Day two – Eyes Wide Open

Once detoxification begins to take hold, what tends to happen? The answer to this question is the greatest testimony to the power of silence. Once we begin to make progress on detoxifying from the effects of the noise in our lives, the fascinating thing that happens is that we actually begin to listen. We listen not only to God, but to the world around us and the world within us. We had stories of noticing the wildlife that inhabit the grounds of this retreat house, and a developing sense of God’s presence in the world in which we live. Everything begins to be seen as a gift where before it was scarcely noticed. Once the pandemonium is tamed within, we can finally begin to pay attention to the evidence of God that “saturates” our world. We begin to grasp the immensity of the statement that “all is grace,” “all is a gift.” The other thing that has happened is a couple of our retreatants gave themselves permission to just rest, and found that the Holy Spirit moved even more powerfully in spite of the fact that they were convinced that they were doing “nothing.” We ended the evening with a powerful time of prayer and tears on behalf of the wonder of God’s grace, and the power of His Spirit to “work wonders” in our hearts.

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Wow! Here we are again at another silent retreat, and I’m already a day behind in sharing observations from the retreatants who are here with me. Our usual schedule at these retreats are when we arrive, we take some time to get the logistics out of the way like meal times, and how do you say “hi” to someone silently? Or, what happens if you slip up and speak in a normal tone of voice? After we get that stuff out of the way, we move on to fears and expectations that the participants have. What I heard this year was… “being able to see God’s glory.” Or, “I just want to fall more deeply in love with Jesus”. Or, “I really don’t know what to expect since I’ve never done this before.” And, that is always true for every one of my students since pulling themselves away for a time of silence and solitude in this noise saturated world is not an easy thing to do. They are to be commended for taking the bold step to intentionally allow something like this to happen. Something I always mention to them is that it takes a good 24 hours for them to “detoxify” from the sounds, and fury and noise of their worlds. It’s not an easy thing, and often we revert back to attempting to even structure the silence because we’re afraid of what we will find in our own hearts. They were quick to identify that, and were slowly coming around to accepting that this is a time to learn how to “be” in God’s presence instead of making ourselves busy doing something FOR God’s presence. And we wonder why we can’t sense Him or hear Him! More to come!

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Audiobook now available!

The newest addition to the Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love series has been expanded!  If you are in the car, prefer listening to a book rather than reading it, or just simply have a hard time reading given the place you are in your grieving process, you can now read Grieving the Loss as an audio book either through digital devices) or purchase the Audiobook CD through Amazon.  The links are below to make it easier for you to find them.  Enjoy!


Grieving the loss of someone you love audiobook through

Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love as an AudioCD
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Grief 2.0 – “Table Talk with CCU” – From Mourning to Morning: Reflections on a Journey

The Inaugural “Table Talk with CCU” — A series for CCU that is patterned off of the TED talk series of lectures.  I was asked to give this short talk reflecting on my journey through grief.  

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Grief 2.0 – The urgency of regret

unknownRegret is signature characteristic of grief. Now, that statement may not be terribly consoling for most people experiencing grief, but in many ways, it is forced upon us because of our position in time. The word “regret” has an interesting history that might reveal some insights for us to understand the importance, even the urgency of experiencing our regret. The fascinating thing about the origins of the word regret is the Germanic word for “greet.” In a sense, if you think about it, regret is to “re-greet” or revisit our interactions with someone and think through the consequences of that interaction. As we do so, we see what could have been done, or could have been said, and we feel repentant of our actions. The reality is that “regret” is often the modern equivalent of an expression of repentance. Interestingly, Henry David Thoreau reminds us of the importance of regret when he said, “Make the most of your regrets; never smother your sorrow, but tend and cherish it till it comes to have a separate and integral interest. To regret deeply is to live afresh.” To regret deeply is to live afresh??? Regret feels like suffering grief all over again. Not only do we feel the pain of the absence of the person we love, but now we add regret into the mess? Actually the answer to that is “yes.”

