By Fran Lavelle
My last official act as the campus minister for the college students at Mississippi State was a peer-led retreat at Lake Forest Ranch the weekend of October 17-19. This year’s theme was “The One and Only” and the talks revolved around on the things that keep us from staying focused on God. The weekend was glorious. The weather was beautiful, the camp was enshrined with early signs of fall, and the students who took this spiritual
journey to the woods were exceptional. It was in a word: perfect. I was reminded of how precious and essential these opportunities away with God really are.
Once back in Jackson I wondered why more people don’t take advantage of opportunities to take retreats. One of the talks, given by college sophomores Anna Jackson from Starkville and John Suedel from Clinton, was on time. They correctly pointed out that we have a misguided concept of “making time” for God. God, they asserted, made time. We do not need to make more of it. What we do need, however, is recognize that God should not be appropriated to a few fleeting minutes in the “busyness” of our days.
Rather, they contended, God should be in all that we are and all that we do. In essence, all our words, actions and thoughts should be focused on bringing greater glory to God. If we “take” time to center ourselves on Christ and we take time to deepen our intimacy with Him we will as a result be more intentional and focused on God. I marveled at their awareness and insight.
It occurred to me that we “make” time for the things that matter most to us. We travel weekend after weekend to tournaments, juggle kids between activities, travel to major cities to hear our favorite artist in concert or spend an entire day taking in a college football game. Now, before you criticize me let me say I love the garden and enjoy entertaining dinner guests. I love watching the sunset. I love spending time with family and friends. I get it.
These are the activities that make life special. It is not in the “doing” of these things that trips us up. It is when we adopt “activity” over presence. It’s when we jump from activity to activity rendering ourselves completely exhausted at the day’s end. It’s when we are so busy taking pictures to post on social media that we failed to “see” what is actually happening. Perhaps we fail to recognize that how present we are to others impacts how present we are to God.
I was walking into the office this morning with the usual background sounds of city traffic, sirens and car radios. The juxtaposition of waking up Sunday morning to the calls of nature versus the daily noise of life called me to recognize why retreats really matter. We were not hard-wired for the fast-paced, instantaneous world we live in. However, we have become conditioned to accept the insidious pace of modern life.
I remember in the 80s my dad used to give me a hard time about yuppies being “stressed out” all of the time. Our world then was a cacophony of bleeping fax machines, conference calls and hauling around cell phones that were the size of a shoe box. We thought we were busy.
The speed of life has exponentially increased since then. We multitask, we devour media nearly 24/7, we are literally lost without our smart phones and Facebook reminds us daily of how we’re doing in “keeping up with the Joneses.” Psalm 46:10 reminds us, “Be still and know that I am God.” What better way than a retreat to help us find the space and the freedom to put on pause the duties that press us into frenzied activity?
Advent will soon be here. Perhaps a retreat would help integrate a prayerful experience in the midst of Christmas parties, shopping and decorating. You don’t have to make a special trip to a retreat center. If you love the beach, make a trip to your favorite coastal town. If you enjoy hiking a trip to the mountains may be just what you need to reconnect with God.
A favorite retreat for me has always been a weekend alone at a state park. I fast from noise – no radio, television or cds. I take a journal, my Bible and spiritual reading. In the beginning the silence is too much to bear. I think I’ll go crazy before the weekend ends. Many years later, the silence for me has become a welcomed opportunity. My visits with God rarely involve audible words.
My college students reminded me quite profoundly the misguided notion of making time for God. If we take two weekends a year for retreat, that leaves us with 50 more to do the other things we enjoy. If weekends away are not for whatever reason do-able let’s be aware of those pockets of time and space which allow our hearts and minds to be present to God, our One and Only.
(Fran Lavelle is the director of the Office of Faith Formation)