“I said to my soul be still.” – T.S. Eliot
As you are reading this, I am on my annual 8-day silent retreat. (If you could say a prayer for me, I would really appreciate it!)
Every time I share with people that I have the privilege of spending eight days of quality time with Jesus every year, I often get jealous looks. Especially from mothers of multiple children. I totally understand. But before you romanticize my life, remember there are pros and cons to every vocation. (I won’t go into the cons of living with 80 other women, but maybe you can begin to guess.)
Anyway, here’s the thing. Most people who shoot me jealous looks have no idea that retreats really are possible for lay people. Seriously. If you take just one day or half a day a month (or even a couple of hours!), it will help your spiritual life. You might be thinking, “Oh what is half a day compared to eight days?” But God is not limited by these things.
If you spend half your life changing poopy diapers, God is not going to limit the grace he gives you just because you don’t have the luxury of tons of time to spend with him. St. Ignatius, the creator of the Spiritual Exercises used in many retreats, said that one hour of prayer in a cave at Manresa taught him more about the mysteries of God “than all the doctors of the schools could ever have taught him.” One hour, folks.
So it would really be worth taking some time for a “mini retreat” this month. Even if it is just a morning. If you have enough time to watch Netflix several times a week or stare at your phone for what will end up being several years of your life by the time you die (oh man, I need to stop staring at my phone), then you have time for a mini retreat!
Here are five steps to follow for a do-it-yourself retreat:
1. Turn off your phone: No, really. Unless you are a surgeon on call or there is a real possibility of an emergency, we all can be away from our phones for at least half a day. Keep your phone in the glove box of your car if you need to access it; otherwise, leave it at home if possible. In the same vein, stay away from email, computers, tablets, radio. As much as possible, it is best if you really have silence in the short time you are able to dedicate to God. It is in the silence that he speaks to us.
2. Begin your day by going to Mass: Perfect start to any retreat. If you can make it to Mass a bit early, read the Gospel of the day and pray with it before Mass begins. Since your morning is free, try to participate in Mass in a contemplative way. Don’t think about the future or your to-do list. Ask your guardian angel to help you focus. When you receive the Eucharist, ask Jesus to give you all the grace of a good retreat.
3. Go to Eucharistic adoration: If you can attend Mass at a parish that also has a Eucharistic adoration chapel, this is ideal because after Mass you can book it to the chapel and spend some extra time in prayer. You may not get much time to pray like this so use the time well. Soak Jesus in. Ask him to give you the graces and insight you need to feel revitalized, converted, and transformed after this short time of retreat.
4. Take a Rosary walk: I am a huge fan of Rosary walks. Yuuuge! After you have spent time praying in the morning, go to a nearby park or some scenic place where you will not be disturbed and take a walk and pray the Rosary slowly and meditatively as you walk. Take in the beauty around you and thank God for it; let it soothe your soul. Let God speak to you through the beautiful world that he created. If you enjoy taking pictures, pause every once in a while to capture something beautiful. Or write a short poem. Then go back to praying the Rosary.
5. Try to fit in three prayer periods: If you are doing a half-day retreat, go all in. Pray for as much of that time as you can handle. You may feel hesitant to do that. But it really is not as hard as it seems. Break up your prayer into 45 minute periods (but also don’t feel like you have to stick to that). In between, try journaling, spiritual reading or just drinking a cup of coffee and looking out the window. If you are unable to do your prayer periods in a church, choose a place that is quiet and away from others. My mom set aside one closet in our house for prayer and I always knew not to bother her if she was in the “prayer closet” when I was younger. If something like that won’t work in your house, try to get away to an adoration chapel, the sanctuary of a church, or even a park or a beach.
There are many other things that you could do on a half-day or one-day retreat. These are just ideas. But don’t sweat the details too much. What really matters is silent time with God.
Don’t overthink it.
But if you are able to take this time away, you won’t regret it. In fact, get out your calendars and try to put aside time now!
(And say another prayer that I have a good retreat. All of you are in my prayers as well!)
Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God. – St. John of the Cross