Updated: Nov 15
Recently I went on a retreat to a convent in St. Louis Missouri with the Sisters of Mercy. I went alone, with no agenda, no expectations, and frankly somewhat of an anxious heart. I could feel God nudging my soul to come away, but wasn't exactly sure how I would get there. I had actually been signed up to go on a guided group Centering Prayer Retreat and to my dismay, at the last minute, I was unable to attend. I was so disappointed and even though I knew God had a plan I was discouraged and frustrated. I was ready and willing to get away and I was so eager to learn. Not to mention, I had already arranged for all my people to be taken care of-which for those mommas or pet mommas out there- you know how many moving parts that requires so I wasn't really wanting to adjust the weekend.
But as God always does, He proved, yet again, that He knows best. Shifting gears from the Centering Prayer Retreat, my sole purpose was to just be with God. As I was driving there, I realized this was the first time I had been away for more than a night 100% unplugged from technology-no phone, no computer-nothing, no lessons to teach, and no lessons to learn. Just to be with my God. He would show me how vital this time is and how it must be a part of my spiritual rhythms.
Right as I arrived and settled in I met with Sister Sandy, my Spiritual Director for the weekend. What an absolute joy this woman was. She was like a beautiful ray of sunshine and her wisdom was abundant. Each day I met with her, we would process what I felt God was saying and how He was leading me. We would listen together to the movements of the Holy Spirit. She would encourage me to move closer to God and to embrace all He was revealing. There were many moments she would pull on a thread of thought from something I said and I would just sit in awe of how God was leading and speaking through her, and how her insight was a specific and beautiful picture of God.
The grounds at Mercy were beautiful, so on that first day I headed right outside. I threw my trusty Kenyan blanket in the grass and laid down on my stomach. The first thing I saw when I looked to my left was this tiny lightening bug larva on this single blade of grass-I was spell bound. Even the fact that my eyes immediately caught this-MAN! The colors and detail were so beautiful and then, I turned my gaze maybe 6 inches to see this funny little guy looking back at me like “Whatcha want lady?”. I was mesmerized at how God, right out of the gate, was showing me the finite-the micro- the things you have to really slow down to see.
This is what retreat does. It slows you down so you can take in the majesty of God in the small things, the tiny creatures. It gives way for deep breaths and slow walks. It removes distractions and expectations to be productive. It makes space for rest. Which was a piece of my time away, allowing my body to rest.
Going constantly with four kids takes a toll on my body and often I don't even realize it. I, like most of you, grab one more coffee or rally through one more drop off not realizing that we are physically depleted. When you carve out time to retreat, keep in mind that some of that time should be set aside for sleep. In her book, Invitation to Retreat, Ruth Haley Barton discusses this in detail. She mentions that she prefers to arrive to her retreat center in the evening, so she can begin her retreat with a good night's rest. For me, I was chomping at the bit to get there so mine started midday but I still took time to rest my body and my mind.
While on the topic of things that feed your soul on retreat, let me touch on meals. There is something beautiful about eating good food you do not prepare or plan for or really even think about. I didn't think about my next meal until I heard my chimes to walk down and eat. What a gift. That, too, opened the door for me to be attentive to all that was around me; the bee burrowing in the chair next to me, the birds whooshing in and out. The verse in Matthew 6:26 came to mind multiple times as I ate my sandwich or fruit or whatever was on my plate.
Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
I found myself so very grateful. Grateful for the food in front of me and grateful for the hands that prepared it. If you are planning a retreat, try to find a place that offers prepared meals. You will be glad you did and that you don't have to worry with it, therefore, opening up that space in your mind for focus on the Lord. My meals weren't extravagant, but boy I lavished just sitting and eating without a care in the world.
Now let me speak honestly. The entire weekend wasn't all birds and wildflowers and frolicking in the garden with God. There were moments of well....boredom. There were moments where my brain thought "what am I going to do for the rest of the night???" And ya know, I think that is ok- actually, it's normal. I don't think God was frustrated or annoyed by that. He was with me in it. It is important to remember how we are wired and cultured when going into a retreat. That doesn't mean we succumb to it, but awareness is helpful. It can give us good food for thought as we ponder with the Lord. Culturally we, as Americans especially, are programmed to go, go, go and to find stimulation and entertainment constantly. I mean consider for a moment- how often do you just hangout in the utter silence-no music, no podcasts, no TV, no chatting, no texting. Probably not that often, so when you find yourself in that position for an extended period of silence there are going to be moments of discomfort or discontentment. While normal, it's a growth point that you can lean into.
While much of what I experienced during my retreat I am still sifting through and processing, what I know for sure is that my soul needed that.... it needs that. There is a time for a learning retreat, there is a time for shorter day type retreat, there is a time for a girls night and for sure a time for a weekend away with the hunky hubs. It is establishing those rhythms within the year that are monumental. Keep in mind that if you don't plan it, it won't happen.
I encourage you to take a step. You may not be ready for a weekend away, but maybe join us for a 1/2 day silent retreat or come to our 24 hour overnight retreat or reach out and we can help you find some other retreats near(ish) to Memphis. The point is getting away and quieting your heart so you can hear the beautiful whispers of our Lord.
But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.