(My testimony is available in French here)
First and foremost, I pray and hope your New Year is filled with love, gratitude, faith & hope, joy, charity, empathy, purpose, peace and more space for quiet time.
It is not new to say that we live in a noisy world filled with more and more distractions. As a result, it is harder for many to find personal clarity and make the right decisions in life.
So, if I may ask, how did you start 2018? Are you already living every day with passion and purpose? What is your primary source of inspiration for decision-making?
I started 2018 with an entirely new experience. I chose to get away from the noisy celebrations. Instead, I seated for six entire days in what Matthew Kelly called “the great classroom of silence.” Yes, you heard me right. Just after Christmas day, I participated in a six-day silent retreat. I came out it on January 1st, 2018. That experience profoundly transformed me. It was one of the most uplifting, transformative and meaningful experiences I’d ever had.
Here is my story, and I am honored to share it with you.
In my testimony, I will explain my source of inspiration. I will also describe how that retreat and those six days of silence enriched my heart, soul, and life. Finally, I will show you why it is essential to make room for silence.
How did I get there?
My loving relationship with silence started three years ago.
Some days after the passing of my dad, I visited Father Jean-Michel Monconthour for grief counseling and guidance. Our conversation was peaceful and filled with hope. At one point, Father Jean-Michel Monconthour said, “As sad as it is, I want you to keep in mind that your earthly father will always be in your heart. He will always love you. However, today, he is handing you over to your heavenly father.” I did not grasp the depth of those words, but I did turn to God for comfort, strength, and peace. In fact, He drew me to Him. For instance, I would hold my rosary or a little cross on a regular basis, listen to Jesus Culture’ songs, find comfort in Christian teachings and spend most of my time at home with my mother. Very often, I was alone in my room.
However, one day, my friend Yanice encouraged me to get out of parents’ house (in Martinique) to change my mind and exercise. Before long, the following morning, I grabbed my rosary and headed to the nearby Golf course. The 60-hectare (150 acres) golf course provides great, scenic and convenient trails to joggers before sunrise or sunset. When I arrived, it was dawn. Nobody was around. I immediately liked the fresh air, the dew on the grass, the peaceful scenery and the quiet moment.
I enjoyed that experience so much that I did the same thing almost every morning for about two months. I would walk around the golf course, pray the rosary or listen to spiritual music and observe nature in nature for two hours. One of my profound and insightful experiences was the silent contemplation of rainbows. In fact, every time I felt overwhelmed by sadness, it would rain a little bit, and a magnificence rainbow would always cover the hills. Those moments cheered my soul. To me, there were signs of encouragement and hope from God and my guardian angel.
Throughout that experience, I had found solace and healing in silence and nature. In a matter of three months, I had more joy and hope in my heart.
When it was time to return to Los Angeles, I had a more profound desire to spend more solo time with God, stay away from noisy & congested areas and move to a more healthy, clean, beautiful green and serene environment. Eventually, a year and a half later, two friends (Delali & Damon) welcomed me into their house. I then moved from the busy city of Sherman Oaks (San Fernando Valley) to laid-back, quieter, greener and community-oriented town of Thousand Oaks (Conejo Valley).
During my journey, I discovered what Denzel Washington talked about in his commencement speech at Dillard University. I learned how to put God first in everything I do. So to get there, I had to go to a place where HE reveals himself best. It is called silence. Silence is also where I can feel His love and better discern His purpose for my life.
Hiking and praying alone while contemplating mountain scenery in silence have also filed my life with smile & joy, hope, meaning and new ideas. For example, while I was hiking alone, I learned how to get past some of my fears and be comfortable in my own company. Silence and discernment also inspired to make meaningful changes in my relationships. Moreover, silence and solitude lead me to new friends from St Jude, St Max and St Paschal and St Julie.
(Some of my friends from the different parishes)
Thanks to them and all those activities, I learned many more life lessons on humility, fellowship, kindness, service & charity, respect, intercultural relationships, and the roles of husbands/fathers.
Adding moments of silence helped me also clarify and redefine my priorities and personal & professional goals.
