away.  I was to take only faith inspiring reading materials.  So I packed my Bible, a journal, and a few other books that I thought might light the fuse of spiritual thinking.


The ideal location was our lake house.  Quiet when alone and interruption free during the offseason.  I planned to go down on Thursday evening, rise early for a 5:30 AM Zoom Meeting and begin my 24 hour retreat at 7 AM sharp on Friday morning.


Establishing what I was expecting to achieve in this time of solitude may be of interest.  The answer to that was nothing.  All we do as a society is strive for things.  We pursue few things without a specific outcome in mind.  Not knowing had some level of freedom to it.  Besides, the whole idea was to let God handle it.  My job was to show up and let the magic happen!


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By 9 AM, I felt comfortable in the silence while reading about God telling Elijah to head for a brook that feeds into the Jordan River and wait (1 Kings 17).  Elijah, suggested reading for such an occasion, was a prophet.  Hearing from God was part of his gig.  I am not a prophet and unsure when I hear from God if it is Him at all.  This, hearing from God thing, was the point of the Retreat.  It looked like Elijah and I both had some waiting to do.


As the day progressed, I wondered if I was putting too much pressure on myself to “hear from God”.  It was my first retreat and I wasn’t even sure I was doing it right.  Just then it happened.  Not a booming voice from far or near.  Just clarity.   I knew why I was there.  I was there to learn.


As mentioned, the date was October 30th.  In the afternoon, I opened Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.  Jesus Calling is a Christian daily devotional.  I’m sorry, THE Christian daily devotional read by millions.  I know dozens who read it daily, year after year making notes in the margins.  


The entry for October 30th is:


I AM with you. I am with you. I am with you.


Heaven's bells continually peal with that promise of My Presence. Some people never hear those bells because their minds are earthbound and their hearts are closed to Me. Others hear those bells only once or twice in their lifetimes, in rare moments of seeking Me above all else. My desire is that My "sheep" hear My voice continually, for I am the ever-present Shepherd.


Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear My voice. Beginners need a quiet place in order to still their minds. As you advance in this discipline, you gradually learn to carry the stillness with you wherever you go. When you step back into the mainstream of life, strain to hear those glorious bells: I am with you. I am with you. I am with you.


God works this way all the time.  That my retreat and this entry fit so tight is not a coincidence.  “Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear my voice.”  I was in the classroom and committed to 24 hours there and elated to be so.


My uplifted spirit was short-lived as I read again…


“Others hear those bells only once or twice in their lifetimes…”


“Some people never hear the bells because their minds earthbound…”  


Many of us do not relate to being “earthbound” in thought and deed as having hearts closed to God, but are we certain?  We all know wonderful and kind people connected addictively to media (social or otherwise), shopping, gossip, success, and other mindless activities.  How much of that can one handle without trapped in its web?  I do not know many people who would spend 24 hours disconnected from the outside world with no television, internet, telephone, or human interaction of any kind.  As I did an inventory of those I am closest to, most spend much of their day earthbound.  


And I am no better just because I will invest 24 hours in the classroom.  Far from it.  I lost count of the number of times during the retreat I wanted to do a Google search or add something to my Amazon shopping cart.  Countless times I also dozed off while “deep” in thought and ate a snack between page turns of my red-hot spiritual reading.  In the classroom, yes, but in the back row goofing off as in my youth.


I fail to hear the bells just like everyone else for the same reasons as everyone else.  But we need to hear those bells.  


To live an entire life pursuing what we want rather than what God designed for us is a life wasted.  We can only know his desires by asking him to tell us and waiting on the answer.  The wait may be long, but the payoff is perfect.


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As my 24 hours wrapped up, I was unsure what to do next.  The silence had become so comfortable that I did not want to disturb it.  What if God had something else to say?  After a long run, I returned to the silence.  It was late afternoon back at home before I engaged with the connected world around me.  It may sound strange, but this was just as uncomfortable as the silence was the day before.  


More than a week later, I am again failing to hear the bells.  No matter how hard I try, my mind gets lured back earthbound.  Face it.  It is dang hard to slow down long enough to hear from God.  I never knew how hard until I actually did it, just once.


 “Quietness is the classroom where you learn to hear my voice...  I am with you.  I am with you.  I am with you."


Run in Peace, Rest in Grace