Reflecting on the Internship Experience: "Silence is what I make of it" – Nancy VanderBrink

I remember a question the Superior asked me during the phone interview that preceded my being accepted into the internship program: “What do you most fear about coming to the Monastery?” My answer: “The silence.”

Silence has always been hard for me, not just because I’m an extrovert by nature, but because silence can say so many things, and trying to figure out what it is saying has made me nervous and left me feeling alone and isolated.

So, silence being a major part of life here was something it took me a while to get used to. I’ve discovered that you, in fact, learn quite a lot about people when you’re not talking to them. Reading body language is hard for me, but big gestures and facial expressions – when I’m close enough to see them – are things I’ve gotten a little better about interpreting.

I’ve also noticed that, at least for me, silence is what I make of it. Since I can’t with certainty tell what one particular silence means, I can decide how I feel about it. Do I feel left out, or do I take the silence as an opportunity to think through some things that have been bouncing around? Or do I simply just be? It’s amazing the freedom that silence gives you: It’s all in what you make of it.

The attempt to simply “be” is something that came up in my very first session of spiritual direction back in September, and which has stayed with me the entire time I’ve been here. I think it’s one of the things I’m packing in my bag to take home with me. “Don’t do anything. Just sit there.” Whoa. Now, that was counter to almost everything I’d heard my entire life.

Over the past few months I’ve also learned that simply “sitting there,” simply being for a time, does not mean ignoring my responsibilities. Rather it means that when I’ve completed everything that is required of me, I shouldn’t just find things to do to fill the silent and/or boring spaces. Instead, embrace them, sit with them. I’ve come to call these times “the time when I hang out with Jesus.” I’ve also learned that, during these times, I don’t have to have an agenda, I don’t have to know what I’m going to say, I don’t have to say anything, I can just sit. Distraction characterized that space for me for a long time, and even still I find my mind wandering at times, but I’m getting more confident in my ability to bring myself back.

And sometimes, when distraction comes, I’ll offer up a prayer, “So, there’s obviously something I’m worried about, would you help me work on that, even though I don’t know what it is?” See, I’ve also discovered that I don’t have to be so preoccupied about praying the “right” way or using a particular method. Sometimes just sharing a jumble of confused emotions feels as valid to me as a well-thought-out prayer, and probably more honest.

I know I’ve unpacked some bags and worked them through while I’ve been here. And I’m packing up some things to take away with me. I’m not sure if I’m taking more or less away, but for me it doesn’t matter; it’s leaving myself open to this experience that’s been most important.

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