When I was in my mid-twenties, I met a vibrant, funny, smart, beautiful-inside-and-out woman named Myra. Myra and I both worked in the addictions and mental health field and often referred clients to one another, but our connection quickly developed into a personal friendship as well. Ten years older than me, Myra became my advocate, cheerleader and mentor and I often sought her advice. She decided she believed in me as a clinician, helped me find my first clinical supervisor, and taught me how to thoughtfully, effectively and unashamedly network and build my business once I joined the private practice where she also worked. Beyond her professional credentials as a therapist, she is also a speaker, teacher, retreat leader, poet, singer, artist and has raised two creative kids (also ten years older than mine,) so I often tell her that I am watching her closely as she forges many aspects of this path slightly ahead of me.
Because she is a brilliant, compassionate healer, I have referred literally hundreds of people to her over the past twenty five years. If you are my friend and you need or want a therapist (or perhaps, in some cases, I think you need a therapist 🙂 ,) I have given you Myra’s name. In fact, if you were to attend a dinner party at my house, the one thing my guests might all have in common is that they or one of their family members have seen Myra for therapy. When I decided I needed to go back to therapy last year, I called Myra and asked her who was second choice since, in light of our friendship, I unfortunately couldn’t hire her as my therapist.
Since 2003, Myra and her friend Hank have been leading a silent retreat in early December and for all fourteen years, she has invited me. Every year, without fail. Having read the glowing endorsement above, you might think that I would automatically say yes, since I obviously trust Myra’s wise counsel and enjoy being with her.
Did I mention the word SILENT?
Introverted friends, let me talk to you for a minute. You are all over the internet these days sharing your dread of big parties and invasive human interaction with your funny memes. You guys get WAY more funny memes than those of us who are extroverted. Every time I read them, I find myself compelled to once again apologize to you for scaring you with my friendliness. Speaking on behalf of my fellow extroverts, we just want you to love us. Based on my extensive Facebook research of the personality traits of introverts, I’m quite certain a silent retreat sounds like a lovely respite to you.
Me, not so much.
As a wannabe contemplative and mystic, I like the idea of a silent retreat in THEORY. Having read classic writings from centuries of Christian seekers on the beauty found in silence, I get the appeal and potential benefit. And I especially see the application during Advent. Yet, in practice, the idea of being with a group of people for two days WITHOUT SPEAKING seemed sort of silly and unproductive. I already spend too much time alone. I need more connection and conversation, not less.
Or so I thought.
For those of you who regularly read my words, you know I am all about being brave these days. While I particularly enjoy encouraging YOU to be brave, I am also committed to living outside my own comfort zone and listening for God’s invitations to stretch, grow and discover. And God’s invitations often come from the people who love me and are calling me to my best self. For that reason, when God’s invitation to the Silent Retreat popped up on Myra’s Facebook wall this year (yes, God can even use Facebook,) I immediately signed up and paid my money before I could change my mind. This year, I decided to be brave.
Extroverted friends, now I am talking to you. Here is what I discovered about myself this weekend and perhaps you might relate. Once we entered the silence, I was initially distracted and squirmy being with people without speaking to them. Here was a whole room of interesting new friends and how was I possibly going to make sure they were all doing okay if I couldn’t talk to them, ask them questions, learn more about them, make sure they all felt included and loved while potentially entertaining and encouraging them with my wit and humor?
Yes, please re-read that last sentence and marvel with me at the tender, precious, well-meaning, outrageous arrogance of that statement. Bless. My. Heart.
As I sat in the silence with these beautiful souls, I was surprised by the connection I felt with them without the need for words. Although still curious about my companions, I quickly relaxed and settled into the liturgies and rhythms of our day. Without the pressure to make conversation, I felt free to just read, think, write or wander around the beautiful grounds talking to God. I rested and ceased my striving. I experienced Sabbath.
God doesn’t make mistakes. He wires some of us to seek the quiet, and others of us to thrive amidst the clamor of activity. But we all need both. We were made for purposeful work, meaningful connection and the beauty found in the DOING. Yet, we were also made for rest, quiet and the beauty found in just BEING in God’s presence.
I wish you moments of both this Advent season.