“What do you do all day?” several people asked before I left for my week-long, silent retreat. These were Christians who regularly attend church. There were asking out of curiosity; none of them had ever gone on a retreat.
All of them had gone away for other kinds of events—camping weekends or workshops related to a hobby—dedicated time spent on something they love. So why not retreats? Why not dedicate an extended time to God?
I asked my spiritual director about this during my recent retreat.
She suggested people may have a harsh image of God, so the idea of spending an extended time with God might not be appealing.
My first retreat was in my early twenties. A man at work invited me to go on a retreat because he could see I was serious about my faith (I attended daily Mass and weekly Bible study, taught Sunday School, etc.).
I balked at the idea. Like those who were curious about my retreat, I found it difficult to imagine what I would do for a whole weekend.
I expressed my reservations to him, and he explained how the weekend would go. It was a structured retreat with talks and small-group sharing.
The word “sharing” was the kiss of death; I did not share!
My hesitancy about going on this retreat became outright resistance. Thanks, but no thanks.
My issue was not a negative image of God, but a negative image of myself, so talking about the ways I had let God down had no appeal.
This guy was persistent, though, and I finally caved in and agreed to go. My reluctance must have been obvious, because he insisted on driving me to the retreat. It was as if he had been reading my thoughts: “I will go, stay for the opening prayer and dinner, and then bolt.”
Beyond the sharing thing, I also feared I would have little in common with the others at this all-women’s retreat and that they would judge me. I was divorced, and in Catholic circles in the 1970’s, that was uncommon enough, but a divorced woman on retreat! I imagined lots of tsk-tsks.
But I allowed him to pick me up and drive me to the retreat center.
I learned a lot that weekend—about God, myself and the other people on that retreat. I found the women to be helpful and supportive—not judgmental. They seemed genuinely interested in me and my well-being, and no one tried to force me to share more than I was comfortable sharing.
I also learned that God provides—although most of the women were married, there was one other single woman, and we immediately connected.
In the end, I was glad I overcame my fears and went.
It was a few years before I went on another retreat, but when I did, it was with anticipation instead of resistance. And then I started going every year.
As with any relationship, spending quality time with God is a gift.