Making time for a spiritual retreat may be one of the most powerful things we ever do in our lives. Jesus Himself invited his disciples to “‘come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest awhile.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31). In our regular lives, we can get so caught up in trying to figure things out — our routine, our relationships, our vocation, our class schedule, our prayer life — that we can miss the main point of everything: that is, being with Jesus. That’s what we’re made for. That’s what our hearts long for. When we forget this, we find ourselves spinning, empty, and grasping. Retreat picks us up and sets us back in this fundamental posture of the heart — looking at Jesus looking at me, letting Him love me.
But, let’s be honest. For some, the idea of making a spiritual retreat — a time of focused prayer and reflection — can be a bit intimidating. It’s a big deal to be alone with God. It’s a big deal to stop our normal (or even our abnormal, pandemic) pace of life. It’s a big deal to come face to face with our hearts.
For others, there can be an anxiety about wanting to “do it right.” We want to pray “right,” to discern “right,” to listen “right.” It’s easy to worry that we’re somehow going to “mess it up,” or miss what God wants to tell us.
But we don’t have to be anxious about anything — the Holy Spirit is in charge. Prayer is not about doing something; prayer is about being with Someone — the One who created you in His image, a unique and unrepeatable reflection of His glory.
One definition of retreat is “a forced or strategic withdrawal of an army before an enemy” or “the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy.” It’s a great parallel to what happens on a spiritual retreat — the humble realization that I can’t do it on my own, that I need a Savior, that I need Someone to fight my battles for me and in me.
Pandemic or not, we so often become caught up by a thousand worries and opinions, finding ourselves restless, weary, and discouraged. That’s why, on retreat, we make a point to remove ourselves from the distractions of our lives — like our cell phone, social media, and just plain ol’ noise — and withdraw to the secret place in our hearts, which is where we can encounter the gaze of the God of the Universe, who loved us from all eternity and will never cease loving us. As Jean Corbon (one of the main contributors to the prayer section of the Catechism) wrote, the most fruitful activity of the human person is to be able to receive God (from The Wellspring of Worship by Ignatius Press).
Jesus wants more for you than you do for yourself. He desires your healing, wholeness, and happiness. He desires you. What kind of graces does He want to give you on retreat? He might want to heal a past memory. He might want to give His peace where there is anxiety. He might want to invite you to follow Him in a particular way. Whatever He wants to do, it is for you; it is personal, unique, and deeply intimate. There is nothing about you that is too much for God, and there is nothing about you that is not enough for God. We don’t have to prove ourselves to our Father. We don’t ever have to be afraid of what God might say to our hearts. He is always about our good.
So, what’s the secret of making a good retreat? At the end of the day, the secret is just showing up and letting Him love us. It’s coming before Him as we are — poor, broken, and little — and letting Him delight in us. It’s giving Him all the pieces of our lives and letting Him make something new. We’re made for glory, for infinite love, for peace, for joy. Let’s not sell ourselves short.
This Pentecost, we invite you: Join the Dominican Friars and the Sisters of Life, and come on retreat! God wants to make all things new in your life, your heart, and your relationships. He wants to tell you the truth of who you are. He wants to set your heart ablaze. Be not afraid!