by Dick LaFountain
Seven Days of Solitude
"Breaking the habit of noise,
busyness, and people-addictions."
A Sabbath Rest - A Rest Unto Your Souls
"And God rested the seventh day from all His work."
It is important. It is the way of the Master. It is God's prescription for a deep abiding awareness of the presence of God. It cannot be substituted. There are no shortcuts, no bypasses, and no artificial substitutes. No seminars or classes can replace its eternal worth. There is nothing like it.
It is terrifying, frightening, and just plain hard to do. But it is worth it. God waits to be waited for, longed after, search for with all the heart, and found in the secret place of the Most High.
There is a process at work here. It cannot be hurried. Slowing down is the essential ingredient and the core virtue of the matter. It is not a retreat so you can get caught up with all the work you have let accumulate. It is not a place of refuge so you can write, prepare sermons, or arrange a plan for that coming year. It is not a vacation. This is a God-pause. This is a prolonged, timeless and extended day in which the sons of God present themselves before the Lord.
The day must be broken up into blocks of time if you are to survive the terror of too much time, silence, and solitude. There must be a deliberate weaning of oneself from the morass of mental chaos and fidgety nervous energy that characterizes our day to day existence. It cannot be the exchange of one nervous habit for another. Yet, there must be order. Creation has order. The Creator is orderly.
The way one organizes himself for this kind of pursuit of God will be a reflection of his personal paces, rhythms, and idiosyncrasies. Your retreat to God is not the same as mine. It cannot be. You are unique. Your needs are unique. The imprint of God's heart upon your heart will be as different as fingerprints or snowflakes. God wants this to be very personal.
Sometimes to get started in the right direction one needs to follow well worn paths, or at least the footprints of one who has gone before. Once you are well on your way you may and will choose different side paths and circuitous routes to arrive at the same destination - God's heart. He will lead you. He is the Good Shepherd. His sheep hear His voice and follow Him. He leads, you follow. My role is to get you started, to lead you up the mountain and drop you off in solitude of His Presence. Where you go from there will be the Master's leading, not mine. In the end you must climb alone. You must yearn after the Shepherd. He hides himself so that you will chase Him. He wants to be found, but the pursuit is part of the reward. It is not the arrival that you seek, but the joy of the pursuit of God. He waits to be found. Look for Him.
Your footprints will not fit mine exactly unless you are five feet nine and a half inches tall, and weigh about 190 pounds, and have a gait of three two inches per step. I walk fast, but not as fast as others, too slow for some and too fast for others. My pace is not your pace. Follow me to get started then settle into your own.
Pace Each Day
The day must be broken up into blocks of time if you are to survive the terror of too much time, silence, and solitude. We don't want to be time conscious or addicted to a rigid set our hours. Yet we need a plan or we will fall into the slough of despond knowing not where we are going or where we have been or how or even if we are moving forward. Here is my plan.
Prayer cannot be about asking God for things or telling Him all about your woes, worries, and wishes. That gets old really quickly on an extended retreat. Prayer is about being with God - talking to Him, listening to Him, singing to Him, feeling Him, resting in Him, seeing Him in creation, and basking in His presence.
Some parts of every day are given to simple prayers. I like to be focused on one aspect of prayer at a time. I have no time or patience with my own scatterbrained, helter-skelter, willy-nilly sky-lobs that simply punctuate my chaotic mind that moment. I like to pick a theme, such as thanksgiving, then discipline myself to do nothing but that - thank God for everything I see, hear, smell, touch, taste, or remember. It is a way of saturating my heart with prayer that is not me-centered. I follow a pattern of stillness, thanksgiving, worship, confession, clothing myself, and casting my care.
There are certainly times of intercession in which I bring others and their needs before the throne of God, but that is not the primary focus of prayer during these days of silence. Being a pastor I carry with me a list of the people of my congregation, as well as many pictures of my people. I often have hand written requests form them for their personal struggles. I love to wait on God on their behalf, but I can't do it for long periods of time.
Art. As I write a starling bird just flew onto my porch and is just sitting there looking at me and glancing around. I want to grab a pencil and draw him. I take a photo first, because I know he is not going to pose for me very long. Then later I will try to draw him, thinking about God's marvelous creation. I am not an artist, but drawing or sketching can be done by kindergarteners, why not by me? My wife has never had an interest in drawing but in a recent extended prayer retreat she took a drawing pad and did some wonderful sketches of old farm equipment and huge knotty logs. Don't limit yourself to drawing or painting. Try other artistic expressions. You are only limited by your own imagination and creativity. Play a musical instrument. Learn to play the harmonica or the guitar while you pray.
Reading"Read what you can in amounts you can according to your personality and intellectual interest.
"Read Scripture - a book of the Bible, let it soak in.
"Devotional Reading - a book on prayer or the deeper life.
"Pleasure Reading - a book that is a story you can read in the evenings.
Some people don't like reading. I did not used to like reading at all because I was a slow reader. But I found that much of my reading displeasure was because I was required to do it by others. Read for your own sake. Read for heaven's sake.
