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Psalm 23

I have been reading the Psalms and Gospels lately, looking both to deepen my roots in the Scriptures and begin my days with quiet attention again. Life in family of six, filled with businesses and homeschooling and puppy training and meal making and community relationships is busy. Add email notifications and social medias and group texting in the mix, and I’m easily sucked into what the writer Linda Stone referred to as “continuous partial attention.” It’s the modern dilemma, one I’ve been mulling over quite a bit this year.

Sometime last week, I read Psalm 23––words so familiar I could recite them, and yet still they smacked fresh in my soul. I read it again and then again, each time drawn to that first line and the semi-colon right in the middle:

The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.

I have a thing for semi-colons. I know it’s a bit ridiculous, but I do. In terms of style, they’re one of the more powerful marks in the English language in my opinion, a sublime connection of two separate and complete thoughts. They’re gentle and mysterious, a fingerprint of the writer’s nuance, a nudge to read again. Here, one thought points to God’s protecting and providing care; the other is a truth about my human condition. God cares for me, for us, with the most perfect care and timing, we lack nothing––a truth even when my circumstance and emotions tell me otherwise.

I remember as an older teen doing a study of shepherds and this Psalm, learning more about the detailed and perilous job of a shepherd, understanding how simple this parallel is for a shepherd-king to write about God our Shepherd-King. He leads us to rest and righteousness. He comforts and restores us. He protects us. He invites us to his table. He invites us into his home to dwell with him. The simplicity is beautiful yet still easy for me to miss in application.

But what if I actually believed this truth in my daily living? What if I let these words on printed page steep more deeply in my day as a wife, a mother, a friend, an educator, a writer, a business owner, a sometimes weary or despairing soul? What if God is my Shepherd even when my bank account is empty or when a friend wrestles with sickness or when my children are hurting or when dreams still linger unrealized? What if He’s true when political systems are broken and confusing, when families tear apart, when fear and hateful thoughts are given more media than hope, when people everywhere are hurting? What if, instead of anxious thoughts or fear or frantic working, my thoughts turned toward that intrinsic connection of two truths: God is my shepherd; I shall not want.  

The last week, I have tried to do something a little different when I have sensed negative emotions or thoughts rise within me for whatever reason. It’s not perfect or a fix-all, but it has been helpful in directing my thoughts toward what is true, even when it doesn’t feel true.

Pause.

Draw in a deep breath.

Exhale slowly.

Pray into Psalm 23, something like this:

God, you are my Shepherd King, my rest and righteousness. I am not afraid of the evil in the world, or even the evil that comes against my home, for you are here right now with me, protecting. I am not afraid of want for I know you will provide. My cup overflows at your table. You are good and merciful, and your goodness and mercy will follow me every day to the end. Let your goodness and mercy rise like a flood in our home, in our neighborhood, in our city, pouring out goodness and mercy generously into all the earth. Amen. 

It’s often been simple and brief, something that has unfolded in the midst of my day, while cleaning out my closet, emailing, running with the dog, or making dinner with the kids. It may sound or come about in a different process for you, as it should, but it’s not about perfection or performance. For me, it’s about finding a sense of rest and hope right in the tension of two thoughts, much like that small semi-colon. Be encouraged.

Nurturing the Whole Self | Retreating

Nurturing the Whole Self | The Practice of Retreating

“a series dedicated to nurturing and nourishing the self from the inside out”

I have always appreciated winter’s wisdom, its encouragement to retreat and to listen. It merely requires a window or a walk outdoors to understand there is purpose for this season of brief light and bare limbs, of quiet fields and still, cold air. Winter gently reminds us of our need to pause and turn inward for a time, our need to listen.

It sounds simple enough, and yet, the truth is retreating from people or activities we love can be difficult in practice. Life doesn’t pause on its own. Children still need to be clothed and fed and nurtured. Bills still need to be paid. Work needs to be finished. Modern culture esteems Spring and Summer type energy, the more productive, vibrant work. We read courage-imparting imperatives at every turn, online and on walls and billboards, inspiring us into action, and yet in some seasons or parts of our day even, the most courageous thing we can do is rest, to linger in solitude and quiet. It appears to be nothing, and yet I have been learning in the past 18 months that the rest discovered in retreating can be the most productive and beneficial of all. Winter is the season that gently leads the way.


THE PRACTICE OF RETREATING

I use the term retreat in its simplest form: pulling back or away. This reclusive act can sometimes be viewed as selfish or antisocial, and I’d submit it is. I’d also suggest that in a world of constant connection, in a home with unending needs and conversation, in a marriage that requires two whole people in loving connection with one another, there is great value in prioritizing the care of self, in carving space to connect with your thoughts and emotion apart from it all.

