8 Things I Learned about Myself on Retreat
Last week I had the privilege to spend four days on private retreat. I expected and hoped to reconnect with God, learn more about His will, and feel His love. While all of those blessings did come from the weeklong trip, I was most surprised, upon reflecting on the trip, by what I learned about myself.
God has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? He gets our cooperation by showing us only part of the picture and has something more in store for us, usually better than we could ever imagine. Here’s the part of the picture I wasn’t expecting to encounter. It’s super personal and pretty humbling, but I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what He wanted me to find on retreat.
1. My brain is tired. It was difficult for me to do much more than recite prayers and listen to spiritual talks. When stuck in these ruts, I’m usually able to pray by journaling (especially before the Blessed Sacrament), but even that didn’t come easily. I am certain I am not the only mother who feels this way after the epic year we have all had, and I even threw in a house move and some significant local volunteering on top of that! But I was definitely caught off guard by my inability to pray as I could a year or two ago.
So, I feel like I need to retrain my brain once again to function beyond the adrenaline of survival mode. Doing the next right thing is essential when we can’t plan ahead due to a pandemic or other major life event, but at some point, we need to be able to think deep thoughts again. I know from my experiences with burnout that this is a process. My first steps include challenging my brain, such as attending a fantastic talk by Joseph Pearce several nights ago on literature and communism and beginning to write again…starting with this post.
2. My prayer life needs work. Everyone’s always does, right? But in all honesty, during this busy time, I have resorted to very brief morning prayers, aspirations throughout the day, and not much else. Rationally, I know that’s not enough for me, especially in this season of life, and it’s time to also take steps towards reconnecting more personally with my Lord. St. Francis de Sales once said, “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.” I need more.
But how to fit it in? The most helpful thing I have ever done when feeling this way is to ask God for the desire to pray more. He has always come through on that request, such that even if I struggle to make the time to pray, my longing itself becomes a prayer and I make progress. Feeling unmotivated in prayer? Try it! It’s a start!
3. My work needs prayer. Anyone who knows me personally knows I love to work. I love accomplishing things! And in learning about the daily lives of the Sisters by living next door to them…wow, do these women work hard! It was so inspiring to see them work as hard as they could in between their prayers. But of course, when the bells would ring, they would stop and they would pray. I need that.
The Sisters have the benefit of a daily schedule with six times a day set aside to gather for community prayer and a vow of obedience to hold them to those times. As stay at home mothers, our lives with children rarely accommodate such an intensive prayer routine. While that’s not realistic, I saw very clearly that a better prayer routine for me will result in working smarter and more effectively in my homeschooling, local volunteering, and online ministry. I know there is value in a few moments of prayer and seeking silence amidst our busy days.
4. Time with friends is precious. I knew this. My friends are treasures in my life. On this trip, I was blessed to spend three meals a day with another woman, a fellow Catholic homeschooling mom who is also a college friend. We talked so easily, partly because our daily lives are so similar. We shared joys and struggles, doubts and discoveries and reconnected through those conversations.
I have always prioritized time with other women walking the same path as me. The time has always been precious to me. What was different last week was that we took the time to discuss the important things, the big ideas that drive our vocations, and I miss that. Deep conversations aren’t coming easily to me these days (see #1 above), and I think that I need more of those. Watch out, local ladies!
5. I need to eat breakfast. Every morning on retreat, I had the same food – a biscuit with jam, a scrambled egg, and oranges. When we went shopping for our food (I could write a whole post alone on how difficult it was to go grocery shopping for just myself!), I tried to choose things I would use up within the four days, so I kept breakfast simple. And I’m so glad that I did, because waking up early for prayers definitely made my morning fog more pronounced! But a significant lesson I learned was that the act of making myself food that I would eat (and didn’t have to share) felt so indulgent.
Usually everyone wants me to help with their breakfasts, and there is so much to do each day that I don’t take the time to stop and make something sufficient (or at all) for myself. I want to get better at this, because I’m a much nicer mommy with a happy tummy. And after breakfast last week, I was ready to dive right into my retreat materials, because I had had my fuel. Making this happen at home will definitely require teaching my children to let me make and eat my meal!
6. I’m capable of waking up before 7am. Ssshhh!!!! Don’t tell my family! Let’s let this be our little secret?! I am not a morning person. Like at all. But getting up for 6:45am Lauds really wasn’t that hard. (I had a place to be and people that would notice if I wasn’t there.) It was amazing. I almost looked forward to the brisk walk up the hill to the chapel.
I’m not sure yet how this translates into my life at home. I have always wanted to be that mom who gets up before her children to pray, and in some seasons of motherhood I’ve even managed it for a week or two (but not more than that). Some of the women in business and ministry I admire get up early to write and work before the day gets busy. For now, my goal is to get out of bed before 8am, and I’ve been consistent on that these past few days. Baby steps, right?
7. Kansas is flat. Oh my goodness! We drove through the Flint Hills on the way there, and it was amazing. I had never been to Kansas nor seen the prairies, and it was eye-opening to bring to life the stories of Laura Ingalls that I’m currently reading to my boys. I like my Texas wide open spaces, but rural Kansas was pristine and simply lovely.
Moving to our new house has made me appreciate nature more, as we live a block from a lake, and this springtime weather makes it possible to get outside. I’m a firm believer that nature keeps us healthy both physically and spiritually as we connect with God’s creation out there (except in the brutal Texas summer heat, of course!). And so I’m grateful for the time I had to appreciate His landscape in a new part of this country am inspired to prioritize some nature outings while the weather is still bearable!
8. Home is best. It always takes me a while after moving to really feel like I belong in the new house, and for this move especially, I’ve questioned if I could make this one a home. The house itself turned out to be so different than we imagined (in a good way) when we decided to look for a home that it’s been harder to digest than usual. Obviously, this takes time, but it was an incredible joy to be heading home from retreat and truly looking forward to coming home to this new house after only living here for 6 weeks. I always miss my people, but the feeling of coming home to the house struck me as surprisingly comforting.
Because isn’t that our purpose, mamas? Especially as homeschoolers, the building we live in does make a difference in living out our vocation. The responsibility of turning it into a home, an environment full of love and life and learning where we spend the vast majority of our time, is part of our calling as homeschooling mothers. I’ll be heading to HomeGoods and AtHome soon to try to add some special touches to this house, despite my total lack of skill in interior decorating.
I know that getting away on a multi-day retreat is out of reach of most moms, but I have always advocated taking a one day retreat or doing a one woman retreat at home as you’re able. So I’m happy to share that during part of my retreat, I compiled a couple more DIY retreats for you, dear friends! I’ll need to finish out the formatting and add some final touches, so maybe you can look forward to your own mini-retreat soon. Or you can download the free DIY retreat I shared at the beginning of this school year and dive right in here!
Let us remember, as St. John Paul II said, “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else satisfies you.” It is in prayer that we encounter Christ. It is in encountering Christ that we can best serve our families in LOVE! I’ll be praying for you. Please pray for me.
I needed to hear this! Thank you for sharing your story.