By : Justin Studebaker
Entering the Priory and finding the room with my name on it filled me with feelings of agitation and anticipation. Agitation because it takes about half a day to settle fully into the silence, washing away the dirt and grime from daily life. And anticipation over the beautiful experiences that lay ahead. It is generally a good practice to come into retreats with an open mind and an open heart around what will be discovered.
We are asked to turn off our cell phones during the retreat to limit distractions. My track record with my phone is spotty at best. This year I hoped to keep my phone off the entire time. Due to the current state I was in, I needed answers around how I could balance all my activities without completely burning out. And hopefully begin to experience Christ’s love in a more real way.
God began to show me where I was going wrong. My desire to be loved, accepted and appreciated led me to volunteer in areas and ways that were beyond my capacity to give. During the retreat, praying about all the different areas I was serving, some clarity began to develop. God showed me that serving out of obligation, or to not let people down, wasn’t his Will. He wanted me to serve where the desire came out of the generosity of my heart. Otherwise, as I was experiencing, resentment would begin to fill the space where charity and love belonged. I was living thirty minutes from the parish where I was serving on the young adult leadership committee. It became clear that as much as I loved this community, stepping back from that role was necessary for my mental health and life balance. Making that decision while on the retreat filled my spirit with a deep sense of consolation. Jesus wants us to love and serve, but only from the generosity of our hearts. This call Jesus has put in our hearts can lead us to faithful serve despite the ever-moving experiences of deep desolation during times of spiritual dryness or life circumstance.
Throughout the weekend many graces became evident during my prayer time and reflections. There was a deep desire to simplify my life, deepen relationships and spend more time growing closer to Jesus and Mary. During a powerful prayer session, I experienced Jesus and Mary holding me in their arms expressing how much I was deeply loved. Grace flowed out of that experience and settled on me for the rest of the retreat. Mother Teresa, proves that we can receive a deep spiritual prompting from Jesus and/or Mary.
There was a beautiful nature area within walking distance. Spending some time in nature was a priority for me during the retreat. Writing down what I thought were the correct directions, I was on my way. It was a slightly cold day but it felt good, as I worked up a slight sweat walking up the hill. Continuing my climb, it didn’t seem like the nature area was this high up. Looking at the directions again it became clear that I totally missed a turn and ended up in a completely different neighborhood. Even getting lost was a blessing because there was a beautiful view of the Bay Area I never would have found otherwise. In life, I have found, many times, mistakes have led to discoveries and experiences that were unexpected blessings. The key has always been to not dwell on the mistakes and failures, but to find the blessings and learn the lessons contained within. Eventually I made it to the nature area/small lake. Not only did I get to spend time enjoying the small lake, but I got an unexpected surprise. . . a scenic view of the Bay Area. What a day!
Discoveries during silent retreats usually come in bunches. This silent retreat was no different. There were retreat materials describing consolation versus desolation and willfulness versus willingness. It became clear that pushing things to happen, created a lot of pressure on myself, and taking on too many things was a clear description of willfulness. This opened my eyes to how my willfulness, and not trusting God to lead, was creating a state of desolation in my life. A rude awakening to say the least.
During that time in prayer, I asked God to take control of my life, willing to follow wherever He led me. This left my soul quiet and my mind convicted to strive towards willingness instead of willfulness. To this day I thank God for showing me this truth and for Christus Ministries for leading us on this retreat. However, I have found firsthand how precious and fleeting these beautiful discoveries can become. Like most virtues in my life, developing daily habits that reinforce these discoveries are essential for them to stick. It is so easy for me to slide back into willfulness, and putting too much pressure on myself with over-committing and people-pleasing. Each time these setbacks occur, I try to take time praying about the beautiful experiences and lessons shown during the retreat. These moments of remembrance bring me back into communion with Jesus. Knowing that no matter how far I fall, Jesus will be right there waiting for me to dust myself off and return into his loving arms.