Hearing God in the Silence
Going into this past weekend, I had planned, expected, and hoped to see and hear God in a more obvious way than I have in a very long time. Since beginning a season of grieving and wrestling with God a few months ago, I have been yearning to go deeper in my relationship with Christ. I long to feel that I know and understand His character as much as humanly possible so that I may also better understand who I am in Christ as well.
Thursday night after we arrived at Sacred Heart Retreat House and left our first group-debrief, I felt somewhat frantic. I didn’t know what to do. My life has always run on a schedule. A very tight schedule often planned out to the hour or even minute on my busiest days. After wandering around the retreat house I decided to try and read in my room for a while before deciding to simply go to sleep. The next day, I began my day with a run not quite sure how to release the tension and discomfort I felt from needing to stay in silence. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of running when the only soundtrack I have to pace myself is the pounding of my feet and heavy breathing. After my run I found my way to one of the spaces I would return to throughout my time in silence. A wooden swing looking out upon the mountains where I would begin to dive into the Word and also later argue and wrestle with God to a point of complete frustration. After relaxing in His Word and prayer for a while, I made my way to my next spot where I read a book that made me feel like I got socked in the stomach. I had begun to hear God saying to me, “Let Me heal you…” To which, I very stubbornly said no. I struggled through the idea that while God does not will bad things to happen to us, we can still trust He is present. I felt if He was even present, then bad things shouldn’t happen. But they did, so why would I think He was there? And this had to mean He had left me and allowed me to be sexually assaulted. He left me in a place to be vulnerable and hurt emotionally in a way that I have yet to heal from. And yet, I continued to hear Him whispering to me, “Let me begin to heal you…” I could almost see His face looking at me with sad but overwhelmingly loving eyes, outstretching His hand to me. It was almost as if He was pleading that I take His hand and let Him lead me to freedom from the chains I have worn for too long. Yet I still refused. Like a stubborn child I would draw back from Him. I continued to choose to walk in my desert of hurt, anger, bitterness, fear, and confusion. When I realized the inner turmoil I was having in this moment, I began to cry with every tear carrying the weight of my sadness but also my longing to be able to accept His helping hand.
Through my reading I also began to realize how long I have trapped myself in my own safe but far too small dungeon. I had made my home in a place that is not meant to be a place of prolonged residence for a heart. The dungeon I have inhabited is a place filled with control, distrust, fear, and the inability to see myself for who I really am. Obviously nothing about my dungeon is too appealing except for the safety of staying within what I have known and survived in for the past two and a half years, maybe even longer in some ways. My dungeon has also trapped me in silence and denial. Silence had become the norm whenever I would feel or think things that I didn’t believe anyone would want to hear, especially in regard to my sexual assault. A code of silence had been pressed upon me and has weighed me down to the point that I physically struggle to get myself to speak out about my feelings and thoughts. This exact code of silence closed me off to sharing in our group meeting Friday night until the very end of our meeting, when with a little poking, my emotions erupted from within me. I cried harder than I have in a very long time, releasing my hurt, anger, frustration and confusion with God that I had been experiencing all day. The emotions overwhelmed and consumed me, and I became raw and vulnerable.
Saturday I woke up the next morning with a looming headache from the night before when I was hijacked by emotions I had long been holding in. I began my day somewhat similar to the previous morning, beginning my day with a devotional and reading the Word while gazing out at the mountains. But I knew I was already emotionally distant and closing myself off to hearing from God. Yet there was His voice, continuing to pursue me almost begging now, “Let me heal you…” I became even more determined to read and hope that somewhere in the pages of the books I was skimming would be a bit of hope so that I could heal myself. I believe God knew that this would be my response, so He spoke to me again through the words on a page that basically called me out for not allowing Jesus to heal me. Reminding me that right now He is only a few yards away yet I am refusing to feel His healing touch. I was broken again, but still decided to turn away both figuratively and literally. I left the spot I had been sitting in raging with anger and frustration. Why couldn’t I simply say okay to Jesus’ healing touch?