I also felt compelled to organize along with other internationals monthly charity activities around Los Angeles. Our purpose is to make a difference in the lives of the less fortunate.
(Along with 18 Internationals and in partnership with St Sebastian Catholic Church we provided a unique Thanksgiving experience to 60 homeless people)
Although I made many great adjustments for silence so I could listen to God, and allow clarity to emerge in my life, I still need to learn how to live an intentional life every single day. There is still some room for improvement to be purposeful in word and action. For example, my best friend Ebony and my family members would agree that I have spent too much time sitting in front of my computer and on social media networks. I know today that those activities had added distractions & confusions in my life, reduced my attention span, fueled fears & procrastination and lowered my productivity.
So, last summer I started to make new changes. For example, I started using an anti-social app to block digital distractions, reduce procrastination and gets things done.
I also resumed an old habit of listening to audiobooks and teachings while working out. It has helped me enhance my productivity, grow spiritually, silence the opposition, overcome fears and build the courage to continue to pursue what God had planted in my heart.
Speaking on that, one day while I was chatting with my cousin Myriam, I told her what I have in my heart. Although we only see each other when I am on vacation in Martinique, we have helped each other a lot on a spiritual level. In fact, we started two years ago after a spiritual retreat. Along with ten other young adults, we created a small group to develop our friendships and share spiritual resources. So, during our chat conversation, I opened up to Myriam about some areas of confusion, indecision, and frustration that existed in my life. Also, at one point, I told her I was looking for another spiritual retreat for my December’s vacation in Martinique.
After a short moment of reflection, she replied, “You know what, two years ago, my mother and I made a spiritual and silent retreat in the Foyer of Charity in Martinique. I believe that silence retreat could help you find some clarity. You should do it. I am sure you will love it too.”
Before long, I contacted the Foyer of Charity in Martinique. A couple of days later, I signed up for their December’s silence retreat.
I had learned to be comfortable on my own and to make room for silence. However, being silent with a large group of retreaters for an entire week was something new to me. I became very excited about it.
On Christmas day, I called my cousin to discuss a little bit about what to expect, what to bring and the dress code inside the Foyer of Charity. She also gave me her testimony about quiet conversations.
By this time you might be wondering what a Foyer of Charity is.
A Foyer of Charity welcomes those who find a need for peace and truth, and who seek these in the living God and his love. Through week-long retreats, the Foyer aims at giving men and women today an opportunity similar to that of those who first heard the Gospel in Galilee: to get away for a time, to focus on Jesus and His word, and to return to the concerns of life enlightened and enriched by Him. The retreat replies to the great questions, which face men and women: the meaning of life, of love, of suffering, of death. A Foyer of Charity is a community of laypersons working together under the leadership of a priest, the Father of the Foyer, at the service of those who come to the Foyer on retreat.
The Story of the Foyer of Light, Charity, and Love – told by Father Kilian Byrne.
Thanks to an inspiration nourished in prayer by a farm woman, Marthe Robin, and the apostolic work of a diocesan priest, Father Georges Finet of Lyons, they founded the first Foyer of Charity in France in 1936.
On the 8th of December 1999, the Foyers of Charity were definitively approved by the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome as “A Private Association of the Faithful of International Character.” Today there are over 80 Foyers spread throughout 45 countries worldwide. Foyers are in Europe, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia.
The 6-day retreat of the Foyers de Charité is for anyone looking to get away and straighten out their priorities, reflect on their lives and cultivate their relationship with God.
The Foyer of Charity of Martinique is in a town called La Trinité. Standing on the Atlantic coast of Martinique, La Trinité is remarkable for its location at the entrance to the magnificent Caravelle peninsula, whose nature reserve is a destination much loved by fans of coastal hiking.
On December 26th, I woke up feeling both excited and also worried. I was feeling some sudden low back pain. I had had that type of pain before, and it was usually due to a wrong move and or anxiety. So I was quite perplexed about it. I applied some healing creamed and tried to forget about it. It felt like something was trying to deter me from going to the retreat.
