I recently returned from a weekend-long silent retreat. The weeks prior to this had been very difficult for me emotionally and spiritually as I hadn’t had a day to myself in months, which is not good for a stay at home dad of four boys. My family had just finished the holidays and all the busyness that entails. On top of that, we had just moved into a new house. Needless to say life had been very hectic and I needed a break. It’s not that I wanted to get away from my family: I was suffering spiritually and I knew I needed a chance to reboot and get my prayer life back on track. My mood was always sour, I was losing patience with the boys, and I was turning to food for comfort instead of God. So, my wife sent me to the ocean for the weekend to get away and clear my mind and soul.
Yep, my wife is really awesome.
Here’s what happened…
I was in denial
It’s hard to admit that I had lost control of myself. I lost control of my health, my prayer life, and the battle against the enemy. I had allowed myself to become vulnerable to Satan and his lies. But somehow, regardless of my suffering, I would tell myself that it was just a phase and I could fix it. I never thought I was a person to be in denial of anything, but that’s the cleverness of the devil. He knows how to cloud your mind from reality.
I am broken
Once I got past the denial I admitted to myself, and to God, that I was broken. I had spent the last few years trying to heal the wounds I accumulated from childhood, and I thought I had gotten over them. But after the healing I neglected to maintain my soul’s peace, so it began to collect darkness again. After the soul is healed and made pure again, it needs to be filled with all things holy. I neglected to do this, and so it began to collect the very stuff I worked to get rid of.
I need healing
Like a lost child I felt vulnerable, and as a child I asked God for his healing. I needed God to take this suffering from me and show me what to do next. I knew I couldn’t fight this internal battle without Christ’s grace and mercy. He is the true healer and I was trying to heal myself, which never works.
I need God more than I realize
Not only do I need God’s help with healing, I realized God also needs to be present in my everyday life. God needs to be present in my actions, my words, and in how I love my family. God was not present in every aspect of my life and that’s why it was falling apart. I was on autopilot and reacting to stressors as they came. What I should have been doing was preparing myself with prayer for the day ahead, or even the hour ahead. I have to begin being aware, spiritually, of my surroundings.
I did not truly believe that Jesus loves me
You know the old hymn, “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” You see, I knew that Christ loved me; it’s what I learned going to church. I knew and saw people who were totally in love with Christ and had the most incredible amount of joy. They were on fire because they could feel Christ’s love for them. I, on the other hand, didn’t feel the fire. I think deep down I felt undeserving of Christ’s love because I didn’t love myself. It was the enemy’s ploy to make me feel ashamed of myself before God, therefore shielding my heart from God’s grace. In the year of mercy, I felt that everyone deserves it, but not me.
I intentionally distract myself
One of the biggest reasons why my troubles were growing stronger is because I was ignoring them. Instead of seeking help and praying, I would give my attention to work around the house, TV, my phone, or food. This is where the denial came in. I couldn’t handle the fact that I was hurting again and I didn’t want to think about it. So instead I ignored the issues and allowed pressure to build up inside until it finally came to the surface. I should have reached out the minute I felt my spiritual life was off.
The Lord has been with me all along
God has a way of letting you know when you need to snap out of it, and it’s usually a very humbling experience. As I watched the ocean waves before me, in awe of their power and chaos, and saw the peaceful waters beyond, it reminded me that God is always in control. No matter how scary and difficult life can get, God is there to guide you if you ask for His hand. I, in my blindness, lost sight of this and chose to go it alone. When we do this we only pave a path leading to nowhere. God reminded me that He is the light and the truth, and when we follow Him we will never go astray.
Mary wants to heal and comfort
At this point I began praying the Rosary. I was crying uncontrollably as I released my sorrow and allowed the Holy Spirit work in me. While the tears rolled I had a vision of Mary in my head. She was standing above me with a smile on her face. In my head I heard her tell me that she has always been with me, eager to provide me with comfort and love. As with any loving mother, Mary wanted to hold her troubled son and sooth his weary head. Again, I was too blind to see her. I asked Our Lady to hold me and help me get my life back on track. I remembered that a devotion to Mary will bring me closer to Christ, which is what I needed all along.
I truly, deeply love my family
As Our Lady brought me comfort she helped me realize how great my life is. I am such a wealthy man because my riches lie in my wife and children (and of course, in God). God had blessed me with all I need and I was becoming ungrateful. As a child, all I ever prayed for was to one day have a family of my own that I could love, and God gave me just that. God wants to make us happy.
A real man admits when he is powerless
My pride and denial stopped me from receiving the grace God wanted so bad to give me. When I finally broke free of the chains inside and allowed the Holy Spirit to fill me, I made a vow to never allow myself to stray from God. I admitted that I needed Him now more than ever and I couldn’t find true joy without Him. God holds the key to freedom and can give me the tools to become a man.
I am a better person than I give myself credit for
I am definitely my own worst enemy. I can verbally abuse myself better than anyone around, and when I get in a funk I really know how to punch where it hurts the most. I’m a real jerk to myself sometimes. But by the end of my retreat I felt a love for myself that I never felt before. I could finally recognize the man God raised me to be, the man my wife and kids love, and the man I will one day become. I could feel that God has so much more in store for my life and I was excited for the future.
My true identity is a child of God
At the end of the day I went to confession. The priest and I discussed the purpose of my silent retreat and the events that led up to it. I told him that I was struggling to feel comfortable in my own skin and that I was feeling so lost. The priest told me that when all seems chaotic and nothing makes sense, we can find solace in knowing that we are children of God. That’s our true identity and purpose in life. When we love God above all things, He will bring us peace in all things. This was so much of a relief for me, such a huge weight lifted. My mission is to love and serve God and help my family do the same. God will take care of the rest.
The ocean is the best place for a silent retreat
The sound of the waves crashing on the rocks and the beach help me drown out the outside noise. Its rhythm puts me in some sort of daze, if you will, that allows me to focus internally. There is just something very spiritual and mesmerizing about the ocean that reminds me of God’s presence, and I’ll continue to hold my silent retreats there again.
This is the message God gave me during my retreat. What messages will God reveal to you when you go on your own DIY retreat? Go on your own spiritual retreat or ask your diocese if they hold retreats. Don’t let the enemy bring you down to his level. Instead, be proactive and fight for your salvation. Go to the sacraments and seek guidance from a spiritual director. Above all, never stop reaching for Christ!