If you’re looking for a retreat that will bring you closer to Jesus, Julie Davis will be happy to be your retreat guide. You won’t even have to leave your house – and neither will she. She conducts this retreat of sorts in her book “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life.”
The atheist-turned-Catholic author and blogger (“Happy Catholic”) had adopted the discipline of reading the Catechism daily and discovered that some of the greatest saints in history emphasized the importance of their close friendship with Jesus. She realized that she didn’t have that.
As Julie told me during a “Christopher Closeup” interview, “Intellectually, I totally believe in Christ as the Son of God and that He redeems me…But [I didn’t have] that daily friendship that St. Augustine and Teresa of Avila were talking about. I thought, ‘I should be trying for this.’…I started focusing on getting closer to Jesus. For me, I need a book or something, so I started collecting various quotes from Scripture and [other sources] that helped me open that door.”
One of the best pieces of advice Julie received came from her friend, Father John Libone, who observed, “Everyone wants the key to finding God, but there is no lock.”
What was Julie’s lesson from that comment? “God knows us so well. He meets us where we are. We don’t have to be afraid that we’re not talking to God right. If we’re striving to do something differently – like my continual struggle to talk more like Jesus’s good friend instead of more formally – He’s going to meet me there.”
In Julie’s case, for instance, she experiences a deeper connection with God through reading books and watching movies than more traditional routes like saying the rosary. She says, “[God] gave me that love of story. I’m created with it, and He uses it. Once I converted, I was reading books asking, ‘How did I never notice in Jane Eyre that prayer is a thread throughout this whole story?’ I saw everything with new eyes. I just reread Dracula [and noticed] this huge spiritual message. It is talking about good versus evil, about how the supernatural is right in front of us but modern man shuts his eyes to it. It is talking about the Eucharist in the most reverent terms, and it uses the Eucharist to remind everybody at the end to behave in a sacrificial Christ-like manner for their friends to defeat this evil…I’ve read the book many times, [but only now] had my eyes opened.”
That “eye opening” involves listening to God, which is one of the first pieces of advice in “Seeking Jesus in Everyday Life.” It can be difficult to do in our noisy world, but Julie shares what she’s learned from personal experience:
“The hardest thing is to sit there and listen and not start telling God everything that He should be doing and how you’d like you’re life to be different. Sometimes there will be definite thoughts that pop into my head and, if they’re a surprise, I know they’re not my idea. A lot of times it’s just gentle nudges, which is why it’s important to listen. It’s like with your family or friends, if you’re listening to them enough, you’ll notice nudges in a certain direction, like ‘We haven’t done this for a long time’ or ‘They really like that.’ Those are the nudges Jesus gives in the same way. If you’re talking to Him openly enough about what you’re afraid of, what you hope for…eventually the thoughts or nudges or even something you read in a book or see in a movie are going to connect.”
The friendship that Julie developed with Jesus didn’t prevent her from getting angry with Him one time. But even that instance wound up with a positive resolution.
She recalled, “My daughter had been going through very severe depression, and I had been the main person she could turn to during that time.. I was in a retreat meeting, and we had been talking about thanking God for everything at all times. I was driving home and said, ‘Oh my gosh, that means I should thank Him for her depression.’ And there I was, speaking plainly out loud, [challenging God], saying, ‘How dare You want me to thank You for that?'”
Julie calmed down soon after and talked to her daughter about this teaching. She suggested they pray about it together. “So we knelt there in silent prayer,” continued Julie. “And then she said, ‘You know what? I just realized I wouldn’t have been able to give this classmate good advice about getting back on his medication if I didn’t know what he was going through.'”
Both Julie and her daughter came to see that incident as an example of how God can use bad things to bring about something good – or, in other words, to light a candle rather than curse the darkness.
The idea of sharing God’s light is something Julie hopes to accomplish with her book. She concludes, “When you move forward with your candle, you’re illuminating all these other wonderful things and helping others. The darkness is always around us. But if you have that candle and then you light someone else’s, your own flame is not diminished. Their flame doubles [the light], and the darkness becomes a little less. And the light becomes stronger because Christ is that light that we’re holding in our candle.”
(To listen to my two-part interview with Julie Davis, click on the podcast links):