Eventually, I left my parents’ house around 3 PM and got on the road.
As I was moving forward, it started raining extremely hard to a point where I could barely see the road and other cars. I said to myself what is going on today. So I start to pray loud in my car and say things like “God is with me. I will be all right. We are going to have a great retreat.”
Halfway, I made a stop to pick up my friend Pascaline who was participating in the retreat as well. It was still pouring down, but as we cracked some jokes, we forgot about the rain. Thankfully, we arrived safe and sound in the Foyer around 4 PM.
How did those six days of silence enrich my heart, soul, and life?
When we arrived, I told my friend that I was worried about that sudden lower back pain. To that, she replied, “This looked like a sign of a spiritual attack. You should pray about it and give it to God.” Believe it or not, I followed her wise and meaningful advice, and I stopped thinking about it.
As we were looking for parking, I noticed the large group of young retreaters happily leaving the facility, the beautiful alley of trees and the peaceful, quiet and laid-back atmosphere. All of that put my mind at ease.
(The Foyer of Charity in Martinique. Source: Foyer)
We walked to the reception’s office where two members of the community were welcoming retreaters. The first one was behind a small table with what looked like a guest list in her hands. Her name was Lise. She softly greeted each guest with a lot of kindness and respect. She was not rushing anyone. Interestingly while she handed room keys and giving some directions, she looked at everybody right in the eyes with a great smile. It was like she knew us already. It feels like we were family already. Right away I started to feel loved.
So when my turn came, she said, “I am giving you a room just for yourself in our special guest house that oversees the bay.” Right away, I felt blessed. Then Lise directed me to the second lady, whose assignment was to walk me to my room. When I turned to the lady, I paused and said, “by any chance, are you, Isabelle?” She said, “Yes.” I replied, “It is me, Jean-Marc. I emailed you from Los Angeles.” I had also talked to her. She sounded very kind. So her story was an inspiring one. In the first part of her life, she was an engineer. She worked and traveled a lot throughout the USA. She went to Portland, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs, Phoenix, Dallas, San Jose, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Then not too long ago, she joined the Foyer of Charity’s community and relocated from France Mainland to Martinique. We were both happy to finally meet face to face. It was a blessing and great surprise to share this moment with someone who knew California.
After unpacking my stuff, I immediately went outside to contemplate the view of the bay and give praise to God. I was feeling grateful and joyful in my heart. Before it got dark, I took some pictures, recorded my observations, sent videos my family members and close friends and put my phone in airplane mode.
I had plans to keep the Internet on to download my daily prayers and listen to spiritual songs. However, I thought, “Temptations to check email or social media might rise.” Eventually, I told myself, “There won’t be Internet during the retreat. During your free time, you will walk & contemplate nature, start a journal, read your bible, reflect on the readings from the retreat and find inspiration from the book “Beautiful Hope.”
During the retreat, my phone came handy to take pictures and videos, record voice memos and videotape my New Year’s wishes, which I did at the end of the retreat.
To start with here is one of my first pictures of the bay.
Speaking of that, two priests, Father Emmanuel Aine and Father Gérard Tietcheu, were available on site to celebrate the sacraments, give retreaters one to one support & counseling and provide us lectures. Father Emmanuel Aine was the principal Lecturer though. Father Gérard Tietcheu assisted him during daily masses, reconciliation and counseling meetings.
Before dinner, we prayed and blessed the food. While we were greeting each other, Father Aine stood up and said, “Please enjoy dinner and conversations because we will enter into silence immediately after dinner.”
So, I sat at a large table along with six other retreaters and an old member of the community. At first, we kept quiet. However, we were discretely observing each other. Eventually, the community’s member turned to a retreater and broke the ice. She softly asked, “Where do you come from?” Is this your first retreat at the Foyer of Charity” That was the beginning of exciting discovery and conversation. Most of the people had already made retreats in the Foyer of Charity before. For a few, it was the first retreat of their lives. It was my first one in the Foyer of Charity. I answered questions, but I was more interested in people’s stories. I was also in awe of the community member’s demeanor. Her voice was soft. The glow on her face, her light blue & grey hair and manners embody an overwhelming expression of inner peace, joy, kindness, humility, and wisdom.
