How a Retreat from the World Brought Me Back into It

Huddled under the covers, shaking with fear, pleading with God to fill the hole inside me and somehow lighten this dark burden. For so long, that was how I existed. Trapped inside my body, trapped in a world I didn’t understand. Now I still don’t understand it, but I know I’m not supposed to. I’ve surrendered the need to understand to someone far bigger than I am. He’ll take care of it for me.

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My loneliness crippled me. Wounds from the past immobilized me. I wanted so badly to go out into the world, and yet found I was incapable of taking even one step beyond what my work day required of me, beyond what was necessary to pay the bills and feed the dog and keep a stocked refrigerator. So much about the world was terrifying. So much about the emptiness inside me terrified.

Then one day I took a trip to a place far in the country, one blinking streetlight, mellow cows, and tree lined paths. It was a departure from my comfortable routine. It was stepping out of the safe boundaries I had laid for myself. Attend a three day silent retreat over a hundred miles from my home with perfect strangers? It sounded crazy. But I decided on almost a whim to give it a chance. That decision changed my life.

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For three days, I listened to God, got still and silent enough that I could really hear His voice. Nothing interfering, no distractions, no demands. I listened to the priest talk about Jesus, His birth, His life, His death, and how He is part of our lives every day. I wrote a journal of my thoughts for the first time in years. And I prayed. Prayed and prayed and prayed as I walked through fields, rocked back and forth on the porch as dusk fell, stood beside live oaks stretching their own arms in praise, and peered down at the first blossoms of spring.

I came home changed. I was still single. I was one lone girl, but I wasn’t alone. I had known all along that I had family and friends who loved me, but when you spend night after night eating dinner alone, going to bed in an empty apartment, and struggling through each day without encountering one person who truly loves you—sure, there are well-intentioned, kind people at work, but none who love you profoundly for your true self—you wind up feeling so wretchedly alone that it’s almost indescribable. I grew up with catechism and Mass and a love for God. But I don’t think I really sensed His presence with me until I went on retreat. After that, I knew God was with me even when I felt the most alone.

I started waking up happy. For no reason at all, I was full of joy. I realized that had never happened before. I had always had to have a reason for happiness. Now I felt a deep and abiding wholeness. God was with me every day. Jesus was walking beside me.

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I kept praying that God would send me the man with whom I was meant to spend my life, that He would bless me with a loving husband and children. But I also began to feel a peace about who I was. Just me and God, no frills attached. My singleness stopped being a burden, was no longer a condition to list on a medical chart like asthma or high blood pressure. It wasn’t a curse. God knew what He was doing with me. And I would release myself to Him, let His love take shape in my heart and trust that He knew what He was doing.

Here I am, so many years later, a wife and mother.  I don’t take that for granted.  Every morning before I step out of bed I thank Him for that.  And I know that I was able to become a wife and mother because ultimately I was grateful to Him when I was all alone, just me and Him.  We were enough together.

 

 

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