The process of grief is a process of healing, and with healing comes necessary pain and reminders of what has happened. It is a necessity to grief because of the love we have for the person we have lost. If we didn’t love, we wouldn’t grieve. Therefore, in response to the above quote, our regret is a demonstration of our love for the person we have lost. Just as tears are a memorial to the love we have for the person lost, our regret underscores how important our relationship with him/her is to us. Therefore, when we come to the place in time where the person is gone, it’s natural for us to look back over the course of the history we have shared with the person we love. For most of us, that doesn’t happen while the person is alive. Life courses on like a river made up of a variety of events and interactions – loving, insensitive and neglectful, forgiving, gracious, joyful, sorrowful and moments of sacrifice. At the death of our loved one, the river comes to an end (of course this is where the metaphor breaks down). It seemingly disappears from sight, and we are left with the feeling of lostness I was commenting on in an earlier post. As I said there, the question comes: “Now what?” Well, the “now what” is that our vision is drawn back in time to recall and relish our relationship with them. Of course, with this revisiting in time, we become aware of our insensitivity, our unintentional comments that hurt, our failures in our relationship with them. What rises out of us is regret. On the heels of that regret is usually a long list of “if only’s.” If only I had been aware. If only I had retracted the words I said at that time. If only… The worst part of the regret that afflicts us during our grieving is that we seemingly can’t make it “right.” We can’t repent directly to the person and receive the forgiveness he/she would most likely give. It seems that our regret throws us headlong into a massive “dead end” sign (interesting phrase, isn’t it?). Yet, even in this attempt to make things right, we are trying to resurrect the dead. Our focus has to be on the living. The “here and now” not the “there and then.” To which “living” am I referring? You and me and those we love! We are the living in the relationship we are grieving. We are where the focus now has to be. It’s the choices we now make toward those we love that allows us to “live life afresh” as Henry David Thoreau put it. Not only that, it’s the choices we make about ourselves that is the foundation for how we care for the living.

Remember, earlier when I said that regret appears to be the modern equivalent for repentance? I think there is something profound hidden in that observation. If you review our language toward one another when we have failed or hurt another person, it is rare that we actually use the “repent.” Usually we use the words, “I’m sorry.” It’s our code for “I repent of what I have done.” Furthermore, the word sorry comes from the word “sorrow.” In other words, what I am saying is “I am filled with sorrow because of what I have done and how I’ve hurt you.” Of course, that is way too wordy for our emphasis on the economy of words! But allow me to fill out our understanding of the word “repent” and by extension the word “regret.” In Scripture, “repent” has different meanings (and words) in the Old Testament and the New Testament. To put it succinctly, the ancient Hebrew doesn’t really have a single word for our word repent. The closest equivalent is “to return” (the word teshuvah). In the ancient Greek, the word repent usually is conveyed with the word “metanoia.” This is usually is rendered a “change of mind.” Therefore, I think I’m on safe ground to say that if we look at the entirety of Scripture and what it communicates about repentance is that it is a change of mind that leads to a change in direction (to return). As a matter of fact, Jesus vividly portrays repentance in his parable of the prodigal son (or should it be called the “prodigal father?”). While in the far country, the prodigal “comes to his senses,” changes his mind (metanoia), and heads for home(teshuvah), and by an act of his father (forgiveness) is restored to his original position in the family (reconciliation).

So, what does all this word study and language references have to do with regret? I thought I would allow you to get a good snooze in before I find my punchline! The desired outcome of our expressions of regret is our response to grace. Many would think, and have said, we need to learn to “forgive ourselves.” My response to this assertion is that using the word “forgiveness” in response to ourselves keeps the whole process within our control, and we don’t have to suffer the indignity of receiving and accepting grace for our human failures which is ultimately where restoration can be found. So, in response to our regret, it isn’t forgiveness we need (since the person can’t provide it anyway), it’s the humility to accept the grace we have been provided to make the necessary changes for the living we are still among. The great, world-renowned philosopher Sylvester Stallone (just kidding of course) once said, “I have tons of regrets, but I think that’s one of the reasons that push people to create things. Out of their angst, their regret, comes the best from artists, painters and writers.” Ironically, I think Sly Stallone has stumbled on to a profound truth, and learned(probably) the hard way about regrets. He highlights for us just how essential they are for our future, not our past. Thankfully, we have been provided grace and forgiveness empowering us to become more like Christ through our journey with Him. The added benefit to that is that those around us reap the harvest of our willingness to accept the empowering grace to treat them differently in the future.

