I was on retreat this weekend with a group of women and I had somewhat of a leadership role. I gave a talk, and helped facilitate conversations, but mostly I was in the retreat experience along with everyone else. It might have been easy for the women to believe that the ‘leaders’ among the group were the ‘experts’, but of course that’s not the case. Everyone is working on something, after all. As the weekend went on, and several people described me as ‘calm’, ‘grounded’, and ‘peaceful’, I had to laugh. If they could have seen my mind churning and my heart gripped with worry, they would never have come to that conclusion. To the well-meaning and admiring women, I replied, “Oh, you should tell my husband that, and watch him laugh!”
It’s true, my sweet husband along with a few trusted friends know that I have been on a hard road these last months. My mind spins as I try so hard to trust in God’s plan for me and mine. The words I heard this weekend directed me toward trust, toward letting go, and it was good advice. Certainly, it was advice I would have given to any of the women there, and I would have meant it, too, but somehow I could not let myself go. On the outside, I was helping, and helpful, and at times even wise, but on the inside, I was stuck, stuck, stuck.
During one morning’s meditation, I looked out the stained glass windows and the vibrant red and gold pattern reminded me of cardinals. Always seeking meaning in symbols, I reminded myself to ‘put first things first’, or in other words, God’s will before mine. At a mass on Saturday, I felt strongly the presence of my mother and my friend, Julie, who art in Heaven. They were telling me that the things I worried over, the twists in the path I fear, will actually end really well. I believed them, and I cried with relief, but some part of me still agonized. How much longer, Lord? When will the road be clear? Scary answer: probably never.
At Sunday morning’s meditation, I looked out the window and found a streetlamp shining among the trees. It was raining, and dark, and the light was distorted into the shape of a cross. Desperate for meaning, I reasoned some; that there is light in the darkness, that God is in this with me, that I can be a light for others. Longing for freedom, I quietly whispered, “Lord, show me how to let go.” And when I had finished the sentence, the light clicked off.
What was I to make of that?
Later at breakfast, I sat next to a woman who had been a hospice nurse. I shared some of the story of my mother’s last day, and she shared some of the amazing things she has seen in her work. People in hospice are using their gifts to help each other home, and isn’t that what we are all here for, in the first place? Her perspective clarified things for me. This sweet woman is convinced that there is so much more than what we can see in this short stretch of earthly life, and it was good for me to remember that I believe that, too.
By Sunday, pieces from various talks, and snippets of interactions from so many women were coming together to form a mosaic in my heart, and as the weekend drew to a close, you could see how God had been working in each one of us, creating a particular piece of art in each soul. These women were so different from me and from one another, but I feel honored to have shared space and time with them this weekend. From one, I learned childlike joy; from another, the faithful prayer of her Irish mother; from another, victorious, empathetic, shining faith through darkness; from another, how to belly laugh until you cry (oh, God, how we laughed!); from another, how the plan of God for His people is mirrored in the creation He made; from another, how to bend and grow from our natural dispositions; from another, the picture of a true friend who will listen and help long into the night. They were the Face of God for me. He is joyful and true.
Life is messy, and sometimes it can be hard for me to step forward, day by day. Sometimes I just want to shrink back and retreat. Sometimes retreat is what we need even when it’s not what we want. Sometimes it’s the best way to move forward.