All in all, our first dinner was a pleasant experience. After washing dishes and setting up the refectory for the next day breakfast, we headed to the conference’s room to receive instructions and discuss silence.
Father Aine explained that God desires to encounter all His children in profound silence. So he urged us to use all the time to be with God and for God only. So he said, “Silence is essential to hear God who wants to speak to our hearts.”
The rules about silence were the following:
- Retreaters (individuals, roommates, and couples) can’t talk during the entire retreat.
- Retreaters are allowed to give praise at church.
- Retreaters are allowed to talk to the priest during reconciliation and counseling.
- Retreaters can only use limited and straightforward gestures with each other inside the refectory, classroom, and chapel. (but zero conversation)
- Retreaters must also maintain quality and consistent silence throughout the Foyer of Charity.
- Retreaters can ask the priest questions by leaving a short note in the basket. (The priest answered inquiries during each lecture)
- Retreaters must participate in the life of the community by providing help with dishwashing, cleaning tables, sweeping the refractory floor, setting up tables for meals, setting up the chapel, rehearsing and singing praises and lauds.
During the first teaching, we reflected on all the things (burden, worries, questions, cares, distractions & bad habits) we wanted to give to God. It was a great experience to turn things over to Him. We did what Philippians 4:6 instructed us to do which is to, “Not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” So when I did this, (present our requests to Him), I felt an overwhelming peace knowing that it is in His hands, which is what the next verse explains will happen…”So the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
During the retreat, a typical day looked like this
- 5:30 AM: wake up – Morning Prayer – backstretches & shower
- 6:30 AM: Singing Lauds
- 7 AM: daily mass in the chapel
- 7:30 AM: breakfast & introspective music
- 8:30 AM: cleaning
- 9:15 AM: praise rehearsal with the choir director and lecture & Q&A with the priest
- 10:40 AM: break
- 11:15 AM: praise rehearsal with the choir director and sorry & Q&A with the priest
- 12:30 PM: lunch & introspective music
- 1:30 PM: cleaning
- 2:00 PM: break
- 3:00 PM: Eucharistic Adoration
- 3:30 PM: Rosary
- 4:45 PM: snacks
- 5:15 PM: conference with the priest
- 7 PM: dinner & introspective music
- 8:10 PM: cleaning
- 8:30 PM: documentary
- 10:30 PM: in bed
In complementary of the lectures, they played two documentaries. One of them was on the remarkable and fascinating story of Marthe Robin. Learning that although she was bedridden, she individually met in a lapse of time of 50 years over 100,000 people to whom she gave advice, hope and joy, profoundly inspired to me. Her devotion to love God with her everything and people, profoundly challenged me with that question: “what else can you do to serve and help others?” I want to believe that venerable Marthe Robin, that Missionary of love, opened the path of hope for everyone and led us to a more profound moment of reflection & communion with God. As she said in her prayer (The Silent of Oration), we must ask God to give us the understanding about the high value of silence, because it is through the silence that we hear God and find everything.
Experiencing silence around Priests
To start with, Father Aine was the one who delivered all the lectures and teachings. The theme of our retreat was “As a child of God, it is in through the Virgin Mary that we are spiritually born. So it is through Her that we grow up.” So the first thing I noticed about Father Aine was his simplicity, humility, beautiful sense of humor and humanity, which put me at ease very quickly. Father Aine provided us a unique and foundational experience in the light of the Gospel. He also answered several fundamentals questions about catechism and Christian faith. Plus his deep explanations, detailed answers, and personal stories helped me connect the dots. Here are some thought-provoking from his lectures: “Listen to the One who wants to speak to your heart.” “The Lord will speak to you by creating a desire.” “The Lord is looking for us because He loves us.” “When you reflect on your life, what is your most profound desire.” “There is a difference between wanting to do God’s will and voluntarism which is often nourished by pride.”
