Monday, July 20, 2015

When the Retreat Isn't What You Hoped For

I usually go on a silent retreat in June with my mom. I know a fair few people for whom this would be sheer torture, but I absolutely love the fact that I get left alone all weekend.

On my retreats, there are usually talks twice a day. I’ve been on retreats where there are three or maybe four, but that’s about the limit. These talks are usually interesting and educational, and on a topic that has good application to my spiritual life. I’ve been to retreats on “Praying with Mary,” “Healing our Understanding of God,” “The Practice of Reconciliation,” and “The Beatitudes.” They were all wonderful.

This year was different. This year I found the retreat to be really lousy. I mean really lousy.

I think I’m the only one who went on this retreat that didn’t love it, though - Evidently, he was hilarious, and I’m not giving him a fair shake because I wasn’t looking for a comedy act. In any event, I don’t think it’s really fair to go into all of the reasons I didn’t like the retreat when this priest isn’t here to defend himself. We’ll leave it at just this: Given that I was in the “always tired” phase of my pregnancy (and still am), I think my time would have been better spent taking a nap, instead of sleepwalking to a talk that didn’t give me anything “good”.

This time around, I think I made a mistake in that I stubbornly persisted in going to all of the talks in the hope that they might get better as he got further into his material. They didn’t, and I left the retreat feeling kind of cheated.

So, what does one do when faced with a truly lousy retreat presenter? Here are a few ideas:

(1) Take the nap.
When it becomes apparent that the retreat presenter is really focused on something other than helping enrich your spiritual life, don’t feel bad about taking the nap if you’re tired. (Your absence may help get across the message that their focus is in the wrong place.) It might be looked upon as kind of rude if you walk out in the middle of the talk. I’d suggest making this decision before you arrive at the talk.
(2) Spend that time in the chapel.
I’m sure you can think of a fairly extensive list of people who need your prayers or who have asks for them. If you don’t have an existing list, use the first 10 minutes to make one. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your thoughts and aid your memory, then start with your family, then outward from there to friends, acquaintances, neighbors, and members of your community that you don’t know. Be sure to write down your list of people and any reasons you know of that they might need your prayers.
Also, here’s a short list of good causes that need your prayers.
  • End to Abortion
  • End to Euthanasia
  • End to Poverty
  • End to Religious Persecution
  • Souls in Purgatory
  • Unity Among All Christians
  • Respect for the Dignity and Vocation of Marriage
  • …there are plenty more. You get the idea.
And if you’re still itching for more, spend some time in adoration just listening for anything he has to tell you.
Note: I’ve refrained from naming any particular devotions to use, because everyone has that favorite devotion that assists them in entering the presence of God. Use whatever is most helpful for you.
(3) Do something else to refresh your spirit.
Go for a walk. Spend some time smelling flowers. Sit down and really enjoy a cup of coffee. Take a long bath. The list goes on and on. Anything that’s quiet and helps you feel ready to refocus and get back to the daily business of serving the Lord is fair game.
(4) Write what it should have been.
I mention this, assuming you attended the first talk, and were disappointed by it. This was the case for me, and that’s exactly what I did. I spent the free time on the rest of the retreat writing a blog post containing everything I thought the first talk should have gone into that it didn’t. This had a two-fold benefit of feeding me, as it required some reading in the Catechism and in the Bible, and also giving me a more whole appreciation of what goes into preparing a retreat.
(5) Bring insurance.
This one’s kind of preemptive, but tucking a good spiritual book (preferably one with a good rep, that you’ve never read before) into your suitcase never hurt anybody, plus it gives you a measure of protection against a retreat that is genuinely unhelpful to you.
Have you ever been on a retreat that you thought was really lousy?

What did you do?

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