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Grief 2.0 – Feeling Lost

I find myself living in a strange warp in the “space-time continuum” as Dr. Everett Brown referred to in the movie, “Back to the Future.” In spite of the fact that what I am experiencing is nothing quite so disastrous or exciting, I am reminded again of theimages-2016-09-11-10-12.jpeg experience of so many who have lost someone they love. As the title to this post suggests, there is a sense of feeling lost. That doesn’t mean that I’ve lost my directions, and am not sure how to find my way home, but in many respects that is how the feeling of lostness is experienced. In more ways than one can count, the person who we love and lost is part of “home” for us. When they leave our lives, we, quite naturally, feel as if we have lost our direction. The overriding thought and even the feelings that accompany those thoughts is: What do I do now? There is a sense of confusion, disorientation, and even at times, urgency to restore “order.” We often take for granted how “ordered” our lives are, and the building blocks of that order are the people we love and count on to be part of that order. Everything else around us can be spiraling out of control, but if these people are still there and accessible, then usually we can handle most anything. Take one block out of that “house of order,” and it comes tumbling down. As most metaphors, this one breaks down at some point since we know that removing one brick is not going to bring down an entire house. Yet, our emotional houses (that part of our hearts) may not come tumbling down, but they are thrown into uncertainty and vulnerability. That uncertainty is enough to leave us feeling like everything is “falling apart.”

Another example of this is the game that is often played at picnics where the people are blindfolded and spun around. Once the blindfold is removed, they race to the other end of the “track” to either get some item to bring back, or complete some task. Of course, many hilarious videos have been produced at the sight of people “trying to get their bearings” in spite of their inability to re-establish their sense of balance. In many ways, that is how people who are grieving feel. They seemingly can’t get their bearings because an important part of their compass has been removed. In the above example, most people can’t help but try to move because they are motivated to win the race, and that’s when the fun begins. On the other hand, you often won’t see people stop and wait to get their orientation back, and then proceed with the race. The relationship to those grieving is that it feels as if life demands them to keep moving, and often this only increases the level of disorientation and confusion. Yet, if you are getting ahead of me you might ask, “Yeah, but I can’t just stop life and wait to get my bearings. I have to get things done, and I don’t have the luxury of waiting around.” My response would be, “Yes, of course, you’re right, but it may not have anything to do with what we actually do as much as it has to do with what we expect of ourselves when it come to coping with life.”

An important part of grieving well has less to do with “how” we navigate life, and more to do with “what” we expect of ourselves in terms of the quality of that navigation. Far too often, we make no adjustment to our expectations about our own level of functioning, therefore, we expect ourselves to function as if nothing has happened. If you were taken to the ER because you broke your arm, you would immediately be forced to adjust your expectations about how well you handle eating (particularly if the arm broken was your dominant hand). Unfortunately, the “wound” of grief doesn’t demand us to adapt like physical pain does. We can ignore it, or deny it and act as if nothing really happened. It’s pretty tough to ignore a broken arm. To grieve well requires us to learn new lessons of gentleness and grace with ourselves which demands an adjustment to our expectations about our performance in most anything. Everything will be affected… job, personal life, and any other arenas of life in which we are functioning. There are going to be good days, where we actually breathe a sign of relief and think the storm of grief as passed. It’s a divinely provided reprieve to be sure. But there will also be “bad” days where concentration is lost, productivity is depleted, and one would rather just crawl back into bed and wait for the next day. There are also “so-so” days. They aren’t stunningly good, and they aren’t devastatingly bad, and often these are the majority of days as the wound of grief heals.

This sense of lostness contributes, I believe, to what I’ve been feeling of late… connected disconnectedness. While that may sound terrible contradictory, allow me to explain. When someone we love dies, we are thrown into the whirlwind of activities and feelings that accompany those activities that simply blur our vision of what’s happening around us (and within us). When the swirl begins to slow down, and we begin to get our “bearings” back in terms of the world without our loved one in it, it’s as if we are passing through a world of people who are connected to us and us to them, but we also feel disconnected. If you’ve ever watched or read the Lord of the Rings, it’s as if we put on the Ring of Power and we pass through the world unseen and disconnected from it, and yet maintain our relationships with the important people of our lives. Any point in time, we can reconnect to the people in our lives, but still feels “surreal.” I can feel numb and dazed. I can feel “zombie-like” (which has new meaning since the series “The Walking Dead!). For many, these feelings simply don’t make sense. Of course, in order for something to make sense we have to have a reference point or something to which to compare it. Usually, our reference point is not a fixed point, though. Instead, our reference point floats in terms of where we are. In other words, the reference point is simply wherever we are not which results in us concluding that something is terribly wrong. Even for someone who knows this is happening, I still will struggle with feelings that I tell myself I shouldn’t be feeling since my mother-in-law wasn’t my blood relative. Then I have to remind myself that blood relationship has nothing to do with it. It’s the significance of the person to whom we are attached that matters. Period. Nothing else. No other explanation needs to be added to the “mix.”

