one of MH Ottawa's poustinia rooms

My First Poustinia

by Julie Foran, a friend of MH Ottawa

Several weeks before the beginning of Lent last year, I sensed the Lord calling me to make a poustinia. I immediately booked it and grew excited as the time drew near.

Although I had questions I wanted to bring before the Lord hoping he would provide clear answers, my sense was that I was not to come with a laundry list of prayer requests for myself or anyone else.

The clear word I received leading up to the date was to Seek ye first the kingdom of God (Mt 6:33)to simply be with God. I knew he would prompt me when, or if, the time came to ask questions or pray for particular needs for others.

From the first moment I stepped into my room at Madonna House Ottawa, I was overcome with a profound joy I rarely experience. It is something that comes from the Holy Spirit and hard to describe. And, I might add, I was also feeling relieved at shutting out the busy world for 24 hours. I knew Jesus was also experiencing joy at my “yes” to his invitation.

It was a bitterly cold night, so I made a cup of tea and sat down to read from Catherine Doherty’s book, Poustinia. Clarity came in a burst with the first word from God: he made me for solitude, prayer and mission.

I suppose that could be said for all Christians. However, there was something much deeper in this message for me. It was a confirmation of my vocation to remain single and free from attachments, free for missionary work. All missionary work must begin with solitude and prayer.

This word had a profound effect on my heart. It explained the personality that God had given me. I have tried to fight it at times, to fit in with what is considered “normal” even among Christians: you either get married and have children or you enter religious life.

I think single people, especially in the age range of 35 to 65, often feel “lost” in the Church. We don’t really know where we fit at times. We are not married, not parents, not yet seniors, not grandparents. There isn’t a Singles Day like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day or days for religious or priests.

These are the main vocational calls spoken about in the Church. Rarely is a homily preached or a conference speaker talking about the fact that there is another calling among adult Christians, a calling that is just as wonderful: the call to remain single for the Lord, the freedom from attachments in order to go where the Spirit leads.

God showed me I was physically, truly neurologically “wired” by him in my mother’s womb, for such a life. That is why, at times, when I ran after a guy in the hope of getting married or when I purchased property, I became profoundly depressed, confused, and was plunged into darkness that on at least one occasion led to my despairing of life.

It was only the first evening of my poustinia and suddenly my personality made perfect sense. I understood completely why I had immense joy sitting with the Lord in the chapel and when I went out on foreign mission trips.

Something that had broken in my psyche eleven years ago at the age of forty when I suffered a devastating mental breakdown now seemed to click back into place. Years of waiting on the Lord, seeking his healing, and by his grace remaining by his side, had led me to this moment.

He was now providing fresh insight and healing. This hadn’t been my primary reason for making a poustinia, but it was his timing. And all this happened within the first couple hours of my poustinia.

I didn’t sleep much during the night, but as I lay awake, I experienced much peace.

The next day I spent reading from Catherine Doherty’s book and Scripture, praying, and simply sitting with a cup of tea imagining Jesus right there with me.

Late in the afternoon, I sensed the Lord inviting me to speak to him about going back to Mexico City on mission. I only had two questions on my heart. Should I go on another mission trip this year (2017)? And if the answer was yes, should I go back to Mexico City or elsewhere?

I sat in silence in the rocking chair and waited. His response in my heart was surprising and not what I wanted to hear: “I will not tell you if you should go or where you should go on mission. You must choose.”

I did not want to make a choice. I wanted Jesus to clearly direct me to the correct choice. When I refused to make a choice, he asked why.

It was as if the brightest light you can imagine lit up a dark area, and I responded: “Because, I am afraid to make a mistake.

“I am fearful of choosing to go at the wrong time, and/or the wrong country and it being a very difficult mission, (I have experienced difficult missions and thought it was my fault). And, if I make a mistake, some people will secretly rejoice in my failure!”

The Lord simply repeated that he wanted me to make a choice. I had received the word “freedom” earlier in the day when reading from Catherine Doherty’s book, in a chapter about liberation in Christ and our freedom to choose to act or not act.

And now Jesus was asking me to exercise that freedom—that God-given gift of free will.

I couldn’t make a firm choice at that time. Mexico was on my heart. I had been there five times and felt a pull to go back; but the fear that it was my flesh pulling me and not God’s Spirit was strong.

Even though I did not state my choice at that time, the Holy Spirit led me to repent of thinking mission work was all about me and whether or not I am a success on that mission. I also repented of my lack of trust in Jesus especially during struggles on previous missions.

I left Madonna House on Saturday evening with much joy, hope and excitement in my heart.

The next morning I woke up feeling energized. The Holy Spirit reminded me during morning prayer that I still had a decision to make. Jesus was encouraging me, saying in my heart: “This is our adventure together, Julie. You cannot fail when I am with you. You have many people who support you and will pray for you.”

The next thing I knew I was making a decision out loud and putting it in writing: “By your grace, Lord Jesus, I make a choice now to go back into the mission field in Mexico City. By your grace, I will go in November this year.” My heart was bursting with confidence in God!

If I had not said yes to the Spirit’s prompting to make a poustinia, I would have missed out on the blessing of being with Jesus for an uninterrupted 24 hours: to first and foremost, seek his heart and tell him how much I love him, and to re-commit my life to him.

Secondly, I would have missed out on a deeper revelation of my particular calling as a consecrated single missionary ready to get up and go when and where he leads me.

So I would say, if you are sensing a call to make a poustinia, go for it. Even if God does not move as powerfully as he did in my first poustinia—in my second one, he was quite silent—giving 24 hours to God cannot fail to have fruits.