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How an extrovert survived a silent retreat

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Photo credit: Josh Applegate

So, I was on retreat last week. Before I left, I had been telling people that it was my first ever retreat, but that’s not exactly true. I did go on another one back in 2009, but there was no silence, phones were allowed and the other “retreatants” were some of my closest female friends. So, it wasn’t so much a retreat as a fun trip away with my Catholic gal pals.

Confession: even though it wasn’t a silent retreat, I still managed to get into trouble for talking too much.

This one was different. My laptop, phone and Apple watch all stayed switched off and in the car to free me from the temptation of having a quick look at my emails or messages. I was also retreating in a one-person hermitage, away from the main retreat centre, so I couldn’t be distracted by other people.

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While in theory, I was looking forward to the time away, I wasn’t really. I am at the extreme “extrovert” end of the extroversion/introversion scale, and I do not like being uncontactable, particularly from all the craziness of the world.

Some people speak about being separated from their phone as having their arm cut off. I sympathise, but don’t they know a person can still function without an arm? In my case, it’s more like having some vital organ removed. There was some doubt in my mind whether I would survive my spiritual getaway.

Maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but you get the point.

I’m not exactly retreat material. However, the retreat was a present from some dear friends who thought I would really benefit from a holiday with Jesus, and so I took their counsel seriously. That it was a gift was probably what kept me so focused, because if I had paid for the retreat, I might have been more open to breaking it with a sneaky glance at my phone or laptop.

Photo credit: Mitch hodge

Instead, I entered into it fully and I’m so glad I did. For those of you who have never been on a retreat before, this is a “pitch” for why you should consider it, from a recent convert to the cause.

The first thing is that it is a great lesson in humility. I don’t know about you, but I can be tempted to think that the world (or at least those with whom I am in daily contact) may not survive if they can’t reach me. But going on retreat forced me to let go of my messianic tendencies and realise that everyone will survive just fine without me.

Second, it gave me permission to focus on God. I’m not sure if you have the same experience, but I can feel guilty about taking time away from the important tasks before me and the people around me to do the “one thing necessary.” But on this retreat, I was expected to switch off, and would have failed had I done otherwise.

Third, a change of scenery really did change the nature and quality of my prayer. Being in very beautiful, peaceful surroundings is conducive to communing with the God of creation because you can’t help but marvel at the wonder of his works.

This succeeds even if you don’t have time for a “retreat”—even taking a couple of hours by the ocean or in a park can have the same effect.  And while I love the fact that there is a chapel at the archdiocesan chancery and there is daily Mass and plenty of opportunity to visit Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, it does help when you choose a prayer space that isn’t conveniently located just a few feet from your desk.

Fourth, it was also a good opportunity to sleep. There were solid periods of prayer and contemplation throughout the day, but they can only last so long. I managed to repay the sleep debt of recent months and even sneak in the odd “nanna nap,” which was a complete win.

Lastly, and most importantly, getting to spend focused, one-on-one time with us brings joy to the heart of Jesus, who eagerly waits for whatever time we will spend with him.

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