Going to the chapel to attend daily masses, sign the lauds, celebrate the sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation), and participate in community prayers (Eucharistic Adoration, inner healing prayer) provided me a lot of joy, peace, comfort, hope and opportunities to meet God.
Those experiences also strengthened and equipped to handle spiritual attacks. For example, on my first night, I woke up for any reason at 2 AM. I was feeling worried and anxious inside. I tried to read to clear my mind, but I could not fall back to sleep. So I stayed awake for a while. After I went to morning mass and sang the lauds, I felt lighter in my spirit and peace and joy in my heart.
As Father Aine explained, when people attend a silent and spiritual retreat, they first go through a process of cleansing. During that period, as I was entering into prayers, silence and more consistent dialogue with God, I realized that noises, stress, outside pollution, and distractions were getting cleared out of my mind. I was feeling more at peace. On the other hand, I noticed an increasing amount of collision of thoughts in my heart and soul. Some were positive, but several of them were quite disturbing. Some of those ideas had created in my mind feelings of resentment, jealousy, doubts & confusion, division, negativity, hopelessness envy, and impurity. Thanks for prayers, patience, and counseling, I started to feel lighter, serene and more hopeful. As Dr. Caroline Leaf explained in this video, “God designed humans to observe their own thoughts, catch those that are bad, and get rid of them.” So, getting rid of negative thoughts and noises are essential to hear God’s voice and understand the purpose of our lives.
Another benefit of the spiritual retreat is that you will discover and see your sins or immoral acts. Thanks to the celebration of the Sacrament of Penance, I was able to confess my sins to the priest. Having a one on one dialogue with God helped me also understand that my behavior had hurt a friend recently. So right after the retreat, I asked that person forgive me which lead to an exciting and positive conversation.
In the midst of silence, I also learned about surrendering, passion and purpose. For instance, Father Gerard celebrated mass one morning. The thing is that Father Gerard suffers from a severe handicap in one of his legs, which makes it extremely hard for him to walk around and stand behind the altar during the entire mass. However, Father Gerard showed us that with God’s grace, love and faith everything is possible. His sermon, dynamic gesture, and compelling voice gave us a great testimony of faith, hope, purpose & humility, and love. His prayers and recommendations to me have been essential during my ongoing discernment.
Choosing the focal point of my mind and silencing my self-talk (noises from my circumstances, setbacks, disappointments and others toxic thoughts) were by any means the most significant resistance I experienced during the retreat. However, thanks to perseverance, faith, and patience, God helped me reached total silence. On the fifth day, Father Aine invited us to the Chapel for inner healing prayer and Eucharistic adoration. The ceremony was warm and peaceful. It was also an emotionally charged atmosphere. As we were slowly reading the special prayer, I was contemplating the Eucharistic, bringing into captivity all my thoughts and giving them all to God. I asked Him to take everything and give me His Love. At one point, the priest stood right in front of me holding the Blessed Sacrament, and I looked at it filled with love and humility in my heart and eyes. It was like face to face with God. At that moment, I His deep love and peace saturated my whole body. It felt like He had taken away all the pains and burdens. Also, most importantly, I felt something profound on the higher part of my thorax. Deep inside, I felt this impression that God was looking right at me and he was telling me, “You are mine. I am here for you.” That was the most beautiful, peaceful, emotional and loving experience in my life.
Lastly, through silence and the observation of Father’s Aine, the Lord showed me that if we have faith, trust in him and hold tight to His hand, He will carry us and lead us along the high road. For instance, during the week, Father Aine was our principal lecturer and priest. He was also available for counseling and reconciliation. Moreover, he joined us during lunches. He would often step inside the Chapel around 6 AM and return late (around 9 PM / 10 PM) to his room. I imagine that he probably kept many of his responsibilities in the Foyer of Charity. So, on December 31st, we had a special Eucharistic Adoration celebration, which started at 9 PM, and a mass. During the first section of the event, which was about Marthe Robin life’s testimony, Fathers Aine and Gerard, myself and three other lectures stood behind the altar for over two hours. After the service, we took an hour break. Then, after midnight and wishing everybody “Happy New Year,” Father Aine invited everybody back to the chapel to celebrate the first mass of 2018. Guests and parishioners quickly filled the chapel and adjacent rooms. However, by this time, most of us looked very sleepy. I was so drained I could not stop yawning and focus on the message anymore. I felt embarrassed. However, I noticed that Father Aine looked very composed and awake to me. I paused for a moment and wondered, “How can this be possible? Father had done this week he should be exhausted by this time” Mass ended around 2 AM, but Father Aine did not look sleepy at all to me. That was beautiful to witness. I learned another great life lesson that day. I understand that when we draw strength from God, we will be able to love more and go beyond the physical limitations of our natural abilities.
