By Elisabeth Corcoran
What do I do once I get there? What are the benefits of doing something like this?
Here's how my time went. I arrived at 9am on Monday morning. Okay, 8:50 --- I was really excited to get started. But my assigned nun/tour guide wasn't there yet. So I had to sit and wait for ten minutes. As I watched the clock, I was thinking, 'Woman, where are you?!? Don't you know I want to spend time with God?!?' I guess you could say I was a little on edge, case in point of why I was there to begin with.
So I got established into my quaint room and unpacked. I headed outside but chose not to bring any of my many 'aids'. I just needed some alone time. I found this gorgeous rock by a peaceful creek and settled in. Within moments, and I mean moments, God cut to the quick and we wrestled through my biggest current issue. Like I shared last month, what had been lingering for six months under the surface of my soul was worked through in about 15 minutes. What was spoken doesn't need to be shared, that's one thing I'm learning, not all of my encounters with God need to be for public consumption. Anyway, I could have called it a day already if I had wanted to. But I didn't --- because all I had right then was time on my side, what an amazing feeling for a working mom. Time to just sit in the sun / in the Son.
Which brings me to another benefit of retreating - it's not just about getting away from the everyday -though kids and dishes and laundry and cleaning and cooking (okay, so I don't really cook all that much, but if I did, it would be on this list) and work and the husband can all wear on a woman from time to time, even though they are all blessings; for me, though, this time was just as much about what I was choosing to live without for four days: no television, no shopping, no fast food, no email (which is huge for me --- when my husband and I went on a Caribbean cruise last summer for a week, I checked email each day from the ship! --- in the freaking Caribbean!), and no magazines (oh, but speaking of magazines, when walking to breakfast that first morning, I saw the newest issue of People in the nun's lounge and I began plotting how I could grab it without being caught); another case in point of why I needed to be there, my propensity to be more concerned with getting caught than committing one of the seven deadly sins, let alone while on a spiritual retreat!
Basically, I filled my time with quiet meals, quiet quiet times, a quiet hour of writing about a dozen notes, some quiet reading outside, a quiet spell of laying on my bed looking out the window, quietly working my way towards finishing my first full reading of the Bible (not in one sitting, unless you'll allow me to count two years as one really long sitting), quietly napping, quietly lingering in prayer, quietly watching a gaggle of geese find their breakfast, and walking very, very slowly. (That is something I hoped to continue, I tend to walk fast even when I'm not in a hurry. I would like to walk as slow through my day-to-day as I was around the retreat grounds.) Which beckons the question --- how do you go from silent, slow, chore-less monastic life to the daily grind? Very very carefully.
How do I re-enter my normal life?
I was concerned about re-entry. In four short days, I had come to relish the silence and the whispering. My life is not a quiet one. I didn't want to head back home with a chip on my shoulder as if to say, 'I was created for quiet and you people are ruining it for me'. So I realized that I needed to prepare myself for going back. I did three simple things. One, I made sure my husband knew when I was coming home so the house could be somewhat picked up (this might not be a thing for you, but it's a thing for me), I didn't want four days to go out the window because I felt I had to grumble and straighten up my first hour back.
Two, I had spent some time reading about various spiritual disciplines, so I jotted down a plan for implementing a few of them in my life. Saying that you want to try something is one thing, committing to try it by setting a goal and scheduling it on your calendar is quite another. And three, right before I left, I asked God to prepare my heart for going home. He and I agreed that, although that time had been wonderful for us, that is not real life. Did something supernatural happen over those four days? Yes, absolutely. A healing came to pass that I had desperately needed. It was restorative and renewal at its best. However, true transformation into Christlikeness happens in the day to day. And I was about to head right back in with both barrels. I needed the quiet spirit that I had settled into to stick, and I asked God to help it do so.
What if I really, really cannot get away?
