"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." -Phillipians 4:13
Today, we spent the day on a silent retreat. This means that we turned off our cell phones, left our iPods at home and were required to not speak for the entire day. I, for one, had been looking forward to this day for a while even though I did have some trepidation over whether or not I would be able to do it. If you know me, you know how much I like to talk. I can be a very talkative person when I want to be and when I feel comfortable with the people involved. However, I can also be really good at not talking when the moment requires or when I am feeling shy so I knew that I would be able to do this. Because of the weather (highs in the teens and snow on the ground), we opted to do our day of silence at Navy Pier which has lots of shops and restaurants and an IMAX theater and an indoor garden and plenty of other things to distract us from keeping silent.
This definitely made it harder as there were lots of people there and so I had to resist the temptation to talk to anybody. The temptation to talk was all around us as we couldn't even really go into a store or to McDonald's because it would be hard not to talk while in there. I spent the day doing a lot of talking with God and journaling. God and I had a good, long talk about everything that has happened to me and about my life's journey. I really needed that time with him and am glad I did it. I am also glad that this retreat happened right in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season. During this time of year, it can be very hard if not impossible for anybody to slow down and spend some time in silent reflection and talking with God. It helped put the whole season in perspective. I love Christmas but even I will admit that the holiday has become so commercialized and full of consumerism that we tend to forget the real reason why the holiday exists. I actually spent the first two hours of my silent time sitting right by Santa's Workshop observing all the kids standing in line waiting to sit on Santa's lap so they could tell him what they wanted for Christmas. It was an interesting experience contrasting the two in my head: the day of silence and reflection with God contrasted with the very epitome of consumerism and gifts. I will always love Santa Claus and I love getting gifts at Christmas but doing this retreat in the midst of the Christmas holiday season reminded me of the true meaning of the day.
It's about making time for God. Remembering to take some time out of our busy days and our busy lives to just sit and be and not be so worried about everything else going on in our lives. I'm a Type A personality so I like to stay busy but today I found myself being comforted by being able to just sit and journal and not have to feel pressured to go anywhere or buy anything or do anything other than just sit there and relax and let the Spirit lead me. I got the chance to walk all over Navy Pier which has so much to see and do and I definitely want to go back when I can talk again as it looks like fun. Most importantly, though, I got to do some thinking about myself and my YAV year. I realized that I am letting other people's expectations cloud my judgement. I have been so worried about what others are going to think of me or going to say to me that I have forgotten to focus on what I and most importantly God thinks of me. God loves me and that will always be true and that is honestly the only thing that really matters in life. It is the one constant in my life and God wants me to be here and God knows what he is doing in my life here. No, what I'm doing isn't what I signed up for and doesn't necessarily yield tangible results and doesn't let me use my gifts in the way that I wanted to and doesn't always go smoothly or easily or well but that's not the point. I am here doing God's work and that is the most important thing. He's allowing me to develop other gifts and realize important things about myself. Maybe that's how it's supposed to be. I am starting to become convinced that a YAV year is less about the work you do and more about the person you become. 6 months ago, I would have never imagined that I would be here doing what I am doing and learning what I am learning. I would have never seen myself cooking dinner for others (and being pretty good at it too) or working mostly behind the scenes or giving up my dream of moving to New York and being a professional actor or applying to seminary yet all those things are happening to me in my time here and it's great and wonderful and sometimes painful and terrible but that's all part of the journey.
I was talking the other night with a former YAV who now lives here in Chicago and she was saying that her YAV year was an absolute nightmare that she is still recovering from. She said that for most people at the end of their year, they find that the negatives and the positives almost even out. Yet, she also said that it was still the most important and formative year of her life. I think that is proving to be true. Yes, being a YAV is tough and there are plenty of times when I just want to throw in the towel and wonder if I am even making a difference in anybody's lives or saving the world or even having a good time. Life here is tough, I'm not gonna sugarcoat it. Yet, in my journey today, I realized that that is the whole point of it. Sometimes, we have to be completely broken before God can do any good in our lives. Yet, if we just believe in his power and listen to his voice, we can accomplish anything and need to learn how to do that.
I also spent some time today just reading the Bible which is something I almost never do. I've never been a big fan of the Bible and have often made it clear that it doesn't play a part in what I believe. What I believe is not based on what the Bible teaches but what I feel in my heart to be the truth. I think too many people expect the Bible to answer all the great mysteries of life and it just doesn't do that for me. However, I have realized that I really need to spend more time just studying the Bible and figuring out why I have so many issues with it. I started off the day by rereading my favorite Bible verse (reprinted above) and journaling about what this verse means to me in light of everything I have experienced since I have been here. It helped me realize that I need to stop letting my fear of failure or my fear of disappointing others stop me from doing things. I've let my fear paralyze me for so long and it is time to just trust in God and follow him. After all, I really CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens me. If I want to go to seminary, I'm gonna do it and not worry about whether or not it is the right fit for me or that I will flunk out or that I won't be smart enough to make the cut and will have to drop out thereby disappointing everyone. It's time to put those fears to rest and just let God take over. He's never steered me wrong so far so why would he now?? Trust in Him more and good things will come from it.
I'm glad I had this chance for some introspection. I really needed it especially in the craziness known as Advent. I need to start making it a more common part of my routine, maybe taking a couple days a month or whatever to just spend with God and doing some reflection. It's not a bad idea in the grand scheme of things. I successfully managed to not talk for over seven hours which is a personal record and proved that I should just shut up more!!
We broke the fast with dinner at Bubba Gump's and having our pictures taken with Santa Claus because we are all five year olds!! All in all, it was a great day and I am so glad that we did it. It really helped me reconnect with myself and with God and made me realize that I need to refocus my self and my priorities. Perhaps being a Type A personality just isn't going to work anymore. Or perhaps I can still be a Type A but just make sure to take some down time for introspection. Thoughts to ponder as I move through the rest of my week. Last week was super busy but this one is not looking as bad which is really good. Next week is practically dead and the week after that will be almost a ghost town which will be nice as it will allow for plenty of down time. Whether or not I end up using it wisely remains to be seen!! Hope everyone is having a great Advent season and staying warm. The highs are in the low 20s right now and yet I haven't felt that cold yet. I've learned how to shovel snow which is a skill I thought I would never actually learn!! Remember, God loves you and so do I!!