On May 31st, I found myself bound for another silent retreat. Though I clearly remember telling myself I would never attend one again. My first experience was not the best and I sure did not want a repeat. I signed up to go with my ministry partner thinking this would be a nice way to start the summer and usher in our year of transition. Her stepping down and my stepping up. I have to admit though, the closer it got, the more I was dreading it. In my mind, I kind of went kicking and screaming. I have soo much to do. Work stuff and the big one…planning a wedding that is happening in less than 2 months! I do a daily devotional, pray, go to church or watch the sermon online each week, & do my growth group homework. It’s not like I am not ever connecting with God or reading His Word, so the thought of stopping my life for 25 hours was not looking refreshing, but daunting. Now, I will lose 25 hours of precious time that I will not be able to make up. I know what you are thinking. I am a horrible Christian for even thinking that 25 hours with God is not a great and blessed way to spend my time. It is not a fun thing to admit, but I am being honest. I had not heard much about the Prince of Peace Abbey, so I was not sure what to expect. We arrived in the parking lot at 12:50pm to start our “Divine Adventure” (that is what they named the retreat). I think there were around 20 women who also attended that weekend. We introduced ourselves, received the ground rules, some scripture to start us off, room keys, and then we were on our own….in silence.
My very first response in an unfamiliar situation is to get the lay of the land. I have to know where everything is before I can even begin to settle down. I found the dinning room (meal time is very exact and I did not want to be late), the small chapel, the church, and the trails. At this particular retreat, you met back up with the leaders every few hours or so for an additional scripture reading and an activity to do. Still, no talking.
We ate in the silent dining room for our meals. It was awkward to sit right next to people and not say a word. You did not know where to look, so I usually stared straight at my food, like I just found it soo interesting. Noises that you never really noticed before are now amplified. The clinking of forks and knives on plates, chewing, & the swallowing a gulp of water. It made me think we are so barbaric for eating food. It kind of grossed me out. I spent most of my time walking the grounds or in my little cinderblock room. I walked, prayed, listened to worship music, read the books of Hebrews, James, Proverbs, & Titus. The first day went by really fast. The night, however, did not. That bed was the hardest bed I have ever slept on in my life. Seriously. It hurt to even lay on my side. I did not get much sleep that night.
Day 2 finds me tired and in need of coffee immediately! I get as ready as I need to be and head for the dinning hall. I am already like a resident there by now and know how to get my own coffee, hot tea, and use the fridge to get my creamer. As I reached in the fridge to get my creamer, there are 2 things that were not there the night before. 2 bottles of wine. I thought to myself. Wow! This is the difference between the Catholic church and my non-denomination/evangelical church. You would not be finding wine in the fridges at my church! After our morning breakfast in awkward silence we head over to get our last activity for the day. It is to paint a little birdhouse. You are the house in which God dwells (we were studying Hebrews 1:1-8). The birdhouse was to represent us as being the house that God lives in. You are to paint it and decorate it to make it be how you see yourself and your relationship with God. Oh no! I hate crafts. I get the birdhouse that looks the most like me and sit down. I start painting it and the first thing that comes to mind is if my friend Katie was here, she could do this no problem. She would have the best looking birdhouse for sure! She would have nailed this. But I had to do it, so I did…the only way I know how. When my husband saw it later, he laughed at how it was very much like me. I painted it exactly how a little barn birdhouse should look. Red with a brown roof and white trim. I painted it to the smallest detail. No white was on another part and no empty spots. But also because I am me, it had to have a bit of edge or sparkle to it. I added some pretty red gems to the outside front. But, they had to all line up just right or it would be unacceptable. As I watched the other ladies creating theirs, I was horrified by the colors they were using or that they did not care if one color of paint got on another. I did however, not add anything to the little open hole. Others were adding flowers, moss, sticks, etc. I felt that if I did that it would obstruct the flow from being able to go in or go out. I was kind of proud of how nice my birdhouse looked till later when everyone shared about their birdhouses. Everyone else’s house had some deep profound meaning behind each detail. Down to what each color, rock, type of flower, & tree branch meant. My house clearly showed one of my biggest weaknesses (as long as it looks like you have it all together on the outside, no one will know what a stress case you are on the inside. Image is everything. Other peoples perception is your reality), but at least I left a nice open space for God to come in and (hopefully) God to go out. I want to leave plenty of room for God to be in me, to work on my heart, as well as have Him be able to flow out of me, to show His love towards others.
I did have 1 issue that I wanted to deal with while I was there. God and I got that solved. After I had peace about it, I wrote it on a rock and chucked it into a deep brush filled canyon on the edge of the Abbey. It was another activity that we were to do. Write down things that we want to surrender with a sharpie on a rock they gave you. We were supposed to lay the rock at the foot of a cross, but I just could not make myself leave it for anyone else to see, hence the chucking it into a ravine that probably a transient will find and know my deepest, darkest insecurities.
As I continued walking the prayer walk, I noticed other people’s rocks. It comforted me to know what was written on those rocks was the same stuff that all us women deal with. All those women that headed up ministries and seemed to have it all together, all faced the same struggles as most of us. Fear, anxiety, self-image, expectations, guilt. I felt kind of naughty reading these private surrenders, but at the same time, they offered me much hope that we are not alone in this daily struggle. We have each other and most importantly, we have God.
God taught me a few things this weekend and He also allowed me to just rest, relax, & read a good book!
I have to say that the women who put this retreat together from the NEWIM organization did a great job! They gave you direction, but also allowed free time for God and you to work on things He wants to work on in you. I am not sure if I would do another one, but I think if I did, I would want to go alone. I think the anonymity would be a much more freeing experience for me. I am such a people pleaser that even having one person there I knew made me feel a bit like if I did not show up for something that she did, she might think something bad of me. Not that she ever would, but that is where my mind goes. I can’t help it.
What I did get out of this experience, is that we all need to set aside some time in our busy schedules to refocus ourselves on what God wants us to be doing. Just sitting and listening to what He wants to say to you. It does not have to be at some special retreat. He just wants you to set aside time for Him. He is always with you, but you are not always with Him.