Retreat Experience

I had the great privilege and honor to be a co-director of a three-and-half day long retreat last weekend for high school juniors and seniors. This was only my second time to be on team for this retreat. It was my first with the girls. (It was on my first experience with this retreat as a participant where God helped me find my faith.)

Here are some random thoughts:

  • As a first time retreat director, I had a time table for the events during the retreat, but I had no idea how to do about 50% of the stuff. (The other director did not know much of the details either.) I had no idea how to set up the chapel or the many other events too. I did not even know what I was going to say most of the time. I was not sure about how to get the team moving as a whole to support the retreatants. I gave up all of my anxieties to God. I trusted Him completely, and everything worked out just fine. (Before the retreat began, I realized that I was not the one really in control. He was. I was just at His service.)

  • I remember praying much before and during the retreat: “Lord, make me a window for your Light”, “This is for them and You, not me”, “Use me”, “Please give me energy, strength, courage, and endurance to see this through”, and hundreds of “Lord have mercy on us” and thank you’s.

  • This is one of those retreats that leads one through a roller coaster of emotions. Lots of hugs. My goal was not to force my way on anybody. I was going to be as hospitable as possible. As Henri Nouwen writes, hospitality is about opening yourself up and creating a safe and warm environment for a guest to be free to open up and find themselves.

  • Thomas Merton described Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus, as the most hidden of all the saints. I asked God to make me hidden too. The retreat was for the participants to shine, not me. I did not want the mud from my ego to block His light. I was not expecting hugs or thanks. Of course, in the end, I did receive many from the retreatants. I did not demand it. I did not seek it. It came freely from them, and I love them so much more for it.

  • A big lesson from this retreat has been learning about what the Christian mystics call detachment. I have had a hard time deeply understanding what they mean. It does not mean being indifferent. On the contrary, it means loving others on a higher level. Not the clingy type of love—if I did that, I would have tried to force myself on people. I would have asked for hugs. Instead, I stood back to give the retreatants space to have the freedom to be themselves, to let them discover themselves. I had the freedom to serve them as needed. No preconceived ideas of how I was going to help so-and-so. I made myself free for the Spirit to move within me. Not every retreatant was completely successful in discovering themselves, but everyone discovered something to varying degrees.

  • My job was to serve. I gained energy from Him through that service. It felt awesome to know I was doing something directly for Him. I could see tangible evidence right in front of me. And what I did see was just the tip of the iceberg of His work in them. After all, the retreat is called Kairos, God’s time—those kind of changes do not work on an earthy time scale. They work on His.

  • Some challenges: My student Rector, got sick. Poor girl. She slept the whole day Saturday and Sunday morning. One of the student leaders from the other school flat out lied to one of the adult leaders about something instead of helping with an event. The issue was resolved, but I am afraid that it will leave a sour taste in this student’s memory about serving on team. I pray that she learns from her mistake.

Overall, to quote one of the retreatants, “It was an awesome retreat!”

Afterwards, I had to drive the bus back to school. This was the third time I had to do this alone. I was dreading it because I would get this awful lonely, depressed feeling, like I missed something at the conclusion of the retreat. But that did not happened this time. I was exhausted but happy. I had this warm, glowing feeling all over. It felt like I was part of something great and mystical. I was proud in that I felt part of my treasure was in heaven. It reminded me of a line from one of the events at the retreat, “The one who loves is never really alone.” Thank you Father for the experience and opportunity to serve You.

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. — 2 Corinthians 9:11

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