I think “mortified” is the word to describe my feelings the first day of “Spiritual Formation” class. Our teacher led us though a mild exercise in which we spent a few moments in silence and then reported whatever word was on our heart or mind. All I could think was, “This is hoaky,” …sorry Mary. Please read on; I promise it gets better. Rather than to voice my thoughts, I took a pass on sharing with the class and instead left thinking, “We (this class and I) are not going to get along.”

My sentiments have changed since then. It’s been a gradual change from hostility to affection but definitely one of great consequence. Back in November we began practicing the spiritual exercise of silence. Just to sit with the Lord in silence with no agenda, no formulated prayer, just a desire to be in his presence. When we were assigned this task, I thought, “Perfect! I’m an introvert and I get to sit in silence and call it homework” …I quickly found out I could not sit 5 minutes in silence without getting restless. I wanted to do my laundry or answer that text message or read a book or whatever. Silence is a learned skill.

At the beginning of the year, in one of my first meetings with my mentor, I laid out my then current issues and asked for advice. Mentors think hard and then give advice, right? Ever so gently, Terri suggested the Lord just might be beckoning me to seek Him and not answers to my never-ending questions. How counter-intuitive and counter-productive. I need to fix. What is being if I never do anything?

God speaks in those still, quiet moments.

In SF the a few weeks ago, I selected 4 pictures (from about 500)—one that drew me, one that represented my desire, one that represented my hope for the future, and one that represented my fear of the future. To my chagrin but not by design, I found I’d selected ¾ photos with a theme—mountains and ocean. These weren’t scenes I’d ever seen nor expect to see in the United States. They were in Europe, maybe even my beloved Spain. So many thoughts elbowed their way from the recesses of my mind to the forefront. I’ve been on a beach like that. I’d like to get lost in the streets of that town. This is my dream. Why can’t I live there?

The desire I’d tried so hard to shove down bubbled to the surface. If only I could live abroad and have the faith community I so desperately need. And isn’t that a good desire? The way I’d experienced God in Spain was intoxicating only after the reality of living there without Christian friends was suffocating. Life and culture in Spain was so much healthier than in the states. God seemed so bigger, closer. The kingdom was far more vast.

I was sentimental, broken, confused. Those scenes felt so out of reach. I felt like a pawn in someone’s game. No agency, blindfolded even. But then I didn’t and don’t trust myself. I don’t trust my own memories. Could I revise my own history and convince myself life in Spain was far better than it actually was?

So what can I do with all this? I thought. Again, enter Terri. Pay attention, she said. Is this a desire for something or a fear of the alternative? she asked. So I went out to Umstead State part and considered this question as I explored the terrain, trying to channel my inner mystic. 15 minutes with Jesus in a blend of agenda-filled prayer and silence. Lord is this a desire for something or a fear of the alternative? This time instead of seeking a hard answer, I held out my question with an open hand. What might you do with this time, Father? No answer, but for maybe the first time in my life, I was completely at peace without an answer. Silence and peace are learned.

This is new territory for me. I’m praying it continues. Life’s easier when I stop trying to fix and stop asking God to give me answers quickly. That only exhausts and frustrates me. He doesn’t work like that anyway. In silence with unclenched fists and open hands, I want to seek the Lord and see what he’ll do from there.

J. Nordstrom