The key and the challenge of grieving well is to learn to accept ourselves for where we are not where we “should” be with the assurance that the grief process will eventually come to an end… just not yet.

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Pat Williams Memory page

For new visitors to the website looking for Pat William’s memory page, it can be found under the menu item “Grieving the Loss of Someone You Love” or follow this link:

Pat Williams Memorial Page

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Grief 2.0 – Between a rock and a hard place

There is a lot about the grief and loss process that, for many Christ-followers, feels like being caught between a “rock and a hard place” as the old saw goes. Of course, when we lose someone we are often reminded of Paul’s decisive statement inUnknown-2016-08-25-10-41.jpeg 1 Corinthians when he says…”O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Yet, for those left grieving this defines the “rock”… the fundamental truth that death will never have the “final” victory over God’s people, At the same time, there is the undeniable “hard place” of the sense of loss, the gaping hole left behind by the person, the profound sense of lostness that so many feel. Listening to many who spout off the truth, you would think that we should just shake off the grief and sense of loss, and proclaim the fact that there is no sting to the loss we have just experienced. My only answer to that conclusion(and it is a conclusion) is: tell that to Job. Job felt the sting of the death of his family, he felt the sting of the rejection of his wife who wished him dead, and he felt the sting of his friends spouting off their versions of why he got what he deserved. Yet, Job was not going to be denied. He pushed back on his friends, and proclaimed that he was not going to be silenced and he was going to voice his complaints to God without reservation or without editing for God’s audience. In my view, Job’s relationship with God was so intimate and so trusting that he couldn’t do anything but voice the raw, unadulterated truth of his soul, no matter how temporary it might be.

The truth of what Paul was proclaiming above is not negated by our grief. Our expressions of grief are never prohibited in Scripture. As a matter of fact, the Jewish culture has probably the most systematized process for the grieving/mourning process than most religious systems. The reality is that by the time we arrive at the 21st century, we are a long way away from a clear process for mourning. For most people, as one of my daughters said at the dinner table, “This is my first funeral. What’s going to happen?” In other words, most have no precedence for their grief, and we are certainly rarely “taught” how to grieve. Most people are under the impression that we proceed through a series of “stages” as we grieve, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. As a matter of fact, it’s more a matter of acclimating to our losses through a series of developmental tasks that we proceed through. Tasks like: to accept the reality of the loss, experiencing (which means the full experience – mentally, emotionally, and physically) the pain of the loss, adjusting to the new environment without the lost person, and reinvesting in the new reality. (“Tasks of Mourning”, Worden, 1991) These tasks are little like signposts for our journey through grief. I like to think of them as more like indicators of the “seasons of grief” we are passing through. With each season, there are identifiable tools we can use to “grieve well.”

The prevailing culture (Christian and secular) is generally unsupportive of those grieving, and through “its” discomfort it communicates to those grieving that they should get “over it” as quickly as possible. Of course, this leaves those grieving even more isolated and alone. It’s an unfortunate fact that 3-4 weeks after the loved one has died, the grieving are often forgotten. This is by no means an intentional thing, but our lives are so full, that the state of those mourning just “falls off our radar.”

It has often been said, that the first things authors (or speaker) writes, and the last things they write are often the most important. It seems fitting, then, that Pat was a central figure in the introduction to my book. The very woman whose loss I grieve today was the first person who took it upon herself to teach a grieving young boy how to accept the condolences of the well-wishers who came to his father’s funeral. That overwhelmed and numb little boy was me. I never forgot that relatively insignificant act of love to a little boy who had just been hit by an emotional freight train. As a matter of fact, Pat’s kind words that day are memorialized in my book on grief that has, much to my surprise, survived to this day after 23 years of being published. Her words echo through history, and her legacy has impacted thousands of unnamed people who benefit from those words of kindness. Her words were what propelled me into teaching about grief (I didn’t know that at the time), and writing a book about grief. I’m no expert when it comes to grieving. I just know it well enough to encourage those who are grieving that what they are experiencing is an important (and normal) part of their immense love for the person they have lost. Repeating the words of C.S. Lewis… “Twice in that life, I been given the choice, as a boy and as a man. The boy chose safety, the man chooses suffering. The pain now is part of the happiness then… that’s the deal.” (Shadowlands)

