When I was a sophomore in college, I studied abroad in the British Isles for three months in a group led by four professors. We spent most of our time in cities: London to York to Edinburgh to Glasgow to Manchester to London again. Occasionally the subjects we studied—Wordsworth and Roman ruins—would take us into the countryside where we could reconnect with soft earth and silence. This trip laid the foundation for my later realization that I am a nature-loving, silence-seeking introvert. In cities, I would find parks and churches. Quiet spaces. Places that would lessen both the external hustle and bustle of the city and my internal noise as I tried to take it all in.
A month after I returned home from England, I was at a snowbound camp called Tall Timber living like a monk for a Christian Spirituality course during my school’s three-week January Term. After the relentless pace and variety of travel, the monastic schedule was jarring in its routine. Our days were anchored by a modified Divine Office, specific times of prayer and worship that define the day in some monastic communities. Our daily rhythm was this: worship, breakfast, lecture, personal study time, worship, lunch, chores, lecture, free time, worship, dinner, small group, worship, free time, and bed.
The days were full, perhaps even as full as when I was abroad. But there was suddenly freedom in the day that had been lacking on my study abroad sojourn. The freedom I felt was linked to the structure of our daily routine. Each activity had its allotted time, so there was time for fellowship and time for solitude. There was time for activity of the mind and activity of the hands. And most importantly, we had time for God through our personal study and journaling, through our small groups, and through the rhythm of worship four times each day.
As I reflected, the word finally came to me: space. We had space at Tall Timber, both physical space in that quiet corner of the world and mental space. Studying abroad had felt cramped. We lived in tight quarters in hostels, cities were crowded with people, and my mind was busy with processing the experience. Even spending time with God had been pushed into the margins. Time itself was squeezed to wring out every minute of every day. At Tall Timber, the strictness of our daily rhythm led to the space I craved to think and reflect.
I had another transition on returning to a regular college semester in the spring. The time at Tall Timber had been charmed; the demands of life were so physically and emotionally distant. Normal life could feel more like the pace of studying abroad than the spacious rhythms of Tall Timber. I learned that I had to be flexible with the structure I created for myself as life changed.
In the nearly 10 years since that quasi-monastic experience, I try my best to create a structure that gives me space: space for God, space for relationships, space for my own reflection. I’ve embraced the liturgical year, which has its own structure to help us attend to the story of Christ and our place in that story. The Lenten and Easter seasons are particularly meaningful for me because I take more time to journal and read Scripture. With Holy Week upon us, when we remember Christ’s suffering and death, I pray you’ll find your own space to be with the crucified and risen Christ.