Mountains framed against cloud-mottled blue sky; orange monarch butterflies dancing over fields of goldenrod bright yellow in the sun; thunder rolling and echoing between mountains; silence broken only by the rushing and gurgling of a tumbling creek; warblers flitting among wildflowers; star-besprent sky resplendent with Milky Way and shooting stars; naps in a sun-warmed hammock; breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the deck overlooking forest and mountains; and days of rich silence…
I spent three days this past week on retreat in the Catskills. A personal retreat, to spend time with myself and God, and of course Ramble, who goes most places with me. I checked in with Stephen each evening, but otherwise spoke with no one the whole time, other than the woman at a farm stand where I bought deliciously fresh kale and new potatoes and also colorful chrysanthemums to plant back here at home. The Airbnb cabin I stayed in was refreshingly quiet and private, with a wonderful deck where I spent most of the past three days, except when out hiking. And except for during a thrilling thunderstorm the last evening and the peaceful pattering of rain the next morning. During those times I pulled a comfortable chair right in front of an open sliding glass door and simply sat enjoying the sights and sounds of the weather.
I’ve been longing for a time of solitude like this, and it more than met my expectations. I took a variety of books and sketching supplies, and I meandered between them and times of silent meditation and prayer.
I started out loosely working through Note to Self, by Charles LaFond, also referring to Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, as I pondered and worked on a basic outline for writing my Rule of Life– personalized reminders for how grow into the life I wish for myself and that God desires for me, the process of spiritual transformation and growth. As Barton puts it, a Rule of Life seeks to respond to the questions, “Who do I want to be?” and “How do I want to live?” or “How do I want to live so I can be who I want to be?” I came up with seven broad categories I want to address, with each category broken down into more specific sections, on which I’ll write briefly, so I can then review one section each day, kind of like a daily Post-It Note to myself. I plan to work on fleshing out those chapters with encouraging, motivating, and challenging words over the next few weeks.
I then turned to The Gift of Being Yourself, by David Benner, which I’d read a while back and was ready to reread, and Christine Labrum’s Journey to Become. Throughout my retreat I punctuated reading and pondering with a few hikes, a couple of naps, some sketching of wondrous views, and times of simply sitting in silence. Both Journey to Become and The Gift of Being Yourself gave me much to think about as they helped me look at my life to better see where I am now spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and even physically. Journey to Become is laid out in short chapters combining artwork with insightful questions, so was perfect for a retreat, and I would often read a section, then ponder it as I hiked or sketched.
It will take me while to process all that came up during those times of reading, journaling, pondering, and praying, but the nutshell version is that I came away with a greater understanding of how weary I have been in body and soul. And I realized that much of that weariness is due to the many ways that I have been living according to other people’s expectations of me or, more accurately, my perception of other people’s expectations.
As I sat with that realization and allowed myself to feel the weariness, I sensed God’s invitation to rest from expectations, other people’s and my own, and enter a fallow time, when I may not be as externally productive as I like to be. I’m sure that will be hard for me at times, and I will have to resist the temptation to evaluate myself based on my productivity, but I am confident that as I rest in that way, my inner being will heal and expand more into who God has made me to be.
Of course, I have regular life to keep on living, with various responsibilities that are still here, so the challenge in those areas is to do them without slipping into feeling like I need to be better or stronger or in any way more than I am. I am planning to continue reading and pondering and also discussing some of these thoughts with Stephen and some close friends, and am hopeful that that will help me not simply return to my former patterns of being.
Another realization I came away with was that my weariness and weakness is exactly where Jesus can best meet me. As long as I am trying to be someone other than who he made me to be or to do all sorts of things to meet other people’s expectations, I am relying on myself and not on him. As the Apostle Paul said, “But [Jesus] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9-10)
Melissa, thank you for taking us along on parts of your retreat through your words and sketches. Life is certainly an evolution. As I let go of expectations and productivity-based thinking, it becomes more clear that the journey itself is the destination.
Your sketches are beautiful, and I recognize some of those scenes — like the vista from Pratt Rock, and the Schoharie Creek views. Thank you for helping me revisit many wonderful memories there!
Thank you, Jamie! That’s really neat that you’ve painted at those same spots! And yes, it really helps to think in terms of a journey, doesn’t it?
Thanks for sharing this Melissa, I appreciate your honesty and commitment to integrity with God and yourself. The place looks so peaceful and large. So glad you were able to get away. Peace and grace for this journey.
Thank you, Shauna! It was peaceful and quiet; just what I needed. I have much to ponder still, and was glad to have time to get some insight.
I noticed you were in Prattsville, which is where my sister and brother-in-law have a retreat center as well as an Airbnb. Made me wonder if you were at their place.
What really resonated with me in what you wrote was the comment about being weary from the perception of others people’s expectations. I think I often think somebody’s expecting some thing when they really aren’t. Good stuff, Melissa!
It’s amazing to me how automatically I think of doing things because I think someone else expects it of me. It makes it hard sometimes to even know what I want to do, and it can be very tiring. I figured you’d be able to relate to that, based on what you’ve written on your blog, Terri.
What is the name of your sister and brother-in-law’s retreat center? I stayed in an Airbnb cabin by myself, not a retreat center, but I’d be interested in knowing what is available,
Melissa, they are at Huntersfield Christian Training Center.
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Sounds like my ideal retreat, Melissa, and thanks for sharing the insights, which I can relate to. Tom, Gavin, and I are all huge Catskills fans and often refer to the magic to be found there. We get there as often as we can –Woodstock and the surrounding environs.
Thank you, Katherine! I have also been enjoying your newsletter very much. I just read your piece about wild grapes, and yesterday I was hiking someplace where they were everywhere! I sampled them, as I often do, but these were not very sweet. I’ve had others, growing in our own woods, that have been sweet and more like Concord grapes. I hadn’t known there were different varieties, so that was interesting to learn. Do you have your newsletter write-ups on a blog someplace, or just in newsletter/email format?