Taking the Road Less Traveled
As I slowly turned left off of the two-lane road into the long winding driveway, I was expecting to see large welcoming signage informing me of my arrival on the campus of the Blue Mountain Christian Retreat and Conference Center. But, it was much more nondescript than I was anticipating. It took me a minute to drive further up the hill to be sure that I was in the right place.
Though my wife Dalia had been here a couple of times before, this was my first time making the one-and-a-half-hour trip from our home to this retreat center in a rural Pennsylvania town. But, as I followed the signs along the main road towards the visitor registration desk and passing by a lone jogger, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Exactly what am I doing here?"
As many of you know, over the past year and a half, the Lord has directed me towards the practice of spiritual disciplines to aid my spiritual formation as a husband to Dalia. One of the most consistent learnings from this study is the criticality of solitude and silence in creating the space to truly listen for God's voice--in whatever form it takes. Without exception, spiritual directors emphasize the necessity of both solitude and silence as key accompaniments to prayer in spiritual maturity. Solitude creates that one-on-one experience with God while silence calms the external and internal noise that interferes with our spiritual reception. After more than a year of thinking about it, this short retreat trip was my feeble effort to say, "Lord, here I am".
I parked my car in the empty temporary guest registration parking spot and walked in the lobby to the registration desk--not a person in sight. I rang the chrome bell sitting atop the counter and immediately a polite woman emerged from a back room with a warm greeting. After giving her my name, she retrieved my room key and then asked me the $64,000 question, "What brings you here?" I stammered a bit as I tried my best not to just admit, "Honestly, I'm not sure." She smiled and welcomed me as a first-time visitor with the requisite information on how to locate my cabin and breakfast details for the following morning. With room key in hand, I set off for the official (and tepid) start of my "silent retreat".
Experiencing Imposter Syndrome
Once settled into my room with its spartan accommodations, the feeling that I had no idea what I was doing intensified. I reached into my backpack and pulled out the four books that I had brought with me--two bibles (different translations), Ruth Haley Barton's, Silence and Solitude, and a mostly empty journal. I plopped down on the somewhat firm, stiff-backed couch and prayed something like, "Lord, I'm here. But, what am I supposed to do during this silent retreat?" I waited and prayed and waited some more.
I distinctly remember feeling like an imposter.
The negative thoughts swirled in my head. At first, the thoughts were, "You don't know what you're doing. You're wasting your time." Then it got worse, "You've read all of this stuff about spiritual disciplines and talked to all these people about them. But, after all of this, you still aren't going to hear anything from God." Then, it got even worse, "Yes, you've gotten better as a husband. But, it's gotten as good as it's going to get."
In one sense, I knew these random thoughts were from the Adversary (that flesh part within me). But, I struggled to quiet the sense of being a fraud.
Finding Direction through the Noise
Without doubts swirling, I picked up one of my bibles and somehow ended up at Psalms 37:23. "The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of their lives." I re-read the passage dozens of times--each time finding incrementally more peace in its message.
The distracting voices in my head quieted.
"The Lord directs the steps of the godly."
Eight words concisely summarize the entire message of the gospel. As I focus on the Lord, He in turn directs my steps. As long as I pursue godliness, I have the iron-clad assurance that the Holy Spirit is guiding my steps. As long as my eyes remain on the Father, the Lord will orchestrate my actions as a husband in pursuit of a marriage that pleases Him. I scribbled some notes in my journal.
I remember telling myself, "I am here on this silent retreat under the direction of the Lord." Despite my lack of clarity about what I should do or expect from this silent retreat, I could feel certain that each minute here was ordained by God.
I spent almost the entire night studying Psalms 37 including its powerful fourth verse, "Take delight in the Lord and he will give you your heart's desires."
The Lord's word to me is that there is one root that unlocks the full measure of God's provision in my Christian walk, my marriage, and my leadership. I must learn to take delight in the Lord. Notice how both verses 4 and 23 include "delight". As I delight in Him, his steps become my heart's desires. And, He delights in my life's every detail--every detail, even the moments of uncertainty.
Satan wants to obscure your delight in the Lord by making you feel like an imposter in this pursuit of a godly marriage. Satan wants you befuddled with hopelessness that your Christian walk and marriage will never be any better than they are today. Satan wants you distracted by the incessant noise of jobs, children, bills, and ministry demands so that you pursue a marriage that pleases you more than one that pleases the Lord.
But, may I encourage you to find space for solitude and silence (even thirty minutes once or twice a week) to fight through your own external and internal noise that burdens your marriage. Solitude and silence are the points of breakthrough to the next level of godliness in your marriage because it is there that you discover the Lord's delight. Be encouraged today that the Lord directs the steps of the godly and is waiting to take delight in your every detail.