The rest of the day I spent my time trying to shut down and turn off my emotions so that I wouldn’t have to wrestle with God anymore and feel the tension within me resulting from my defiance to accept grace and mercy. I spent the next couple hours of the afternoon trying to avoid anything and anyone who might be able to get me out of emotionless, thoughtless void I had put myself in. I was once again back in my dungeon attempting to not just shut the door behind me, but lock it and not allow anyone to gain entrance. But this is not what God wants of His children, to be locked away and hidden in a place that they cannot be seen or known by others. A community founded in Christ refuses to let another child of God sit in lies and discouragement, so He used two people to poke and prod and speak truth into me while I dug my heels in trying to refuse to be moved. Even after having truth spoken into me for almost two hours, I was still somewhat discouraged by how upside down and backwards everything felt and appeared to me. I even began to wonder if I was truly going to get anything out of my time spent at the retreat. Going into group talk that night, I was discouraged feeling like I hadn’t heard from God and hadn’t “made any progress” in my relationship with Him or in my relationship with learning the land of my own heart.
Little did I know that my giving up in a sense of trying to make progress on my own, by choosing to go climb trees the next morning instead of trying to read and look for God with an intensity and determination to hear something, would lead me to experiencing Him more than I had all weekend. Deciding to no longer adhere to the “silent” aspect of the silent retreat, I explored the land the retreat house sits on while climbing trees along the way with two women I now consider very cherished friends. This time produced conversations that gave each of us deeper understandings of who each other are as people, and where we have come from in life. The three of us finished our adventure all squeezing onto one of the wooden swings gazing out at the mountains, enjoying each other’s company and our last bit of time in a place that had already become so impactful on our lives. As we walked back to the retreat house for our last group debrief before we were to leave, I had all but thought my time hearing from God was already way past over. But, as usual, God had amazing plans for our last time together as a group.
The beginning of the meeting went as all the others had, with us sharing our final thoughts on our time spent at the retreat house over the weekend. Then, Dr. Mitsch had one final challenge for us before we would take communion together. We were to speak truth into each other after observing and listening to the things each of us shared and experienced in our short time together. As we began to single each other out one by one, I experienced so much joy listening to the things that were being said to each person, as well as getting to express my feelings and thoughts about the people I had spent time getting to really know over the past couple of days. When it came time for people to speak into me, I felt an even greater shift within myself, within my own heart. It was almost overwhelming at first, not in a bad way, but in a way that I had never felt so affirmed, encouraged, and appreciated before by a group of people. Having prior difficulties with accepting and believing words of praise and kindness, I made myself focus on truly believing and embracing every word that was spoken to me. So much emotion ran through my body in those moments; appreciation, gratitude, joy, excitement, love and the feeling that I was worthy and more valued than I have felt in a very long time. This was God’s greatest gift to me over the weekend. This was where I saw God and His love more profoundly than I had expected or even hoped I would see during my time on the silent retreat. This was the moment I decided I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to ever lose the community that had been created in such a short time. This was the turning point where I heard God saying, “You may have tried to shut me out yesterday, and doubted my presence, but I am here. I am showing you my love. I am showing you who you are, what you are worth, and what you mean not just to your fellow believers, but to Me too.” And how beautiful, freeing, and amazing is that.
I left my weekend on the silent retreat with more than I could have hoped or prayed for. I left feeling rejuvenated, encouraged, uplifted, hopeful, and one step closer to understanding and accepting the heart God has for me; that I am His Beloved. I am one step closer to knowing who I am, and truly being proud of the things I can say I know myself to be. I am a loving friend who will come running the moment I see a friend in distress, ready to embrace them and shower them with love. I am a compassionate person shown by the heart I have for others, especially women who share in similar experiences as me. I am someone who has the ability to be real, to be honest, and to share openly my experiences, knowing that I just might speak the words that express someone else’s feelings too, giving them the power and permission to feel and relate. I am unwilling to give up; I am a fighter. No matter what curveballs life throws at me, I will not stay down for long before brushing myself off and trying again. I am stronger than I know; I have the capacity to withstand even the fiercest storms and come out on the other side better and stronger for weathering them. I am a force to be reckoned with; I carry power through my
emotions and my words and I live for a purpose to use them for the glory of God. I am appreciated, valued, and cherished by others; I am a delight and I am loved. Not only by my friends and family, but by the One who gives the word love its greatest meaning.
As Henri Nouwen put it, once “we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are… Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say or do.”
From now on, I am determined to face the call to become who I truly am and to live out my life claiming this truth. I am His Beloved.
Editor’s note: For more information about CCU’s Silent Retreats just click here