Experiencing silence around retreaters/community members
Before each lecture, Armande, the choir director, would walk into the “great classroom of silence” to lead and make us rehearse lauds. Armande is undeniably a great singer and a hard worker. She was on top of everything. I like how a great smile always accompanied her voice. However, create harmony among the 50+ retreaters took some time. To be honest, getting the right tone and energy was not easy for me. Somehow I started to resist the process. However, one day, she said, “We are going to try something new. Women will sing the entire laud while men will only sing and repeat this line over and over.” Surprisingly, we created greater harmony. Women and men sounded beautifully together. We were all pleased and proud. At that point, I started to enjoy rehearsals and singing the lauds in the chapel. I also realized that behind each a laud there is a prayer to God. Without noticing, HE was speaking through Armande to teach me some important lessons such as, patience, humility, contemplation, love & discipline and surrendering to Him. As Armande beautifully said, “her purpose was to help everybody find her or his place and voice within the group.”
Another great benefit of silence is that it provides us a unique opportunity to contemplate and learn from other people. For instance, while we were in the chapel, I learned about charity & service, humility and generosity through two old ladies, who gave their lives to the Foyer of Charity. The first one might be over 80 years old. The first time I crossed her path I immediately noticed not only gentle smile and sweet face but also the exaggerated rounding of her back. Many mornings, she would step discretely and quietly in the chapel to fix the microphones and other stuff around the altar. She would walk slowly but firmly. Every time, she bent down to adjust the wires and other stuff, I would feel sorry for it and think, “this is a task for a young person.” I would look at her face, but there was no sign of discomfort, unease or annoyance. She always seemed happy and confident while performing all her tasks consciously. That old lady testimony demonstrated faith, respect, courage, and humility.
All the ladies of the community were kind and generous towards us, the retreaters. They treated us like family members. I can say today that in the midst of silence, they injected in us some critical values, such as order, peace, and cleanliness. During our last lunch, we were allowed to talk to one another, share our testimonies and meet with all the community members. That day, I listened to the testimony of a beautiful and wise person who, as Shimon Peres would describe, found a cause that is larger than herself and then gives her life to it.” That person was the old lady with blue and grey hair who had made a positive impression on me at the beginning of the retreat. She looked very serene and happy to share this special moment with all of us. Since she was absent during the retreat, I was delighted to see her again. So, I approached her and said, “I am pleased to see you again. We saw you the very first night. Then you disappeared during the retreat. What happened?” To that, she humbly and happily replied, “You know I have a hard time walk. So I spent some quiet time in the basement cutting vegetables for all of you, the retreaters. I wanted to make sure you were well fed. That is why you did not see me.” I was speechless, and all I could say was, “Wow.” What a great lesson of humility.
Experiencing silence in nature
When we had some free time, I would either take short naps (something I rarely do) or walk around the Foyer of Charity to contemplate life and nature. The magnificent setting combined with the view of the bay and flowers stimulated my inner reflection and helped me regenerate inwardly. For example, on the second day of the retreat, I took a short walk along a small coconut plantation. That solo time helped me clear my mind. As Father Aine explained, when people enter silence, they first learn to get rid off of the outside pollution (noises, worries & difficulties). Contemplating flowers, sheep waiting for their shepherd, clouds & colors in the sky, the bay & the Atlantic coast of Martinique and the varied sceneries were pure moments of joy. One day, I decided to lie on a bench to observe the clouds. I realized how obsessed I was with the future when honestly I was just trying to enjoy the present moment. Eventually, I felt compelled to give my thoughts, feelings, and emotions to God. Before long, He saturated my mind and heart with love, peace, hope, and confidence. Sarah Young said it well in Jesus Calling, “The future is a phantom, seeking to spook you. Laugh at the future! Stay close to God.”
