By Jessica McDougald
On my first day of class during the fall semester, like we usually do on our first day, we went around and introduced ourselves. Everyone said their name, where they lived, what church they go to, and something they did this summer. When it was time for my professor’s introduction, he mentioned that he’d spent a week this summer on a silent retreat. He said the point of the week had been to be quiet and still, meditating in prayer and solitude.
My first thought, my knee-jerk reaction, was one full of snark and loaded with envy. ‘Wow, that must be nice…”
My summer began with major abdominal surgery – my daughter Margot was born via c-section in a hurried and unexpected frenzy. A few hours after surgery, they wheeled me to my hospital room, put Margot on my chest, and shut the door. The rest of my summer was spent in a similar blur – healing physically, waking up each night with Margot, tending to my older daughter’s increased need for attention, and spinning the plates that come with normal household chores.
We dealt with COVID in my household and while none of us were symptomatic, there was a great deal of worry that went into wondering how tiny Margot would be affected. Camille, my oldest, started Kindergarten, I went back to work with Margot in tow, and began my last year of Divinity school.
There have been papers to write and tests for which to study. To-do lists and grocery trips and carpool. There have been sermons and Sunday School lessons to prepare and calls to make. Check-ups, full dishwashers, piles of laundry to fold.
My point is – there has not been one singular moment of silence in this house or in my life for months. To be able to afford a whole week of stillness and meditation is a concept so appealing to me that it almost makes my mouth water.
A lot of times, when speaking of spiritual formation, we talk of the importance of the disciplines of silence, prayer, and meditation. Growing up, the concept of daily quiet times – uninterrupted time we carve out to be in communion with God – was preached as something that truly dedicated Christians practiced. If you weren’t dedicated enough to wake up early and read your Bible, even if you, as a new Mom, had not slept a solid 3 hours in months, well… there wasn’t much hope for you.
There’s a saying attributed to St. Theresa of Avilla to which I have clung this season: “God walks among the pots and pans.”
To me, what this means is that, while you can most definitely experience communion with God by sitting quietly for a week or even a block of quiet time each morning, God is just as present in the clatter of dishes, the wail of a newborn, the sound of the washing machine. Each mundane task is an act of service and God speaks loud enough to be heard over the noise and chaos of my living room full of Camille’s Barbies and Margot’s squealing demand for milk.
If you, like me, find yourself in a noisy season of life – where calm and quiet are hard to come by – don’t let yourself be discouraged. God is with us there in the chaos, walking with us as we pace the floor with a fussy baby, awake with us when the kids wake up in the night for water, nearby us always, even amongst the pots and pans.
Jessica McDougald is a 4th year MDiv student at Campbell Divinity School, Youth Minister at Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh N.C., and a Mom of two.