It is a spiritual discipline to commit God's word to memory. I choose my preferred passages in advance. For instance, on one retreat my goal was to memorize the first chapter of Hebrews. I would spend about an hour each day reading and repeating it, writing it out, putting it on note cards, or just working on memorizing it over and over.
I like to study Scripture. It is very enjoyable for me to work at researching and understanding a passage of Scripture. Not everyone shares that passion. Solomon said, "Much study is a weariness to the flesh and of the making of books there is no end." But study does not have to be a wearying exercise if you do it because you want to learn. You may not be a pastor, or as a pastor you do not enjoy study for sermons, if so then find something you like and learn about it. Study is simply learning. I like to study my genealogy and do research on that. I like to study science and read encyclopedias or learn a new craft such as fly fishing, fly tying, drawing or painting. I'd probably never choose to study crocheting. Choose something that you have an interest in and study it during your retreat. Learn something new with the Lord's help and share the experience with Him.
The ear, as the eye, is a gateway to the heart. Listening to nature can be a tremendously rewarding experience. We don't take time to listen to those sounds in our daily life. I listen to music, worship music but try not to be just a spectator but enter in by worshiping out loud with the music. I listen to sermons preached by others. Recently I took a six part series by Jim Cymbala on Spiritual Warfare and listened to one each day. I am usually doing something else while listening, like walking, carving a walking stick, or driving. I listen to Scripture on tape or CD. It is good to be read to. It is good to allow your heart to be flooded with the word of God. I choose a book of the Bible that I will listen through that week and do about a 45 minute segment once every day.
What? I thought this was a retreat! Work is not a bad thing. It is not a punishment. Adam worked the garden long before sin entered the world. We need to do things with our hands. Work can and should be enjoyable. Going fishing for me is work. It is doing a task to accomplish something. That's work. It is enjoyable to work at something. I like to tinker. Tinkering is work. Work is therapeutic. Building a campfire, gathering wood, tending the fire, cooking over an open flame is work, but it is so much fun. Cutting word with an ax is wonderful work with it is not demanded of me. I choose to do it because it relaxes me. I like doing it. Find what work you like to do with your hands and work at it prayerfully before the Lord. Monasteries often require the contemplative monks to spend some hours each day doing dishes, preparing meals, or gardening. I like painting the house, mowing the lawn on a ride lawn tractor, and gardening. Those are things I can do prayerfully while my mind wanders to the things of God or I listen to some readings.
Writing - keep a journal, an account of your days, your musing or reflections and insights the Father whispers to you. Some use a notebook, others find a computer keyboard helpful. Some people write devotionals, or poetry, or simply put down their thoughts that day or at any given moment. I like a task that makes me discipline my mind. For instance in a 25 day sabbatical I had a daily discipline of writing or 4-5 hours each day. It was focused on several writing projects. One was a daily devotional of Isaiah 40-66. Another was chapters on prayer. Still another was writing and research on my genealogy.
Too much activity will ruin the purpose of your sabbatical retreat. Taking a nap can be a wonderfully spiritual experience for someone not given to stopping his feverish activities during the day. Take time to rest. Sleep is a gift of God. Elijah desperately needed it after a long period of intense spiritual activity. God fed him and let him sleep.
The future is birthed in the present. With the Lord look over your life-plan, goals, plans, bucket list, lay it out before the Lord. Pray about it. Discern God's plan versus your plans, desires, and achievement addiction.
Look at your interior self, marriage, family, where you are spiritually, emotionally, financially, and in your career. Are you on track? Are you winning or losing? Is God pleased?
Things to Do
- Contemplative Prayers - musing on God
- Focused Prayers - personal issues
- Intercessory Prayers - people, needs, miracles
- Worship Actively - out loud singing, hymns,
- Reading - Scripture, books
- Writing - journal, meditations, sermons, stories
- Listening - in silent woods, sermons, scripture, music
- Study - Scripture passages, outline sermon series
- Artistic Expression, pencil drawings
- Working, cutting wood, build a fire, carve sticks
- Memorize Scripture - focus on one passages
- Rest - sleep, hammock
- Be Active - Walk, bike, kayak, hike, whittle, explore
- Eat Healthy - liquid, soups, crackers, bread,
- Plan - vacation, retirements, travel
- Reevaluate Life - number our days for wisdom
My Plan for Seven Days of Fasting & Silence
Morning - quietly resting, waiting, worshipping, reading Scripture, writing when inspired to do so, walking in worship & thanksgiving.
Afternoon - activities, ride, kayak, fish, hike, walk, whittle walking sticks, drawing, listening to Scripture, sermons, worship music
Evening - writing, reading books, dreaming/planning and intercessory prayer, writing sermon material, or other stuff.
Food & Fasting
"I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over."
"Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble (chasten or discipline) yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them."
(Daniel 10:12 )
Liquid and Sparse Diet:Yogurt, Ensure, Soups and bullion cubes, crackers, pretzels
Water, coffee, tea, Gateraid, juices (apple, orange, Splash)
No sweet bread, no meat, no wine (equivalent or soda, pop, etc),
No anointing self (no cologne - do take a bath, please!)