As an introvert, I think I have always sought after this sort of personal space at home, in marriage and motherhood. For me, retreating is not something to wait for on a weekend away once or twice a year, it is a necessity to make space for daily, even if the time is smaller in nature. The quality accumulates. In the winter, it tends to involve candles and cozy corners and a warm drink. In the spring or fall it more often involves the being outdoors, possibly on a blanket in the warm midday sun, or maybe on a walk in the woods. In the summer more often I am outdoors in the early morning when the sun rises or as the sun sets. Nearly always it includes a bit of meditation and prayer, a book, a little music, and when possible the outdoors. It may look different for you, but I implore you, find a place to quiet yourself.


MY CURRENT PRACTICE

For me, retreating is simply a practice of stillness, silence, and listening. Since the majority of my days are spent with people or communicating in some form, this quietness provides balance. Currently, I begin my morning ritual, with silent meditation, a renewed priority in 2017. This fraction of the day is not a time to accomplish and produce but to hear, to pray, to allow whatever is unsettled in my thoughts and body to rise to the surface. For me, it is a time to let go of anxiety and fear, to connect with God and to meditate on gentle truths from the Bible, currently Proverbs 3.

During this period, I light a candle nearby and then begin by lying on my back, flat on the floor, face to the ceiling, palms up, arms at my side, feet relaxed. I close my eyes and lay still and listen. Sometimes I begin to feel anxious about the day or something else in life. Sometimes everything is simply empty. Sometimes I find fearful thoughts or anticipation and excitement about something that day. I listen and let go. I do this for 10-20 minutes, depending. Then I transition more toward mediation. I generally have the Bible nearby and I read and meditate on these words while I slowly stretch and release, physically and mentally. This part might be another 15-20 minutes, and then I continue on with the rest of my morning ritual, reading and journal if there is time before the day begins. For now, I have let go of early morning work, instead choosing to begin the day from a place of connection and rest.


WAYS TO RETREAT

There are many ways this practice can take form. I know for extremely extroverted people, the idea of sitting quiet and alone for a long period of time sounds boring and tiresome. Try something small, like 10 minutes of stillness. Here’s a few ways the practice of retreating looks in my life. It will look different in yours, and it should. Find your own style and rhythm.

daily / Although it will vary person to person, establishing a daily period of retreat is a wonderful place to start. Consider your day. What period of the day would work for your own time the most consistently? The morning? Evening? Nap time? Think through what is restful practice for you. If there is an activity that is restful for you (running, baking, painting, etc.), take a few moments to begin with stillness and quiet reflection. Listen to your thoughts. Are the erratic or sad? Are they running through your head without breath? Are they exhausted? Listen to yourself, to what you are needing: Is it peace? Joy? Patience? Hope? Release and receive through prayer. Read or recite things that are true about yourself, your circumstances, about others.

impromptu / For those in a season of life that feels absolutely void of personal space and time, pay attention for the moments as they present themselves. Sometimes these impromptu retreats can be the most meaningful because I need them right them. I notice cues, like losing patience, anxiety, frustration, etc., and so I stop whatever I am doing. I find something for the kids to do, or I clear whatever I was planning to do–even sometimes meeting with friends or going to run an errand. I find a small quiet spot in or outside of the house for meditation and prayer. If I have a bit more space in time, I might relax into reading or journaling. More often, I need to jump back into our daily routine, but I do so feeling a bit more grounded.

weekends / Weekends are a natural place for many people to find a little reprieve. If you have children, consider a swap of time with your spouse. In the last 18 months, our family has developed a Sabbath practice, a ritual borrowed from Jewish culture. We are still learning so much about this gift in our life. We begin with a Shabbat meal on Friday evening, and Saturday, we each find space for silence and solitude, for letting go and receiving. Sometimes this will be taking a long walk on my own or laying down on a blanket in the sun. We take the posture of rest, of turning our thoughts from house projects or school work or creative ideas to rest, to enjoyment of one another and also of silence. To read more about our developing Shabbat meal and Sabbath practices: here and here.

bi-annually/ These are the retreats we more often associate with the word, and they’re beautiful for having consecutive hours away from usual responsibilities to dream, to play, to learn. I have yet to take a retreat on my own. I have been to conference weekends on my own, but I have yet to go to a place alone for a weekend with no purpose. I would love this for a time in the future. For now, Mark and I try to take time of this sort together once or twice a year, and they are pivotal for both our marriage connection and well-being and for family vision. But even in our togetherness, we allow space to one another to be alone, to connect from the inside out. The same is true for weekends away with friends. They are beautiful for deepening friendships, of encouragement, but I always appreciate finding time apart from the group.

day of silence / This is new for us, an idea I picked up in this book last year, but Mark and I are sampling a day of silence for each of us, once a season. This will be a day to disconnect from our phones and computers, from work and home, for a full day of quiet, to listen and read and receive. It is a simple way for two introverts who spend a lot of time with people (including our children) to protect our spirits and souls. My first day begins next week.

More thoughts on SELF CARE.