I’m writing from a tiny Catholic retreat island, where I’m surrounded by gentle waters rippling to the stones enclosing us in.
After a stormy, rainy day yesterday, we are leaving this peaceful land under blue skies and a soft breeze.
This was my first retreat experience and these are the things I want to look back on and remember from it. I want to share this with all of you in hopes that you can bring some of the peace I felt from this retreat into your life.
First impressions don’t last or matter like we think they do
My first impressions about the women and their states in life were so wrong. This is not the first time that I’ve been so far from seeing people for
who they really are. After the first night, I’d pegged certain people as “annoying” or “quirky” or “snobby”. By God’s grace, He allowed me over the course of the weekend to actually talk to them and see a glimpse of His beauty in them. I wish I hadn’t wasted time labeling them.
Learning this lesson doesn’t mean I won’t ever judge a person wrongly again; in fact, this is an area where I’ve sinned over and over again. I’m grateful that God has humbled me enough to have an open mind and see that the first impressions I have of people aren’t always accurate.
We all really are carrying crosses
In addition to judging people in negative ways, I also made assumptions about certain peoples’ lives being easy. I’d think to myself, “What does so and so have to worry about — looks like she has a great life.” That’s not the whole story. Even women who were happily married with healthy children had crosses!
A couple times throughout the weekend, I felt like my life wasn’t tragic enough to be here! I thought to myself, If I feel like I need a retreat when I have this simple 20-something life, I can’t imagine how needy I’ll be in 10 years! But I could feel God telling me it wasn’t a competition and that I had my own healing to do. In fact, by comparing my sorrow to the sorrow of others, I was denying myself the chance to really dig deep into myself and face some of those wounds. I was denying myself God’s mercy.
All the knowledge in the world doesn’t satisfy the soul
This is something that our retreat leader said that stuck out to me. It reminded me any one of us could get a PhD in theology, study Church history and become an expert, but if we don’t know in our souls the love of God, then it is all for naught. What is knowledge without love? Don’t get me wrong, I love knowledge and learning, but I think truly experiencing the tenderness of God’s love and knowing you have a Father that loves you is the ultimate.
You can’t think your way through difficulty
So many of the women here were dealing with pain I could only image. One had lost her son to suicide; another, to a drug overdose. One is estranged from her sons and, therefore, her grandchildren. One was in the midst of losing her father while on retreat, wondering if he’d hold on long enough for her to see him one last time. Another was struggling with the day-to-day of being a single mom. We all had something. Yet, we learned that we can’t just “think” ourselves out of the pain. You can’t rationalize your way out of sadness.
You have to rest on Jesus. He is the ultimate comforter. His Love can be experienced through the hug of a loved one or from the tenderness of a friend or from simple solitude where you open your ears to Jesus. It can be as simple as saying, “Jesus, comfort me.” That felt sense (a term I learned here)of God’s love is what comforts.
I watched women comfort each other by holding hands, hugging, offering their prayers, just sitting and listening — all so beautiful. I, too, was comforted by healing words, friendship, and the joy of being in a group of women with their hearts on Christ.
Build your spiritual toolbox
A relationship with Jesus does take discipline – and I don’t mean that in a regimented way. We grow closer to Jesus by thinking of Him and making time for Him regularly every day. The discipline of going to Mass, Adoration, retreats, or Confession all stock up your spiritual toolbox.
Our retreat leader says in times of joy, it may not seem like we need these tools so much. But use them any way! When a storm hits, you’ll already have many “spiritual tools” to bring you comfort. When I look back on some of the hardest times in my life, I wish I had known about Adoration – what a joy and peace it would’ve brought me!
Friendship knows no age
If I had to guess, the age range of women was 20-75 years old. There were 30 of us and during each meal, we sat with a different group so we could get to know as many of the other women as possible. The age didn’t matter: a heart in love with Jesus is a heart in love with Jesus. We each had something to share and learn from each other.
One of the women I befriended is 40 years older than I am. I felt like she could really “see” me for who I am. She reminded me that I’m God’s beloved. She is the one who gave me the poem, which you can read below.
Don’t be a spiritual snob
Another pearl of wisdom from our retreat leader was not to be a spiritual snob! She explains that some people think they are better than others because they follow Ignatian spirituality and other people think they know the best way because they practice Marian spirituality. She says the type of spirituality does not matter to God. What matters is what brings you to Him and keeps you by His side.
Don’t worry, don’t hurry
Below is a poem by Bobby Schuller that my new friend hand wrote and gave to me. When she told me “don’t hurry, don’t worry,” I laughed because I tend to rush and worry! On this retreat, I literally stopped and smelled the roses. I hope you will too!
I’m not what I do
I’m not what I have
I’m not what people say about me
I am the beloved of God, it’s who I am
No one can take it from me
I don’t have to hurry
I don’t have to worry
I can trust my friend Jesus
And share His Love with the world
– Bobby Schuller