Thank God for retreats. Literally.
As a reminder for those who don’t know, I am Roman Catholic and I am fairly active in my church. I go to mass every week, try to attend as many feast day celebrations as I can, have a strong devotion to the rosary and volunteer as a team member for a local youth group (which is quickly morphing into me being in charge of a small high school women’s group).
This past weekend I was invited to be a chaperone for a group of high schoolers to the Steubenville of the Rockies conference in Colorado. I’d attended the conference myself as a high schooler, and the youth minister I went with had even been with me on that trip years ago. I went in with expectations of what it had been like to be there as a young teenager, entirely messed up in terms of my self-identity, and came out with the experience of a young woman who is on much better ground, self-awareness wise, but still needed a ton of guidance on where to go next.
I love retreats. I always have. I went on my first retreat back in middle school when I was undergoing preparation for my Confirmation, and from then until my senior year of high school I would average probably three big retreats a year, with a couple of small day-two day retreats sprinkled in here and there. I lived for retreats. I got into college and was immediately disappointed with the lack of retreats for young adults- I was limited to one retreat a year (unless I wanted to straight up find a separate community just for retreats which wasn’t feasible with school, work, etc).
Though in that came a kind of a small blessing. See, I was living for retreats in middle school and high school. I loved to get away, I loved to get all hyped up on my religion and surround myself with hundreds, sometimes thousands of teens who thought just like me, who agreed with me. I held this kind of aloof disdain for my every day life where I was mocked for my prayer life, where people had very solid views about what my beliefs were without asking me, where people refused to dialogue with me because they thought they knew what I would say, where people were harsher about my unnamed disability because they weren’t as involved or trained-to-be-compassionate like my church crowd was. (Not saying that church people are inherently more compassionate than nonreligious people- I’ve met both kinds, believe me. Just that in my particular community I found more inclusive acceptance in my church circles than anywhere else in my particular community). It was like I trudged through daily life so that I could prepare for the sweet release of a retreat.
After being forced to cut down on my retreats, I’ve been learning how to retreat to live, instead. After graduating college I’ve still been able to average around one retreat a year (though usually now as a mentor). But I no longer see it as a party, or as a reward for trudging through my daily life. I see it as a beautiful tool through which to enrich my daily life, to recharge so that I can live my daily life to more abundance. I go into these intense weekends of prayer with the understanding that it’s not a break, or a freezing of life, or even really a full stepping away. It’s an intake of breath, and inhale to invigorate my lungs to give me the power to speak what needs spoken, to run what races need running, and to face each day with laughter and grace.
I know not all of my readers are religious, but I know that all of us can really relate to this kind of process. When have the things you’ve needed to take a ‘break’ from living for become your reason for living? When has self-care turned into an excuse to stop moving forward? How can we take these moments, these instances of saying ‘no’ to our normal routines, and turn them into opportunities to build into a more enthusiastic yes?