Several months have passed since my 30-day silent retreat. The retreat in and of itself was important, but even more so is what has remained with me from that experience beyond the immediate mountain top euphoria.
There were so many invitations during the retreat. I wrote my prayers and it has been a joy to look back at them all. However, there are two primary insights that have most stayed with me–(1) A recognition of God’s presence in suffering and (2) A call to live my life with consistency as an instrument of God’s love. Neither of these are new messages, but they were reinforced and deepened in me.
In times of struggle, I have been tempted to think that all of my life has been difficult. One sweet invitation I received was to recognize that my life has been primarily calm waters and yet the times of rapids (i.e., suffering) have catapulted me to new understanding and depth in my relationship with God. This emerged as I laid out my life visually as a river. In addition, I realize that all these wounds are a grace. I do realize that blessing always comes alongside suffering, but this is a different message. The suffering itself is the blessing. My wounds are part of my story—they’ve created my narrative and shaped the way I understand myself, the world, and my ministry. I could not have arrived and experienced this way of being without them. In addition, they are a tie to Christ as I join in his suffering. One passage that rose for me in a new way was part of the birth narrative of Jesus. When the holy family was fleeing to Egypt, it must have been monumental, they were leaving all they knew in order to protect their son from a brutal king. Yet, this was not the heart of Christ’s story, regardless of how significant it was at the time. It is an important part of the history, but not the heart. The grace to me is a recognition that my pain is not the heart of my story. I see that God has used it as integral in the shaping of my story.
Another insight in this regard was a reminder of God’s faithfulness during trial. As I look back over the difficulties I have faced, I also see that God has always surrounded me with good people who love me and love God. These two, challenges and love from God through others, go hand in hand. Suffering and even the accompanying temptation to pull away from God speaks of this faithfulness. Without temptation, there would be no free will. This leaped out at me when praying with the temptation of Jesus in the desert. It is so easy to keep my focus on the ongoing adversity. But the invitation is clear. Am I willing to be obedient to the call despite the difficulty? I’ve said “yes” many times and sometimes I’ve said “no.” I am invited to maintain a tenacity to persevere amidst suffering and to recognize that God’s presence in these times is constant.
And finally, a rich lesson/reminder that every day is a day of resurrection. Each day Christ is revealed to me anew—I discover him and am discovered by him each day. It does not matter what has gone before, each day is fresh. Christ knows me intimately–my pettiness and selfishness and failures–and loves me without condition. As I live out both prodigal son and elder brother in my sin and arrogance, God throws his arms around me and invites me to his kingdom work. He continually calls me to love “with teeth in it.” Love as more than good feelings and empathy toward others. It is love that makes a difference in the lives of those to whom it is directed. Kingdom involvement requires action that accompanies my benevolent feelings and mindset.
It has been a joy to share these nuggets that are with me still. I recognize my privilege in being able to retreat for an entire month to listen in this manner. My hope is that I will cling to these graces and be open for God’s use in whatever ways God directs.
Grace and peace to you,