I went on a personal silent retreat recently. I set aside a couple of days to step away from the activity of my everyday life, so that I could instead spend all time focused on being with God, like when Jesus would separate Himself from the crowds and disciples and go into lonely places to pray to the Father (Mark 1:35, Matthew 14:23, Luke 6:12).
I've made several retreats like this before in the past. Since the first time I tried it, I found going on retreat to be one of my favorite and one of the most effective spiritual disciplines for me. I always walk away feeling refreshed and more deeply connected to God. So, I usually look forward to retreats with joy and anticipation. However, this last time, as I prepared at home to go to the retreat center, I found myself feeling a nervous and awkward. Clearly it had been too long since I last did something like this.
My rustiness became even more apparent after I arrived. The retreat house host greeted me kindly in the lobby and escorted me to the room that would be my private space for the next 36 hours. As she left me there and closed the door, my feelings amplified into anxious fear and mild panic. I was suddenly alone with God in a different way than I usually experience at home. I had no distractions of any kind, nor would I encounter any, and I could see empty time stretching out in front of me. This disorienting feeling reminded me of experiences I'd have as a kid after walking on a moving sidewalk. After the thrill of moving faster than I could normally, when the moving sidewalk ended, my feet would stumble and stutter as I adjusted to walking on solid ground again. The change of pace was too abrupt for my poor little feet to catch up, and I would feel a little dizzy as I tried to adjust myself so quickly to the slower pace of regular walking again.
Sitting in the retreat center, I realized that I had been living my life at a much faster pace than what I would experience on this retreat, and I needed to downshift quickly. How long had it been since I had nothing but many long hours of uninterrupted time to spend with God? I calculated in my head that it had been at least over four years, possibly five. No wonder the transition was so jarring.
As my head continued to spin and my heart to pound, I recalled past retreats I'd taken and remembered the best action to take with these feelings: embrace them. Instead of defending against them, I let myself feel what I was feeling as deeply as possible. I just sat in a chair and breathed in all my emotions. What happened next? The fear began to dissipate, which felt really good, but it was replaced by exhaustion and weariness. Clearly, I wasn't meant to live my life constantly at breakneck speed. My soul actually was yearning to slow down and rest, but I had not been listening.
God knew that I needed this retreat more than I did. I began to talk with Him and thank Him for bringing me to this time with Him. Soon my eyes were so heavy that I lay down to take a nap. As I did, I felt safe, comfortable, and so glad that I had come on this retreat. I knew that when I woke up, my soul would be fully adjusted to this quieter, slower pace, and that God had even more good things planned for me during my special time away with Him.