Making Time to Remember Our Belovedness
Life’s challenges have a way of growing up all around us. I sometimes picture myself standing in a field surrounded by weeds I cannot see over. I do my best to push them out of the way, look around them, and pretend like they are not there. But, sooner or later and just like everyone else, I must face some difficult realities. Then I know it’s time to find some peace and quiet on retreat. In order to listen to my most genuine hopes, face my deepest fears, or to get a glimpse of what God is calling me into right now, I need to filter out the weeds and open a space for something else to emerge.
Open a Space
One way that I try to part the weeds is to go away from home and get quiet for a few days. I leave my computer and turn off my phone. I bring my favorite pens, my journal, a few books, and as few personal belongings as possible. Separating myself from my everyday life like this allows me to breathe deeply and begin taking stock of my life.
Sometimes I need space to make a big decision or I want to practice letting go of some anger or grief I am carrying. During these times, I might come into the retreat with an intention to write a letter to someone (whether or not I send it) or to use a resource book (with specific journal prompts and art exercises).
Most often, I open a space because I just need some time away from my task list and the demands of care-giving. Usually, I come with no agenda other than to rest. As the parent of two young children, it can feel luxurious to move my arms freely and go to the bathroom by myself. I knit, read, and write in my journal. I walk a labyrinth if it is available or I just walk outside. I pray for people I care about. I pray for our world. I pray for guidance about how I can best make a difference. I pay attention to how and what I eat. I pay attention to my breathing and how my body feels. When I feel tired, I take a nap.
Accept Your Discomfort
Entering into the silence can be challenging at first. I often get twitchy and uncomfortable as I figure out what to do with myself when I cannot reach for my phone and cannot talk with anyone. During this decompression period, it’s especially important to be patient. Accept the discomfort as a necessary transition into the silence. There is something sobering and clarifying about not being able to hide behind the noise. The discovery reminds me how much of my ordinary days I spend distracted, disengaged, or on automatic pilot. Trust me, if I knew a faster, easier way than a personal retreat to feel more centered, I would choose it.
Don’t Force It
When I first started going on retreat, I would often bring way too many books and knitting projects and art supplies. It is like I wanted to make up for all of my over-scheduled time in one fell swoop. After some practice, I have found that it is usually more helpful to bring a few items and not to focus too much on outcomes. Even if I am focused on a particular concern in my life, I try not to “force it.” The Spirit is at work, even when I am walking or staring out the window. As much as possible, I try to focus more on “being” than on “doing.”
Allow for Laughter
On another note, silence can be surprisingly funny. My good friend, Eily, and I are reminded of this from time to time. Once, while we were sharing a silent retreat, we were washing dishes together without talking. Not long after I spilled some dish soap all over the floor, we were doubled over with uncontrollable laughter. There is an intensity that comes with silence, I think, that sometimes gives way. You might just be surprised and uplifted by things you would not otherwise notice.
Celebrate the Small Shifts
Whatever intention I bring into my time away, it never fails to surprise me that I feel much less overwhelmed after a few days. Emerging from a retreat, I feel more centered and ready to face the challenges in front of me. Grief and anger may not go away completely, but something always shifts. Almost in spite of myself, I feel more compassionate and grateful. I wish I could tell you that after spending a few days on retreat that all of your problems will be resolved and that you will feel completely content and carefree. Instead, I encourage you to celebrate any small shift you experience.
Take Your Belovedness Into the World
In my experience a personal retreat is like using a weed whacker to hack down some of the obligations and pulls on my time to create some inner space. There I can sit down in the middle of a field, for a time, where no one is demanding anything of me. In that field I am not defined by my accomplishments, my failings, my annoying habits, my titles, or by what I look like. My only responsibility is to sit and feel the wind on my face, to be reassured that I am a beloved child of God.
Having sat in that place a while, I might still be the same person with the same problems and annoying habits. But when I return to my regular routines and relationships, I am carrying some of that belovedness with me. Working through some of my grief and unproductive anger and being reminded that I am beloved allows me to be a less anxious presence. This investment of my time in solitude isn’t just about me and how I feel—it radiates into the lives of others. As the weeds of my life begin to regrow around me, the wind keeps moving with me and through me, and it changes the way I interact with the world for a short period of time. But that small shift for that short period of time makes all the difference in the world.
Make room on your calendar today.
Interested in making a retreat? The Benedictine Center of St. Paul’s Monastery is ready to welcome you just as you are.
Prefer a group experience? We offer retreats that focus on writing, centering prayer, or lectio divina (a prayerful way of engaging scripture).
Inclined to go on retreat by yourself or with friends? We can reserve private rooms for you, and offer you delicious homemade meals, quiet spaces, and grounds for walking with a seasonal labyrinth. You also have the option of meeting with a spiritual director to process what is happening with a listening companion.
For more information, please call 651.777.7251 or visit the Personal Retreats page.
Learn more about Kiely Todd Roska.