Written by Deacon Roger Carr-Jones Marriage & Family Life Co-ordinator
Going on retreat is always beneficial although it can be fraught with unexpected dangers and surprises, as we learn to travel in a new environment. Without the benefit of a guide we can stumble, become distracted or weighed down as we focus on our own inadequacies rather than our gifts. This is quite natural. However, as we travel further the light begins to illuminate our unique landscape and we gain new insights and rediscover how Our Lord has already been gently leading us. If we had trepidation when entering the retreat, coming back into everyday life can be a challenge too, as we sense everyday concerns reasserting themselves on our restored inner landscape.
The secret, like a deep-sea diver, is to emerge in stages and experience a time of decompression so that we readjust to our normal environment. As we come to the close of the first stage of lockdown are we reemerging into the light with mixed feelings, conflicted emotions and a lack of clarity? If so, this is natural. Take time to review your journey through lockdown as an individual, married couple, or a family. What has been your story of this time and how might it shape the future narrative of the Church?
Have you gained some new insights, become more aware of the ways in which the Holy Spirit nudges us into new forms of self-discovery and prayer, or has it been a tad challenging? In truth for many of us it is very likely to be a mix of different emotions, happenings and encounters, which will shape our onward journey. The model of a retreat reminds us of the need to stay in contact with the Lord, to share our inner-most feelings and fears, and to see things in a different way. How, as a couple, have we been able to use lockdown to go a little deeper into the dynamic of our relationship?
Taking time out to talk to each other allows us to see God’s grace active in our marriage. Pope Francis refers to God’s grace as “it shows us how God works” and that includes in the realities of our lived existence. As a couple we are always a work-in-progress and not the finished article in this life and yet in our shared love we reveal God to others. Allowing ourselves to be transformed and shaped by Grace is only a difficulty when we fail to stop, look candidly at the situation, learn to say ‘sorry’ and then move on together. Reviewing how our relationship has prospered under lockdown, as a couple and family, enables us to see the positives and to seek healing where this is necessary.
For me, personally, lockdown has been a mixed experience as the landscape was initially unexpected, lacked boundaries and was experienced differently by my wife and I. It was only by talking about things that we could share our different environments, identify common sign-posts and also learn to see where God was leading us at this time. If we had avoided or overlooked our need to be open, especially in the context of prayer, then we would not have really known how we both felt and, importantly, what we needed from each other.
Again, lockdown has been a time for us to connect to our grown-up children in a new way, making more time to contact and to affirm their individual giftedness. This doesn’t always mean agreeing with their choices but to be aware that we are at that point of accompanying them on their onward journey. Love and prayer remain at the core of our mission. However, if my children had still been young or of school age, my experience and concerns are likely to have been very different. It is what we choose to do with those experiences, to recognise the action of Grace even in the struggles, that makes the difference.
At the close of a retreat, it is a good idea to record those events of the journey which stood out, both positive and negative. By referring back to these in the months ahead we will be able to ensure that we maintain a forward movement. They provide a guide to our inner landscape.
As we leave lockdown what would we want to say about our journey? What new insights have we acquired and what have we learnt about each other? Hopefully we have felt more affirmed, experienced a stronger sense of mutual love and support, and felt able to express our worries and fears. In addition, where have we sensed Jesus in the mix, helping us to feel reassured? If our journey has been more unsettled, then do not worry but seek advice that will enable a sense of balance to be restored.
If we seek help for our spiritual journey then is only right to seek out the support and help we may need for our relationships.