I have spent the last 42 hours at beautiful, peaceful Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey in northeastern Iowa. I have walked, slept, prayed, read, sketched, and avoided nearly all human contact. Aside from a few texts to check in, I have used my phone exclusively as a camera. It has been the perfect birthday gift for this extreme introvert from my awesome husband.
I feel refreshed, rested, and renewed.
And a tad bit rattled.
The silent, undistracted peace has made me realize that I have unknowingly become The Burr Queen.
A few weeks ago, we went camping with some wonderful family friends. Our 6 kids, who are collectively louder than 8 overcrowded preschools, had a blast. They ran around, created tin foil instruments, had a parade, explored and got lots of bumps and bruises tripping over guy-lines. They also ran through burrs.
All of the kids had a handful of burrs stuck to pants, socks and sleeves. But as we were getting changed for bed, I realized that one shirt was completely covered in burrs. When I questioned the owner, she told me:
I put them there, as decoration. I wanted to be The Burr Queen.
I sighed, trying not to be irritated. How could she not see what an unnecessary mess she was making! So much extra work!
Together we spent the better part of an hour removing all those tiny little burrs.
As I come to the end of my time of silence and reflection, I am ashamed to realize that I have been doing the same thing. Adding burrs to my life, slapping them on without thinking. In the midst of my life, I am proud of my burred-bedecked garments. I keep finding more to stick into the empty spaces. I think they are adding value, that they help make me happier, more successful, more peaceful, more productive, a better mom or friend or wife or Christian. Because I listen when our society says that survival mode is inevitable, that busyness is a sign of success. That burrs are a necessary part of life.
But in the end, when I have a chance to step back and look at myself without distraction, I can see they are just burrs. They snag the fabric, hide in seams, get snarled in hair, and sometimes are pushed so deep, that little pieces get left permanently behind.
The tricky thing is, burrs aren’t bad. They just don’t belong on my clothes. They belong in the ground, producing green plants and beautiful flowers.
This trip has made me realilze that it is nearly impossible for me to identify burrs while in the midst of my life. Because I am so impulsive, so easily distracted, so exhausted by human interaction, I just get caught up in and worn down by daily life. I grab at whatever is closest, whatever seems good, or whatever has worked in the past without really examining what I am doing. And what was a green sprout or blooming flower for me before, has become a burr without my even realizing it.
So I have begun the arduous process of finding and removing the burrs and putting them where they belong.
I had a lovely, inspiring conversation with Sister Carol yesterday, learning about her life and reflecting a bit on my time. She said:
It sounds like you need to make this type of retreat a regular occurrence.
Yes. I do.