There are a plethora of reasons to give to avoid going on a 3-night, offsite retreat, and I was the queen of finding them. I, a newish Catholic at the time, was still uncomfortable in my faith. I wasn’t well-versed in the mass responses and up to this particular point in my life, I had never even prayed a full rosary on my own. What I didn’t lack was a good friend with great persistence; a carryover blessing from my time in RCIA, who was insistent that this retreat called ACTS would change my life. The ACTS retreat was put on by our parish once a year, and each year I was disinclined to leave my young children, full-time job, and husband, to be whisked away to some unknown place where I would be forced to dwell with much churchier, holier women and be well-outside of my comfort zone.
It took my friend three years for me to finally, and rather reluctantly, say yes. And with my yes, she rewarded me by giving me absolutely no insight into what I was to expect. In fact, she went radio silent.
When the day came that I was to meet at our parish hall to load a bus for the ACTS retreat weekend, I can’t say that I went kicking and screaming, but I certainly wasn’t pleasantly willing. I knew one person who was also registered to go on retreat, but she called me an hour before we were to be at the church to let me know that she had to regrettably back out. As she was telling me this, she was unaware that I had unofficially prescribed her to be my lifeline for the weekend- the familiar face I thought I needed to see among the sea of strangers to get me through the next three nights. What I didn’t realize until later was that God’s plan for me was greater than my own, and it was by His infallible design that I was to experience the ACTS retreat independently.
In Thomas Hart’s book, Coming Down the Mountain: How to Turn Your Retreat into Everyday Living, he expresses how God has a profound presence within the confines of a retreat. He goes on to say that retreats are “a privileged time in which God visits you in a special way.” I will effusively bear witness to this. God drew me to this retreat at His perfect timing and helped limit my distractions by summoning my going alone. He then named my shame and entered into them one by one by one and began a prolific healing process within me. To say I came out of the retreat a different person is exceptionally understated.
After going on retreat, I have a greater understanding of why the friend who invited me didn’t give me an agenda or answer my 101 questions on what to expect. It is with good reason that none of the elements of this deified weekend are unveiled any earlier than at the time God intended them to be. In this passage from Acts, we are offered the description of the early Church as the apostles break bread, worship, share, and give of themselves to serve. This is the very foundation on which the retreat was built and the structure by which it is emulated.
It’s been five years since I made my ACTS retreat, and the experience undoubtedly brought light back to my waning faith. It wasn’t so much that I was going dark on the Lord, but after RCIA, I had simply stopped learning about my faith. Add two kids at 17-months apart to that equation and even mass was too much for my husband and I to manage- or so we allowed ourselves to believe. I returned to my family with a deep, penetrating fire burning in my heart for God, and there was nothing in the secular world that could’ve softened my glow and still hasn’t.
And all those churchier, holier strangers I was worried about? They are now my family, my sisters, and my very best friends- all having gone in mostly unwilling and coming out filled with His abundant grace and mercy. We all share an impenetrable bond, as believers in fellowship, and are always seeking others with whom to share this blessed experience.
Reflect: Have you ever come out of something you didn’t initially want to do just to realize God was with you the whole time? How did it make you feel to know that it was His plan all along?
Act: Take time to look into the ACTS retreats today and prayerfully discern if this is the retreat for you. www.actsmissions.org