Those experiences and moments in nature contributed to stress relief and increase of gratitude.
(Go out into nature and enjoy the silence)
On the second day of my retreat, I started reading “Beautiful Hope – Finding Hope Every Day in a Broken World” that I had brought with me. Matthew Kelly and several other contributors wrote this book. The contributors offered intensely personal answers to questions like What gives you hope? What are your hopes and dreams for yourself, your children, your church, your community, and your nation? What sustains that hope and turns those dreams into reality? What are some of the unique ways you bring hope to people in your life? And their stories will spark your own exploration of hope and increase its abundance in your life.
That little book quickly became a great companion and support during my retreat. In its first story, Pope Francis urged us to never, lose hope. And for him, people who lack hope also lacks a smile. And he added,”When we are in darkness, in difficulty, we do not smile, and it is precisely hope which teaches us to smile to find the path that leads to God. One of the first things that happens to people who distance themselves from God is that they are people who do not smile. Perhaps they can break into a loud laugh, one after another, a joke, a chuckle … but their smile is missing. Only smile brings a smile: it is the hopeful smile in the expectation of finding God.” That sentence made a profound impact in my heart, which encouraged and challenged me to smile even more in the midst of silence, solitude and all the preoccupations I left behind the door of the Foyer of Charity.
Experiencing silence in the refectory
After I read Pope Francis’ message on hope and smile, I felt compelled to discreetly pay attention to the retreaters who always had beautiful smiles on their faces. The refectory was the place where silence was dense and very thick, especially when we were waiting for the community members to bring the food. Most retreaters were reflecting, looking at the ceiling, down or outside, closing their eyes or daydreaming. Maybe, many of us felt awkward and bored at one point. As far as me, I used that time to observe (in a right way) people, ask myself (what are the other retreaters thinking about?), reflect on the day, empty my mind, enjoy the introspective music and look at the ocean through the windows. I eventually found someone who was always smiling. It was like her mouth and face could not contain smile anymore. Her smile gave me hope. At the end of the retreat, I walked to her and gave her praised for her positive and hopeful attitude. She was grateful for it. We laughed and smiled back at each other. We eventually had a meaningful conversation about health and each other dreams & projects. That was for me an insightful life lesson of gratitude and humility.
What happened when we started talking?
On December 31st, just before lunchtime, we all gathered in the garden to take a group picture. As you can see below, we look peaceful and joyful.
After our group picture, Father Aine indicated that we were now allowed to break the silence. As we headed to the refectory, many members were already talking and laughing. As far as me, I was smiling and enjoying the moment. After we prayed and blessed the food, I sat at a table with a new group of retreaters. Surprisingly, I remained in a contemplative mode. For about 10 minutes, I kept smiling at people, looking at them and asking them questions about their experiences. I was in awe and didn’t want to talk much. I chose my words wisely. It felt like I was not in a rush to reenter our noisy world.
After lunch, we gathered for the last time in the conference’s room for another insightful teaching. Then, with my friend, we spent some quality time in the oratory room praying the rosary. It was a quiet and beautiful place. I felt good and safe inside. I remember saying to my friend, “A long Eucharistic Adoration night is awaiting us, but I am already feeling sleeping, I would need to take a nap.” Then, we all returned to the refectory for dinner. We had a great time and talked more about each other stories and faith. Then, the three readers and I gathered for about 15 minutes to rehearse our texts.
Around 7:50 PM, I withdrew myself for some quiet and solo time in my room. That felt so good to lay on my bed for a little bit. When we returned to the chapel around 8:30 PM, the place, and all the other rooms filled up quickly.
