This past weekend, I went on Villanova Campus Ministry's fall Search Retreat. Held at Gretna Glen Retreat Center, a 200-acre wooded ground, the weekend allowed me to feel worlds away from the daily stress and worries I left behind at campus. I did not know anyone else going on it, nor did I have any expectations or ideas of what the weekend entailed. Essentially, the email communicated I was to bring a sleeping bag, a flashlight, and shoes that are good for hiking... and that was about the extent of what I knew about my retreat experience that was to come.
For how little I knew about what the next 48 would look like, I was surprisingly not nervous or anxious. I knew that, for a while now, I needed a change of pace, time to reflect and renew. I was not acting intentionally in my daily life, relationships, or in the making of my future plans. I felt like I was just floating through the weeks, too engulfed by mundane stress and responsibilities to gain a clear sense of the direction my life was taking. I looked at this weekend retreat as a time away from all the things that were drowning out the sound of my heart and soul, whose needs and wants seemed to be too far in the background. So, I got on the bus and drove an hour and a half away from "real life" and towards all the things that my heart was crying out for.
The weekend was everything I needed and more. I was reminded of so many things that used to be at the forefront of my everyday life but had seemingly faded to the back of my mind in previous months. I felt overflowing and overwhelming love: flowing in between myself and others, in between myself and God, and for the first time in a while, I felt a genuine love for myself. I was reminded that although I don't always feel lovable or capable of holiness, I always have been and always will be.
This great realization is something that I took home with me back to campus, feeling genuine and lasting joy in these days back in the grind of the school week. The joy is almost palpable. Many of the retreatants feel this similar joyful love as they return to campus. The way that I feel now after this weekend, and the way I see so many others changed for the better, tells me that the opportunity to go on retreat is truly a gift we all should be taking advantage of.
On retreat, we often has the chance to reflect on the way we've been living our lives, the relationships are invested in, the ones we are not, our faith, values, motivations, fears, and the obstacles to our happiness. No wonder it can be an emotional rollercoaster from start to finish and we always come out EXHAUSTED. Exhausted, but at the same time, feeling more alive and conscious than ever.
We are reminded of what's important to us, what we believe, and what we want in life. Sometimes these things are hard to keep up with and their value feels diminished in our everyday lives. On retreat, they feel so close to our minds and hearts. We are enlivened by them. We can return to our everyday lives renewed and reminded of how blessed and loved we are, what is possible through a love like that, and the fulfillment that comes from sticking close to our values and beliefs.
And, as if the weekend can't sound any better, we also walk away with new relationships. Experiencing so many emotions with these other individuals allows us to form bonds with those who were strangers half a day ago. What bonds us to others even more strongly is being vulnerable with each other. Sharing our pasts, fears, faiths, weaknesses, and values, we take the plunge into these new relationships. And it feels amazing. Seeing the ability we hold to impact others and the ways they can teach us so much just by sharing themselves with us, we are filled with joy.
I can go on and on about the beautiful difference a retreat can make in the hearts of so many who attend them, but for now I'll end with a reminder. The difficult part of the retreat (and most important) is finding ways to keep what you learned and experienced on the retreat with you for the weeks and months and years to come. What is true in the moment of the retreat remains true in the busy hustle of next Tuesday.
"So keep loving. Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever." -Jeffrey R. Holland