At the beginning of January, the missionaries here at Covecrest did an eight-day retreat. Not just any eight-day retreat, but an eight-day silent retreat. We’ve known about the retreat since the beginning of the year in September, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that the day before our two-week Christmas break, we began praying and talking about it as a community. The retreat is a combination of meditations taken from St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, personal spiritual direction, and nightly conferences with all the retreatants led by one of the directors, Brother John. Oh, and of course there is the silence.
Eight days. 192 hours. 11,520 minutes. All in complete silence and solitude. However you add it up, it’s intimidating. Sure, some of the missionaries were excited. After Christmas breaks at home that felt more like mission trips to unsupportive family or friends, some of the community was ready for a retreat and intimate time with God. I, on the other hand, could describe my feelings for the retreat as nothing less than terrified. Earlier in our year, Jason, the camp director at Covecrest had the opportunity to do a silent retreat led by Brother John in Colorado. He encouraged us to see the gift in this opportunity to spend intimate time between just us and the Lord. All I could think was that his retreat was only four days. 96 hours. A mere 5,760 minutes.
The first night of our silence I couldn’t sleep, so I opened my Bible to my first meditation, the first verse of John 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” I didn’t know that over the next eight days, God would patiently and relentlessly tell me over and over again to take heart and to be unafraid.
The Ignatian Exercises include meditations where you try to imagine yourself in a gospel story, experiencing the scene and characters and actually speaking with Jesus. One of my favorite meditations was from the gospel when the disciples meet Jesus walking on the water (Mt 14:22-33). I imagined the fear I would have felt had Jesus left me alone in a boat at sea at night, and thought of the times in my life that I have felt abandoned or forgotten by God. At their most desperate hour, Jesus cries out to the disciples, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Before the eight day, I never realized how much fear ruled my heart. Maybe I did, but I was too afraid to even admit it! While I knew in my head that Jesus was safe, on my side, and fighting for me, I had somehow still allowed fear to reign in my heart. I was afraid of everything from spiders and the dark to discerning my vocation and talking about the difficult times in my life. Over the eight-day, I realized that those fears got me nowhere when Jesus was calling me to walk, even walk on water! In eight days of silence and prayer, I made the decision to leave those fears behind and follow Jesus unreservedly.
For the first time in as long as I can remember, I can say I am confident and unafraid. I pray today you can overcome a fear, no matter how small, by trusting Jesus. After all, He is calling out to us everyday, “Take courage it is I!”