When I was on retreat last week, I felt guilty about being on retreat. Then I read an entry in my journal that said, “I am probably better for the church on retreat than I usually am in my office!” It was a good reminder. I felt less guilty about my luxuriant silence.
My review of my journal kept demonstrating other troubles that disturb my peace. Like how I swing from utter confidence in God to being “daunted” (that is the usual word). Silence overcomes what daunts. To be confident in God in the face of what is daunting takes enough silent time to recognize how God is present as I am present.
I am not sure I had enough time. I stayed in town, so now I remember why people go to the desert. But making the effort to retreat into some silence was richly rewarded, if only for the eight reasons I am about to share with you.
As I meditated on my journal, looking for how Jesus has been leading me, these remarkable moments of grace kept popping up. Sometimes I feel, overall, like life is kind of overwhelming and my journal reflects that. It is like one of David’s Psalms where he is stuck in a cave somewhere and Saul is looking for him — but then there is a paragraph in my journal entry that looks like the end of one of David’s laments when he, too, remembers how God has worked and praises him. “This is troubling…BUT God is glorious.”
Just last week (in one week!) I wrote down things people said to me that were so great they became part of my praise. I experienced regular flashes of unexpected glory. Put them all together and it was quite a week! Here are just eight of the reasons I had for feeling better in my often-ruined place.
1. I feel God
A friend who has been bravely struggling to get their journey back on track has been struggling for so long with feeling “dead” inside. They came up to me, gave me a hug and said, “I feel God.”
2. Why don’t we get a new building?
I sometimes think we have been thoroughly colonized by people who make the rest of us afraid to do anything but hunker down and survive — protect what we’ve got so someone doesn’t steal it. But someone was just thinking out loud about Broad and Washington’s future and said, “Why don’t we get a new building?” That courage and imagination moves me. Maybe we don’t need a new building — but why not imagine, “Why not?”
3. I think God is caring for me.
Another friend had some difficult circumstances to face last week. Their family background did not teach them to expect things would work out well. But they wondered out loud if their lack of anxiety meant they were just going off the rails. They had a strange lack of fear. Then they doubted their interpretation and said, “I think God is caring for me.”
4. The old me is not very tempting anymore.
Someone was contacted by some hysterical people from their boundary-less past. The expectation was that my friend would join in the troubled situation and play their usual part. But my friend realized “The old me is not very tempting anymore.” They had a whole new set of responses that did not quite feel normal yet, but which felt a whole lot better.
5. We should not sing that because of white privilege
Our Design Teams are always encouraging one another to think the best thoughts we can muster. So we think over what songs are in our repertoire. We were talking about some of the non-English songs we sing and someone suggested, “We should not sing that because of white privilege.” They meant that so-called white people have the luxury to appropriate the cultures of others without too much thought. I am surrounded by deep thinkers.
6. I can come down.
Burglars kicked in the back door of the former, now empty, Shalom House the other night and stole copper pipes out of the basement. They left the water intake flowing and the basement was flooded! My realtor got a call and so we were all pretty upset together. I called my friend, the plumber, at 8:30pm while standing in four inches of water. He said he wasn’t going to answer, but it was such an odd time for me to call that he did it anyway. Then he said some praiseworthy words, “I can come down.” He saved the basement.
7. We talked to each other and reconciled.
In the course of working together last week, a couple of comrades got into a disagreement. They are still learning from it. I ran into one of them at the store and they were still kind of mad. But they were quick to say, “We talked to each other and reconciled.” I hope they know how precious that is in God’s sight.
8. We stand like growing trees on a ruined place
By the time Saturday rolled around last week, it had been rather full and, in some ways, daunting week. I’m in a stretch here with a lot to do, so I sometimes do more doing than being. Just in time, the voice leading us in daily prayer offered a very encouraging piece of Bible story and poetry:
If we will have the wisdom to survive,
to stand like slow growing trees
on a ruined place, renewing, enriching it…
then a long time after we are dead
the lives our lives prepare will live
here, their houses strongly placed
upon the valley sides…
Lots of the Philadelphia region is a ruined place; many of the people are too — and parts of all of us qualify, I think. In my focus on the ruin, inside and out, I often forget about the resurrection we are perpetrating by growing in the Spirit for a long time in our place. As you can see, I have not even had to wait until years after I am dead to see the fruit from our forest; it pops right out of someone’s mouth — sometimes when I least expect it.