What if someone offered you a chance to get away with a dear friend for three days; just the two of you. Time to turn off the world and share your heart. And at the end of those three days, regardless of what you had shared, your friend would still accept you, love you and want only the best for you. No noise, no work, no emails or texts. Just quality time with your friend. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Throw in coffee and I’m packed and ready.
This is the gift I was given recently at the Diocese of Little Rock, three-day Silent Retreat. Three days of quiet; three days of being with my friend, Jesus. Three days of watching people slow down, breathe deeply, and connect or re-connect with Jesus. Three days of watching Him do what He does best: meet people where they are and walk with them. For some, it is the first time they’ve encountered Jesus in this way. ‘Does He really care about me after the mistakes I’ve made?’ ‘ Is He tired of me falling back into old ways of behaving?’
Yes, He really cares about you, and He never tires of getting us back on track. He smiles when He sees us make the effort to get away from the daily noise. I believe He speaks to all of us but sometimes the background noise of the world and our own thinking gets in the way of us hearing Him. During this retreat we put our phones and laptops away; we disconnect (temporarily) from the many people who need us. And we reconnect with Jesus. We talk with Him. We pray with Him. We go to Mass with Him. And sometimes we cry with Him. He meets us where we are and gently walks with us. Like the song says, “And He walks with me, and He talks with me and He tells me He’s my friend.” I used to think that was just a nice song. Now I know it’s the absolute truth.
I was blessed this time to serve as one of the spiritual directors for the retreat. There were 10 of us: three priests, a deacon and six lay persons. All of us have gone through extensive training in this ministry, with the result being that we get to sit with another person and listen reverently as they share their stories. Sometimes those stories come with pain and sadness; other times they’re filled with joy and peace. But regardless of the content, the most beautiful time of the two of us being together is watching Jesus do what He does best: love His sons and daughters. He comes with compassion, not harsh words. He comes to help us with our heavy loads, not to tell us to “Straighten up!”. Like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 15:11-32), Jesus sees us arriving at this retreat and He runs to meet us. And when we’re ready, He embraces us. He loves us.
I came away from those three days deeply aware of two things. First of all, people are carrying some really heavy things in their hearts. Situations that have often left them feeling alone, unlovable and washed up on the shore of life. I am beyond grateful that Jesus walks that shore continuously, and when He finds someone overwhelmed, He gently helps them back to their feet and walks with them. Secondly, I am convinced that the favorite tactic of the enemy is to convince us that we are alone in our struggles; that no one would understand if we shared our deepest hurts. As long as those struggles are kept in the dark, without a voice, we feel isolated. We lose hope that life will ever be better.
But we are NOT alone. God is always with us, ready to listen; ready to love. Yes, we all have challenges in our lives, but we are not meant to carry them alone. Instead of listening to the enemy’s lies, hear God’s truth say clearly, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
I pray that I never cease to be amazed at what God can do to restore us. And I thank Him for the opportunity to sit in His arena during the three-day silent retreat and watch Him do what He does best: Love His sons and daughters.
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