“In silence all our usual patterns assault us. That’s why most of us give up rather quickly. When Jesus was led into the wilderness the first things to show up were the wild beasts.”
This morning I re-read an old journal entry written nearly 20 years ago. It was strange…like embracing a dear friend, thumbing through worn pages. Both sweet and painful memories flooded forth as clearly as the moments in which I was living them. One thing I fearfully noticed was that while a lot has certainly changed around me, not much had really changed within me. At least, that’s how it felt.
One particular section of my journal captured in high definition some of my earliest encounters with SoulCare and spiritual direction, though I don’t really recall anyone ever giving them that specific label. At the time, it simply felt as though these wiser souls were handing down ancient practices that had been most helpful in their own hunger to hear God’s voice.
One specific memory seemed to come forward quite forcefully. As a junior in college, I took a course with a handful of friends that was solely focused on spiritual disciplines. Our primary text for the semester was Richard Foster’s book, “The Celebration of Discipline.”
We were each asked to select one of the twelve disciplines to study and practice from meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, silence/solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. I chose “silence and solitude.” For the first several weeks of the semester, I avoided the assignment. Eventually it was time for me to make an attempt to put it into practice. So I went for walks on the beach alone, paddled out into the surf line up alone and sat quietly in my dorm room alone. Those experiences of being alone seemed to leave me more frustrated than satisfied. To be perfectly honest, those were lonely moments. Sometimes they still are.
“Those were lonely moments. Sometimes they still are.”
I plotted one last master experiment with silence and solitude by forcing myself out into the wilderness. The plan would be simple. On a Friday afternoon, I would attempt to ride my mountain bike 52 miles home from my college dorm. I imagined a beautiful quiet ride up the beach with a cool breeze in my face. Just me, the sand, and the palm trees. Surely this journey would produce the dramatic spiritual experience I had been aiming for.
I was miserable. Torrential rain, high winds, stirred up dust, passing cars, drenched clothes, and fatigue exhausted any desire to experience God. Solitude felt a little traumatizing. There was far more keeping me from experiencing solitude than that 52 miles of road ahead. It felt more like there was 52 miles between my head and my heart. Even now, I still sense some shame around that experience. I eventually called my parents to pick me up.
So, this morning, I just lingered around this memory for a while. Around my continued anxiety with entering into times of silence and solitude. Around the enduring theme of failure in my spiritual life. Around my longing to “get it right.”
It occurs to me, even now, that my journal has remained a safe space for capturing my fears and failures. For expressing my insecurity. For listening to my heart. And here I am, 20 years later, writing about failing at silence and solitude while those very same written thoughts and frustrations are now nourishing me deeply.
What I knew them, I now realize.