IMG_3669-2016-08-25-10-41.jpgGood bye, Pat Williams(Meme)… till we meet again. You lived life well, you lived life loved, and you lived life loving… you will be sorely missed. What a legacy you have left behind.

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Of confusion and being human

“It’s in the emptiness and even desperation of confusion where God might be found.”Unknown

My vantage point during our silent retreats is to have a “front row” seat watching what the Holy Spirit is doing in a variety of people’s lives. This is now my 8th year bringing students up to this retreat house, and presently we are in the midst of being snowed in(somewhere in the vicinity of 18 inches) at 6100 feet above sea level. It’s that heavy, wet snow that we often get during the two snowiest months for the Rocky Mountain region of March and April. Last year at this time, it was sunny and warm, and the students and myself spent most of our time outside reveling in the springtime warmth. Not this time around. We are more or less(for those intrepid enough to brave the snow) house-bound, and often left, as silence is wont to do, with ourselves and with God. Of course that was the purpose of the retreat, but often retreatants can find a myriad of ways(some quite creative I might add) to avoid a direct confrontation with the Holy Spirit just by involving themselves with outdoor activities.

During a retreat, I often describe the Holy Spirit’s activity as “movements.” When I’m here it seems that my eyes and ears are tuned for such movement as a person walking through a forest tunes his/her senses to catch any movement of a wild animal that might attack. In this case, it is often the movement of the Holy Spirit to “hijack” the participants’ agenda to get them(or me) to pay attention to something they have been avoiding for quite some time, and stands in the way of their(or my) relationship with Him.

During our evening debrief for the group, I said something(above) that apparently caught the attention of the students that were participating. In spite of the fact that a lot of what I say is not original or even mildly profound, I strive to capture what the mood or theme is as we are talking in the evening. It’s what I said last night that I want to try to expand and consider in this blog.

The mood of the conversation at the time was the frustration with feeling confused about what God wants from us in the face of two options. As often is the case with students (and with us no doubt) they were searching for the “right” option to take assuming that if they choose the “right” option then God would be pleased and they would be blessed. My comment, “Perhaps it is in the emptiness and desperation of confusion that God might be found” seemed to crackle into the conversation like a lightning bolt ruining a perfectly good picnic. The collected retreatants looked at me like they had been truly struck my lightning. I wasn’t sure at the time whether I should apologize for raining on the party, or just simply run for cover!

As western Christians, it seems to me that we often buy into the notion that any confusion that we might have must be resolved, and added to that demand, that we actually have the power to resolve the confusion. Therefore, confusion is intolerable, and betrays a lack of faith, or a lack of understanding in us and must be resolved with the utmost of speed. But, what if we are wrong? What if confusion is the point, and actually betrays that there is something we simply do not know. Granted, being the psychologist, I know that there is this tendency in us to demand consistency between what we believe and what we do — it’s referred to as cognitive dissonance. Yet, I find in myself this propensity to run from the confusion of not knowing something or some outcome because I have decided that I don’t want to trust God in the midst of that confusion, and figure out how to lean in on Him.

But, again, is resolving the confusion even the point? Could it be that by allowing the confusion to exist (not as if we can banish it with a mere flick of the wrist), we might actually find God there? Could it be that by living in the confusion we can grapple with what it is to be human (limited and finite as we are), and what it is to need God in it? Mind you, what I’m saying here isn’t God so that I can find a solution, but God just as He is, and me as I am, limited, confused, and in need. Of course, from a purely intellectual point of view, we could answer in the affirmative, theoretically. But, if we are going to be honest with what is really percolating in our hearts, the unequivocal answer, perhaps even the loud and demanding answer to those questions is: NO! I SIMPLY CAN’T RISK NOT KNOWING!

