This first day of Lent is bright today in Greensboro, but the morning I went to see Marion for the first time two years ago was quite different. That day, the air was heavy with fog and questions.

First Day of Lent

At that time in my life I was walking through a long season of loneliness. The newness of my writing career had started to wear off and several years of book writing and speaking engagements had worn me down on the soul level.

I felt myself becoming more private, less comfortable among strangers, more suspicious of people, less inclined to move toward longtime friends. All of those mores and lesses began to terrify me, and so I decided to talk with someone who would be willing to hold open a prayerful space for me to process through some of that fear, loneliness, and fatigue.

Lent, a season for preparation, for turning, and for reflection; it seemed a good time to visit a spiritual director for the first time. I admit, I didn’t realize it was the first day of Lent when I planned our appointment but now looking back, it feels significant.

Though Marion’s sunroom was shadowed by clouds that morning, it was warm with her presence. She introduced our time with silence and invited me to close the silent time by saying amen. Following her lead, I bowed my head and closed my eyes, but ten seconds in I started to panic.

Am I taking too long? Not long enough?

How long do people usually sit in silence anyway?

I could probably sit in silence the entire hour but that’s probably not what people do. Or is it?!

I knew I needed this intentional space for my soul. I value being quiet and still in the deepest part of who I am, but in those moments of sitting silent in the presence of someone else, I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.

This fast-moving world supports a language the soul doesn’t speak and it takes courage to emerge in a land that isn’t home. This was the day to practice creating a safe space for my soul to come out.

“The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal–tough, resilient, and yet exceedingly shy.

If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are wiling to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a free, the creature we are wait for may well emerge.”

Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak

I’m not sure Marion was prepared for me to sit on her sunroom sofa for an hour or two waiting for my soul to come out. But in that moment, it felt like I might need that kind of time.

It’s true that our souls are like wild animals. It is also true that our souls are like little children. If the soul senses judgement, criticism, or rejection, she won’t feel safe to emerge.

The problem is that one of her harshest critics? Is me. As I entered into that thoughtful place, my soul was already too intimidated by expectation to come out. I caught myself trying to figure out the right way to breathe, to pray, to listen. I didn’t want to mess it up.

Lent - emily p freeman

The very reason I came to meet with Marion showed up right there in the beginning. I needed a place free of expectation, yet here I was piling all this expectation on myself.

Finally, awkwardly, I said amen.

It wasn’t a perfect silence, but it was a start. Our time progressed more easily for me after that. And today, two years later, I’m thankful I’ve learned to practice the spiritual discipline of being silent in the presence of God and others with less fear and more grace.

Perhaps that’s the point here on this first day of Lent – as easy as it is to talk about the importance of silence and reflection, the truth is it takes a lot of work to truly practice it.

But our souls are begging us to try.

Our souls desperately crave the white space of quiet, even if it means we have to fumble through it.

The more I spend time in quiet reflection, the more I have to struggle with the tension of what it means for me. The truth is, I feel most like myself when I have a lot of white space to ponder, consider, and listen.

But, if I’m honest, I still haven’t fully accepted this about myself yet. I continue to resist it, relearn it, and rest in it only to resist it all over again.

As we enter into this forty day journey with Christ, may we be willing to fight for the gentle hum of quietness even if it means stumbling, fumbling, and do-overs to hear it.

Welcome, I’m glad you’re here! If you would like to receive regular reminders to create space for your soul to breathe, sign up here for my monthly notes from the bench, where I’ll share books I’m reading, favorite things, and encouragement for your soul you won’t find anywhere else.