The house is quiet for the first time in eighteen months.
Minutes earlier, all three of my kids had departed for in-person, full-time schooling for the first time since the whole world went quiet all those months ago. A year and a half of COVID and quarantine, of work-from-home and home schooling—all five of us in one small space doing all of life together. The world might have been a little more quiet for a while, but our house sure wasn’t. So, I’m just resting in the tranquil space for a few moments, when I hear it.
Tick, tick, tick.
At first, I ignore it. After all, I’ve got things to do and—for the first time in a long time—an uninterrupted morning in which to do them. I get down to work. Tick, tick, tick. I keep writing. Tick, tick, tick. I make a phone call. Tick, tick, tick. I grab a snack. Tick, tick, tick. Finally, the sound is irresistible. I listen. Tick, tick, tick. I get up and follow the ticking and locate the culprit: a battery-powered, tabletop clock whose battery is too low to push the second hand to the next second.
In that clock, I see myself and I see all of us.
Our batteries are low, aren’t they? We’re stuck so to speak, in one way or another, but amidst the hustle and bustle and clutter and clatter of life, we don’t even notice the symptoms of it. Indeed, it isn’t until a blessed moment of spaciousness comes along that we become aware of our depletion, and its implications for our transformation, or lack thereof.
Where can you find a little space these days? We’re inundated with demands for our attention. Inundated with calls for our anxiety, triggers for our anger, temptations toward distraction. Inundated by the precariousness of the world and the pain of existence, not to mention the pleasures of being alive.
It’s why I went away to a retreat center in 2011, on the cusp of something new in my life, but (tick, tick, tick) not quite sure what it was or how to get there. By the second morning of the retreat, I was almost crawling out of my skin in search of answers—speed-reading through books I’d brought, scratching out useless notes in a journal. The ticking grew louder as the morning progressed. Then, in an inexplicable fit of sanity and grace, I took a deep breath and asked, “What do I really want to do this morning?” and the answer came echoing across the decades: “I want to go for a walk in the woods, like at my Grandma’s house when I was a boy.”
So, I put down my books and my journal and I went for a walk in the forest adjacent to the retreat grounds, and I was a man and a boy all at once and I knew, suddenly, without a doubt, there is still a little one living on in all of us, hoping to live this life along with us, if only we’ll invite them to do so.
Tick, tick, tick. Space. Grace. Breakthrough.
It’s also why I hosted the 2019 Loveable Retreat weekend at the 4U Ranch outside Park City, Utah, along with its owners Donna and Gary Urban. It’s why, when I walked into their ranch house for the first time—nestled into its 75 acres, backdropped by a mountain face with eagles soaring around its peak, a fly-fishing stream the only dividing line between their back yard and the wild, all visible through the retractable glass rear wall of the house, the whole ranch infused with the welcoming presence of the Urbans themselves—I knew the experience would be transformational for our guests. And it was. The place was the epitome of the space we all needed. And the conversations we had, the learning we did, the meals we shared, the laughter we laughed—the opportunities for hikes and fly-fishing and stargazing—all of it was like an inexplicable fit of sanity, of grace.
It’s also why we’re doing it again this October, though this time we’re calling it Companion Camp. In the last three years, the world has become exponentially more clamorous, and life it seems has become even more tenuous. We need graceful spaces of renewal and connection and transformation, now more than ever.
Tick, tick, tick. Space. Grace. Breakthrough.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.