Spiritual retreats — like life in general I guess — can take you by surprise.
Before a retreat, we can make all sorts of resolutions about what we will raise with the Lord in our time alone with him. But once the retreat begins, and our Lord brings his own agenda to the table, one’s own plans are yesterday’s news. I’ve experienced that before, but nothing like this.
I thought I was looking forward to this retreat. Turns out I was dreading it. Perhaps I would have realised that if I’d been paying more attention to my interior life. But then, that’s the point of retreats. To re-examine our interior life; to take a closer look at our relationship with God.
In recent weeks, my prayer life was shot. Sure, I’d say the Divine Office and the rosary and my other daily vocal prayers, but I wasn’t praying them. This was sometimes true even of the Mass. ‘Saying’ and ‘praying’ are subtle distinctions. Less subtle was the way I increasingly postponed, shortened or even skipped meditation.
For many years now, I have been committed to a half hour of mental prayer every morning and every afternoon. (This was in collaboration with a spiritual director. Don’t try it cold turkey!) It’s not a sin to neglect such a commitment, but it’s a sure sign that something’s wrong. I was avoiding the Lord’s company, and rationalising it to myself by all “the work I was doing for him.” You can’t get way with that on a retreat. Instead, I was compelled to eyeball the Lord, and predictably enough, we had it out. Well, that’s not quite true. I ripped into him, and for the most part, he just listened.
I maintain that my grievances were valid. My mistake wasn’t in getting mad with our Lord. My mistake was not bringing my grievances to prayer immediately. Instead, I pretended it was nothing. I was fine. And so my conversation with God was reduced to banalities, until I started avoiding conversation all together.
Remember Martha’s accusation? “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (Jn 11:21) Jesus copped that admirably. I don’t think he minds much when we yell at him. At least when we’re yelling at him, we’re in relationship. It’s when we turn our back on him, when we exclude him, that he’s hurt. That was my sin. Mea culpa.
Also, ‘the silent treatment’ didn’t help my case when I finally thrashed it out with him. You know that guy who always says “I told you so,” and “Remember when you…”? Jesus is that guy, at least in his conversation with me. Credit where it’s due though — he does it with such tact and affection that I can’t take offence.
As it turns out, I suffered through some of this retreat, but I don’t regret a minute of it. It wasn’t the rest and peace I had hoped for, but it reinforced to me how important the annual retreat is. God wants relationship. God wants you.
Don’t find the time for a retreat. Make the time.