The name of your cabin is…
Tears pricked my eyes as I stood alone in an airport and read the first line of an email confirming my reservation at a silent retreat center in Kentucky, “The name of your cabin is Joy.”
“Yes,” I thought. “That is what I need. What’s what I’ve lost.”
Days after arriving home in the US, I was diagnosed as clinically depressed. I was both relieved (I guess I’m not making it up) and shocked (how did this happen?). Empowered with information, I set out to make changes necessary to restore balance and wholeness, feeling grateful I know the difference between serving from health and not.
My mother recommended an article in Reader’s Digest which led me to The Sisters of Loretto in Nerinx, Kentucky and to a cozy cabin in the woods where I could meet God and meet myself again.
I arrived after dark but was immediately in love with the cabin. The kitchen smelled like my great aunt’s house and there were journals with entries from previous guests back to 2007. The peace and the presence of the Spirit filled every nook and cranny of the place. I started to make plans for my time there and was immediately convicted that what I really needed to do what honor my own needs and give myself permission to do the next right thing. I went to bed.
I woke up and immediately felt the heaviness of depression: the “I just want to stay in this bed all day” exhaustion that characterizes the disorder. I fought to drag myself out of bed and make it downstairs for coffee. As I let the French Press marinate, I opened all the curtains and was delighted to see a fat squirrel jumping through the leaves outside. Now that animal is filled with joy, I thought, smiling. He’s not worried about his mental health or dinner or what to do with his life. He’s just enjoying the brisk morning and the way the leaves feel when you crash into them like a cannonball in a pool.
He invited me outside. I picked up a bible and a nature walk guide and headed out to explore. I found each of the items on the list and read the corresponding bible passage and I remembered what it was like to really look at my surroundings and be enchanted. Our God created a world so beautiful and complex that some of us devote our entire lives to trying to see and understand it. I came inside cold and alert. I started praying and studying the Word and felt the familiar but long-missed nudge of the Spirit to question this verse and make note of that.
I ate healthy food and drank plenty of water. I went for a run on the soft earth that is so much nicer to my hips than asphalt. As the day wore on, the brokenness of the last year fell away and I found myself enjoying God and my thoughts and my cross stitching and plotting the narrative for a novel on sticky notes and hanging them up on the wall.
I woke up and was happy to be awake. I stayed in bed only long enough to thank God for lifting the depression and letting me remember what it was like to greet a day. I followed the same pattern for my morning: Coffee, Jesus, Nature Walk. I gave myself the freedom to leave the beaten path and go searching in the woods for the items on the list- rock, stream, tree, bird, sky, grass, lake. I was working my way up a rock faced hill when I heard the tale-tale splatter of a waterfall.
I sat nearby and listened to the birds singing overhead and the water trickling over the ledge and from a full and connected heart started singing, myself. Out came the “Doxology” and “Come Thou Font” and then just an impromptu chorus of “Amens”. I looked around to make sure I was alone breaking the rules of the silent retreat.
By my last full day I was feeling ready to have some hard conversations with God. Honestly, we had them the whole time I was there. He gently, gently showed me: 1) the last year was an intentional period of brokenness to highlight my addiction to the approval of others, 2) he doesn’t care about my talents or gifts or experience as much as he cares about my obedience to him, 3) he has given me the specific lesson of obedience through inaction. I mean that God calls us to stop striving, stop doing, stop fixing, stop planning and to seek connection and direction from him. Not once a year, not once a week, but throughout each day. Literally, finish a task, take a breath and ask…what’s next God, and let him speak. It’s not in place of hard work or service. This kind of living takes a commitment to obedient inaction in order to honor and hear God’s voice above any other. This is what I’d stopped doing in an attempt to “earn my place” in a new environment, in relying on my reputation and my striving above my relationship with the Father. He loved me too much to let that continue.
I got three full days to tend to my emotional, physical, and spiritual health. I talked with God intentionally, I fell back into his word, I mediated, I ran, I ate my veggies, I joined a few activities with the nuns who live at the Motherhouse, I wrote four chapters of a book!
The whole time, God was completely unclear about what I’m supposed to do next. He hasn’t given me clear guidance about a specific ministry or even hemisphere. He hasn’t confirmed I’m supposed to stay where I’m at. But he was super clear about HOW I’m supposed to do what’s next. And that’s through obedient inaction with JOY!