With this mindset comes the desperation I speak of. There is a growing desperation that Unknown-1seems to blossom in our hearts as the confusion begins to envelope us. It’s like the encroaching darkness as the sun goes down. First, there’s dusk and still an ability to see, but ever more profoundly the darkness surrounds and envelopes us to the point where we are reaching for our flashlights. Isn’t that just what we do with confusion when it strikes? I get more and more demanding with my trusty flashlight in hand that an answer is forthcoming. Yet, there is no immediately forthcoming answer, so in addition to our flashlight, we add our voice (“There must be something wrong, I hate this confusion and I must get an answer!) to our search trying to get the answer we so desperately desire.

So, what’s the alternative you ask? Surely there’s some formula or some strategy that can be used to resolve this dilemma. Of course, a statement like this betrays us because we have just entered another “room” with our flashlight… This time it’s the room of strategies and formulae! The problem with what we do with confusion starts with our fundamental rejection of the predicament we find ourselves in. That predicament is the problem of being human. It is remarkably easy to forget that we can’t know everything, and we can’t solve everything, and sooner or later we will come to the end of the questions, only to be faced with a choice — accept that I’m human and in need of an Abba to comfort me and walk with me through this confusion. Or, reject that I’m human and embark on a journey of anxiety and anguish pursuing the creation of an appearance of self-sufficiency and impenetrable competency.

Now, I’m not naive enough to think that as you read that last paragraph, that the thought didn’t occur to you, “Really? I’m reminded everyday that I’m human and limited, that’s exactly why I pursue the strategies I do to keep confusion to a minimum!” While that may be true, there are different levels of acceptance of the reality of our predicament. Predicaments are not a matter of resolution. Predicaments are a matter of learning to live with them. Realize that “learning to live with them” is not a celebratory, enthusiastic, “Yay, I’m excited to be human!” with a distinct hint of sarcasm and snarkiness added in. We will always live in and out of the acceptance of our limits. I accept that that is part of the predicament. Confusion is one of those states, though, that runs us headlong into this predicament, and forces again the decision of either I’m going to accept it first, then walk my way through it without shame, expectation or guilt (for being confused) with Christ and those safe people in my life who reflect Him to me. Or, I’m going to reject the predicament of being human, and seek to conquer and destroy the state of confusion I’m in.

As the animals in Narnia were prone to say, “Aslan’s on the move.” I get to say the same thing… God’s on the move here in Sedalia, Colorado, and I’m privileged beyond words to get to see what He has next for this group of companions who share the journey into His heart and the landscape of their own! More to come…

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The danger of silence

imagesAnother spring, another silent retreat for CCU students (and myself). As we met last night for the first night of the retreat, I was reminded once again of something that I often talk about with my students – the danger of silence. Of course, silence in and of itself isn’t dangerous unless we define what makes it dangerous, and what is the object of that danger.

Whenever I participate and lead one of these retreats, I am jarringly confronted with just how noisy my life is – teaching classes, talking to students, driving home with something on the radio, getting home to reviews of the day, and sitting down to grade papers with some news show or something playing in the background. About the only time that all is silent is when I’m not awake! Therefore, in so many ways silence is the Great Disruptor not so much by what it does, as much as it is by what it reveals about my world, both internal and external. The fact that it disrupts by its very presence constitutes the danger it poses. I mean, think about it. What in your life can you identify that truly disrupts your schedule, your perspective on life, and your focus on what appears to be so profoundly important? Usually, whatever we deem dangerous is dangerous by what it does, not by it’s very presence. A warrior will describe his opponent dangerous because of the opponent’s skill, or strength, or even experience. You will often hear commentators (with March Madness still in the rear view mirror – particularly for us Tar Heels fans – ugh) describe a team as dangerous because of their hunger and drive to win no matter what, or how well they were playing at a given time in the season. Yet, in all these cases, the opponent or teams have to step onto the field of battle or the court and test their skills in whatever the match or game is. It’s not as if the team (although some teams seems to assume this at times) just appears on the court, and the other team forfeits the game.

Ah, but silence. It just appears and we go scurrying for the exits. What a force with which to contend! We may not scurry for the exits physically, but we do so mentally and emotionally. We may not be able to defeat it, but we seek to do whatever we can to fill it in order to neutralize its effects on us. Silence is a lot like a candle in a dark room. Darkness just can’t fight the light back. Once there’s light, darkness flees. Once there is silence, the darkness in us is revealed, disrupted, confronted, and silence demands an answer… “What will you do with what you find there?”