At one point, the choir’s director started the celebration with an opening song. By that time, the two priests, the three other readers and I behind the altar. The event includes songs, words in the Foyer of Charity’s history, reading from Marthe Robin’s journal, prayers and the meditation on the Mysteries of the Rosary. The three readers and I concentrated on our assignments. All in all, the celebration went exceptionally well, and people were pleased. We gave everything we had for a great cause. Eventually, when we stepped out of the chapel, I ran into Lise and said discretely, “Lise I am starving. Do you still have some sandwiches from dinner?” She smiled at me and grabbed my hand, and said, “You all did a great job with the readings. Come with me. I will give you something.” She took me to the basement where apparently many things happen behind the scene. However, when I came out, I was feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and drained. I know today that coming out of an extended period of silence and quickly jumping into reading, talking, speaking, singing, laughing, noises and people are not without any consequences. I literarily felt worn out after that experience. If I were asked to do it over again, I would do it without hesitation. However, I would treat myself with a great nap and solo time (at least 90 minutes), a big jar of fresh green juice, a reenergizing shower and a time of prayer (to draw from God’s strength).
So, when I returned home on January 1st around 10 AM, I did not rush to reenter the world and catch up with people. The first thing I did was to have a loving, meaningful and calm conversation about my experience with my mother. Then, we head to my godmother’s house to have some family quality time and enjoy a great meal.
Why is it essential to make room for silence to hear God’s Voice?
There is a powerful, loving and gentle voice within all of us. I call it The Voice Within or The Voice of God.
That Voice Within exists to:
- Remind us that we belong to God’s family
- Protects us from mistakes
- Keep us on the right path (it is our most faithful guide)
- Lead us to the peace we all seek
- Produces personal success (significance)
- Give our lives meanings
- Awaken us to the purpose of our lives.
However, in today’s world, too many of us cannot hear the Voice Within with great clarity anymore. The reason is simple. We grow up being more fascinated with other voices, distractions, technology & entertainment and the noise pollution produced by society.
Matthew Kelly explained, “Many of us are afraid of silence and petrified by solitude.” Moreover, he added, “But we need some silence and solitude to sit with God and work out who we are, what we are here for, what matters most, and what matters least so that we can make great decisions in our lives. We need that.”
Yes, seeking moments of silence has become more necessary than ever before.
To quote Cardinal Robert Sarah, he explained in his recent book, The Power of Silence” that “Silence is more important than any other human work,” he says, “for it expresses God. The true revolution comes from silence; it leads us toward God and others to place ourselves humbly and generously at their service.”
During my six-day silent and spiritual retreat, I had genuine and profound encounters with God’s voice. He speaks to us all the time and in different ways. To quote Rick Warren, we can hear God’s voice in the Bible, through gifted teachers, people & friends & family members (especially believers), small groups, impressions & ideas, painful experiences, and silence.
Throughout the retreat, God also reminded me that silence is not only my greatest teacher but also my best ally in life. Among other things, that period of silence provided me with greater clarity about decisions to make in my life both on a personal and professional level. I was also able to see and identify self-sabotaging attitudes and mental self-talk that were hindering my progress in life. Through prayers, I certainly learned to bring into captivity self-defeating thoughts.
Today, thanks to God I am feeling more focused, peaceful, energized and invigorated than ever.
All in all, I learned to believe that God loves us all, and He wants us to fulfill our purpose in life. He gives us access to His voice to become phenomenal decision makers. However, to hear His voice with clarity, we must first make room for silence.
This year, I will solidify and expand my life Christian coaching skills with the help of the Professional Christian Coaching Institute. Those new skills will help me provide the highest quality coaching services to serve my clients’ higher purpose and lead them to where God calls them to be.
More importantly, I will release my autobiography, which chronicles my journey to finding my God-given purpose in life and provides a guide and step-by-step process to tap into our Voice Within.
I intend to partner, inspire and lead others to their God-given purpose.
If you would like to receive updates and help & support my cause, please click here to leave your contact information.
In the meantime, I would love to hear from you.
When was the last time you create purposeful pauses and space for silence? How did you feel during that experience? What did you learn about you? Do you agree that we need to sit more often with God in silence to make more significant decisions in our lives?
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