One month earlier…
I rarely write at night. This occasion is unique because Nate came home for dinner only to return to the office for the evening. He’ll be back before too long. Perhaps this is a chance for me to empathize with the wives of night-shift husbands.
The apartment is almost quiet and almost still. The clock Nate crafted in high school offers a comforting tick-tock of time passing. A single floor lamp gives off sufficient light where I sit in this small space. Some occasional commotion comes from the courtyard below, but not enough to bother me. Watson silently stalks around the apartment as his nocturnal feline instincts begin to kick in.
Usually, I would fill this “empty” space with just about anything but quiet. My tendency is to avoid noticing what I described in the previous paragraph. Give me a podcast, the next episode of New Girl, this week’s Discover Weekly on Spotify – just not quiet.
If I dig a little deeper into that idea, I recognize that quiet spaces make my own thoughts seem much louder. And quite frankly, I am terrified of what I’m going to find if I listen to them.
I’m reminded of the eerie absence of sound that occurs the moment after a person dives under water. My recollection of this sensation still evokes a visceral response of both stomach-churning anxiety and overwhelming excitement. I suppose that’s common for a former high school swimmer. Everything above the surface disappears for the split second between the time the swimmer submerges and when the first stroke is pulled. Noise is absent. It is simply the swimmer and her heartbeat preparing for the full-body exertion that she is about to endure.
What would it take to set aside all distraction and dive into the dark waters of my own mind? And what would I gain from it?
Thing is, I know the answers. I have read countless blogs and articles, plus a handful of books, and had many a conversation about the importance of being still. I believe every word of these things, and I will say to anyone how I know it is important to free ourselves from distraction and relish the quiet.
But I have so much trouble implementing it in the day-to-day. I find myself thinking throughout the week that I really should get to trying out that quiet time thing – and I’m not talking about just reading a bible verse and praying that the Lord will help me face the day. That practice is valid, but what I mean is really, truly climbing down into the deep well of my soul until I find something or am shown something.
Perhaps what scares me most is that, unlike the swimmer, I do not feel prepared. I do not deem myself ready for what I might find lurking in the depths of my soul’s well. So I refuse to enter into the surrounded silence of that space because I don’t want to feel alone in it. There is a whispering voice inside of me that has convinced me the way to freedom is in the opposite direction of my brokenness.
But as speaker and author Brené Brown said,
When we run from struggle, we are never free.
And I am reminded of the verse from Deuteronomy 31:6:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
These reflections are a work in progress. I have only scratched the surface. You’d think it would be obvious, this quotidian act of filling space to avoid my own inner dialogue. But no, this kind of avoidance spawns from something that stalks within me, more silent than a feline.
…One month later
Since I wrote the previous part of this post, I turned 25 and started grad school classes. Not to mention, Nate and I are preparing to move to PA in less than a week. “Time flies” is the most accurate cliché of the moment.
Also, since writing the previous part of this post, I have (surprise!) still not mastered the practice of quietude. The idea is always in the back of my mind, and I keep meaning to implement it, but more often than not, I treat it like a chore. Sure, the sink would be much cleaner if I washed the dishes, but isn’t it so much easier to avoid them?
Even so, I don’t think the practice of entering into stillness necessarily has to be mastered in order for it to be effective and meaningful.
One night, after crawling into bed, I felt a stirring in my heart – one that did not allow my brain to shut off enough for sleep. Usually, I would refuse to acknowledge the stirring. But this particular evening, the stirring got me out of bed, back into the living room, into my favorite chair with pen in hand. So I wrote.
And I wrote until the stirring formed into words on the pages of my journal.
On that particular day, Nate received a confirmation date from the moving company for when they would be moving our things out of our apartment. It happened to be exactly one month from that date. Cue the underlying anxiety of leaving this beloved city and our beloved friends.
Also, I would start classes a week from that day. I had no idea what to expect, no idea how I would manage my time, no idea if I might figure out that pursuing a counseling degree is actually not at all what I should be doing.
Acknowledging those feelings helped me recognize the kindness of my Heavenly Father and his provision. I recognized that I still have so much healing to do myself, but my desire to expand my capacity for helping others motivates me to strive for mental, emotional, and spiritual health. I want to weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15), as the Lord does with me.
Eventually, I set down my pen and began to pray.
This process helped me put into words and sort out the loudness in my head. Believe it or not, it was not as terrifying as I expected it to be. Emotional, yes, but in a way that refreshed and revived me, in a way that allowed me to literally rest, to sleep soundly.
I believe this was the moment that I finally understood why Jesus is called “Wonderful Counselor.” When we offer our prayers to him, he offers safe space in return – safe space for us to be completely vulnerable with no fear of shame. He met me in the intimate, small, humble setting of my living room that night. He lovingly climbed down with me into that deep well of my soul, and he carried the light so I could see what hid there, so I could face it and set it free.
I pray I can be an instrument of grace for others in this way.
Among the things I mentioned, I also discovered that I process things better at night. For some people, morning works best. But perhaps, at night, the completed (or uncompleted) tasks of the day are out of my mind and tomorrow seems far enough away that I can focus on my own thoughts and feelings. I hope to engage that practice more often.
So, maybe I would call this experience a “breakthrough” of sorts.
I suppose I’ll only know if I continue to jump in the water and look back someday in gratitude at my ability, by the grace of God, to lean into the pain and find freedom in joy. Still, I believe I have only scratched the surface. But I know that when I jump, I never do it alone. And neither do you.
I’ll conclude with this quote from Henri Nouwen, a renowned priest and author:
Solitude, whether it is connected with a physical space or not, is essential for our spiritual lives. It is not an easy place to be, since we are so insecure and fearful that we are easily distracted by whatever promises immediate satisfaction. Solitude is not immediately satisfying, because in solitude we meet our demons, our addictions, or feelings of lust and anger, and our immense need for recognition and approval. But if we do not run away, we will meet there also the One who says: ‘Do not be afraid. I am with you, and I will guide you through the valley of darkness.’
Here are some resources that have helped me think about the process of entering into quiet spaces and leaning into our pain/emotions:
- Coming Clean: A Story of Faith by Seth Haines
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
- Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World by Emily P. Freeman
- Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
- The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath by Mark Buchanan
- “Mourning & Dancing” by Henri Nouwen (excerpt from Turn My Mourning into Dancing)
- “Whole Hearted” by Shauna Niequist
- “Finding Purpose in the Pain” with Ruthie Lindsey – Sounds Good with Branden Harvey
- “Walking Through Doubt” with Tyson Motsenbocker – Sounds Good with Branden Harvey
What helps you enter into quiet spaces?