If you find that your schedule or circumstances absolutely do not allow for an extended period of solitude, there are few things you can do. First of all, most people can carve 2-3 hours out of their month, and that is what I would suggest. Start slow --- schedule an appointment on your calendar, two-three hours, once a month, for six months. Secondly, begin arranging your life around the concepts of retreating, how can you fit them into your normal day? It's one thing to tarry for 15 minutes watching dragonflies chase each other over the surface of a babbling brook and chock that up as worshipping the Creator of the universe when you've got four days with nothing to do and nowhere to go, it's quite another when all you've got is fifteen minutes total to commune with God. You need to simply talk to God about it --- he knows your life --- he knows that you can't just stop your day for three hours to watch nature, but if you ask him, he will give you creative ideas to spend with him.
Go for a walk. If you live in a quiet neighborhood, use that time to pray or just observe creation. If you're neighborhood is busy, bring a walkman and a worship tape. Get up fifteen minutes before everyone else, grab a cup of coffee, and sit outside, watching the sunrise. During lunch, light a candle, and sit down with your Bible instead of eating over the sink like you usually do. Walk slower. Talk less. Listen more. Simply quiet your heart.
So there I was --- God had already spoken. I suspected he would again, but there was no pressure. It wasn't about the revelation. It wasn't about the wrestling. It wasn't even really about the rest. It was simply about me and God and nothing else. And no matter what personality type you are, where you are in your spiritual journey, or what is going on in your life, you cannot find a better use of your time than this.
More Moments for Mom September 2004...
It's 2:45 in the morning. I can't fall back to sleep. And I'm nauseous. For whatever reason, I just realized, and I mean, really realized, that school starts in two weeks. Big deal, right? Well, this year is a bit different. My husband is a teacher, so typically, about this time, I'm sighing with a bit of relief that my normalcy is going to return. But not this year. Because this year, my daughter is entering second grade and my son first grade. They will both be in school full time.
Now, yes, there is a part of me that has been chanting inwardly "Fall 2004" for the past seven or so years, especially on really hard mommy days. And yes, there is a part of me that cannot believe I'm going to have thirty hours a week to myself, to do whatever I want. So don't get me wrong, I'm looking forward to this new season, just with some mixed feelings and a bit of trepidation. (I've already made plans with my girlfriends to come to my house for breakfast during the first week of school to help me cope.)
What is this that is making me feel like throwing up in the middle night with two weeks of summer to go still? If you're reading this, you're probably a mom. And if you're a mom, I probably don't need to go on. But it's my column and this is my therapy, so I will, Eight years ago I was in the home stretch of my first pregnancy with my daughter, Sara. And now, I am sitting here wondering when eight years morphed into feeling like about two or three weeks. I remember being pregnant. I remember sitting outside getting a bit of sun, trying to soak in those last few lazy days, knowing my life was on the verge of changing forever. And now here I am, on the other side of the diaper years, heck the other side of the stay-at-home-mommy years basically, eight years later, but time did something more magical than just cliché-dly fly, it zoomed past me and took the youth of my children with it. And now they are independent, wonderful children who can handle a day at school solo. And I am left with other moms asking me if I'm excited about all the free time I'm about to have on my hands (except that I work part-time, so it's not all that free), when I'm actually thinking, 'no, I'm just very sad that the best and most precious season of my life, those hard, fun, sweet, amazing days and months and years of being at home raising my daughter and my son, are basically finished.' But that's not what I say, I just say that it'll be interesting and then I mumble something about time flying and I sigh.
So, moms, if you're reading this and your kids are young and at home with you all day every day, I cannot say this strongly enough: you are in one of the most wonderful stretches of life that you'll ever be blessed to live through, and even when the day doesn't seem like it will come to an end, it will, and one day you'll look up from your day-to-day and realize that you're walking your kids to school. Saying it goes fast doesn't even begin to describe it.
It will race ahead, with your children in tow, even if you're not ready and willing. So, put down that load of laundry, or unplug that vacuum, or walk away from that computer, and do whatever you need to do to enjoy your sweet children this moment. Because time really does fly.
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