So, what danger does silence pose? The first is the danger it poses to our sense of control . Silence, if we let it, will bring into clear focus how much effort we expend in keeping our worlds quietly and completely under our control. This control, while comforting, gets to be a cruel taskmaster over time because there are always new frontiers(and people) to control and prevent from upsetting the proverbial apple cart of our lives. Silence has a way of pulling back the veil of our lives (remember the Wizard of Oz? “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!) and compels us to look steadily at it. If that was all that it did, we might be able to remain in our denial, and minimize or rationalize the compulsion to control everything around us. But, silence doesn’t stop there. It seems when allowed to remain in it purest form, silence demands a decision about what is being revealed. Interestingly, God is often found in silence, and the Holy Spirit seems to use it to focus our attention as described above. In that kind of silence, it appears the question is: Will you trust me in this silence, and with your heart, or will you continue in your delusion that you can actually control everything in order to feel safe?

The second danger silence poses is its demand to choose between listening or talking. I have had too many people comment to me when I talk about the silent retreat that they could never do that because the silence would leave them with their own thoughts and compulsions, and they simply wouldn’t be able to handle that. The reality is that they choose the path of filling the silence with words, plans, dreams, and interpersonal drama to avoid what they might find if they simply listened. Listening and talking are mutually exclusive. In the journey into silence, we choose to move from talking to, at, or with God, to listening to him. Talking runs by my agenda and timing, and listening is “run” by God’s timing and agenda. Silence poses a danger to safe and shallow understanding of God and ourselves that keeps our worlds in order and “safe.” So, what if God doesn’t talk? Perhaps, it is in the silence that we have something to learn. Trust? Safety? Control? Unrecognized or denied wounds? A celebration we haven’t let ourselves experience? We have grown so accustomed to looking for something that is there, that we forget that by its absence there is something to be learned as well. When I am searching for an answer from God, and allow the silence to reign in my heart, and God doesn’t speak (or at least in the way that I’m looking for Him to speak), I assume that He doesn’t care, or He has abandoned me. Perhaps, what I don’t see is that in that silence God only wants me to sense HIM rather than demand an answer from Him.

The last danger (and I’m sure there are many more) that silence poses to us is the danger of disruption. By our very natures, we are people of patterns, rhythms, regularity, and predictability. We like our patterns, and more importantly we don’t like those patterns interrupted or disrupted. Earlier I referred to silence as the “Great Disruptor.” So, the question is what does silence disrupt? As I have explained earlier, silence is a force that simply cannot be ignored. It disrupts the patterns in my life that I cling to in order to assure myself that my world is “in order” and all is well with my soul. But, silence disrupts all that. It, if allowed, so rudely disrupts my pattern of assuming how life works, and demands that I about it with more intentionality and clarity. Probably the most insidious patterns I have are those that I maintain in how I think about myself, how I think about God, and how I think about other people. Allow me to take the most difficult one to examine – how I think about God which, of course, influences the other two. Because silence tends to focus my attention on what I think and assume about God, it is virtually impossible if I want to participate with it, to avoid what I see there. What wars with this clarity is usually my circumstances. My circumstances tempt me into a “yeah but…” game with God and with the assumptions I find in that silence. “God has abandoned me and will resist anything I attempt to accomplish” is a “yeah, but” statement. When things go south in my life, and begin to lose sight of what I know to be true, I will resort to, “Yeah, that may be true about God’s character, but look at what happening right now! There’s nothing to conclude that God can be in this! THEREFORE, God has abandoned me… I’m sure you get the picture. But, enter silence – the great Disruptor. It quietly(of course it’s silence!) whispers, “So what are you going to choose to live your life on? The lies you believe, or the truth you know to be true but doesn’t feel that way at the moment?” Ouch… Okay…. You’ve got my attention. Geez. Up until that point in time, I’m not entertaining such questions because I have cultivated my busyness in order to not have to ask those questions.

As difficult as it may be from afar, I invite you to join me in this retreat this year. I will make every effort to “log” the movements of the retreat from our current location. Pay attention to your own heart as read my reflections from the retreat to see what God has for you even if you’re not in a place where silence can disrupt you. Perhaps, use your readings (in silence) to train your “inner spiritual ear” to the movements of the Spirit in your own heart. Welcome to the journey!

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