Silent retreat FAIL.

So I’ve just come back from my first Carmelite silent retreat. It was awesome.

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With 3 kids and a sick husband i could only commit to going for 24 hours so I was determined to make the most of it. Of course my alarm didn’t go off the morning i was going, so I arrived late and unfortunately i missed the first talk.

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When I did get there I suddenly realised that i had completely forgotten to reply to the original email so there for i had forgotten to book a room, and it seems they were fully booked.

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Thankfully, one of the other seculars was leaving that afternoon, so they allowed me to stay in her room. I apologised, and thanked her – in silence.

Actually the silence was exactly what i needed. I was tired from my stressful morning and 2 hour drive and so the first thing i did was to make a cup of tea and go and find a nice spot in the beautiful grounds to sit quietly on my own. Of course at this point it started raining.

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Never mind. There was some benches undercover, and the chapel was open 24/7. So i had a little explore round silently on my own.

After about an hour i started getting restless. An hour of silence is a complete luxury for me. In fact i would go as far as to say it is completely alien. I have 3 screaming kids and an unemployed husband. My home is NOT a quiet place. I’m just not used to it any more. I didn’t realise how noisy my life had become.

But the real issue was the fact that the silence was making me aware of all the internal noise going on within me. It was actually making me extremely uncomfortable. Ironically, at home, the constant screaming and shouting actually serves to distract me from what is going on inside me. But now i was in a situation where the silence was forcing me to confront the things inside. It was ugly. I didn’t want to admit a lot of stuff. I needed to find a distraction.

So i got my phone out and went on Facebook. In silence.

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When I had finally summed up enough courage to instruct my friends to block me for the next 24 hours because i was on silent retreat (because i have no will power AT ALL) I finally found myself alone. With God.

I couldn’t take it! I just COULDN’T TAKE IT ANYMORE!!! So i started talking to myself. Out loud.

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Thankfully at this point it was time for the second talk which focused on Teresa of Avila and how she described our own personal relationship with God as something that is inseparable from our relationship within our own communities, and how we need great humility to be able to live this active/contemplative life of prayer. And even though the talk was excellent and hit exactly the right chord – this was pretty much the last straw for me.

I had to face the ugly fact that i had been using prayer as a distraction from my responsibilities as a wife and a mother. The truth is that i’m not particularly enjoying my vocation at the moment. It feels like i am completely trapped in a life of screaming kids and “conversations” about the fact that we have not had an income for 18 months and what the hell we are going to do about it.  My home feels like a prison. God is the jailer and my sentence is marriage and family (God forgive me for saying so…)

To admit the fact that i am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted and heavily resenting my vocation is something i had been avoiding admitting to myself for a long, long time. Besides – when you are in the situation of constant noise and relentless activity, the exhaustion becomes, well, normal. It is only when faced with silence, real silence, that the external and internal distractions start to melt away and I find myself alone with God. This is Carmel.

“Ok.” I said out loud. “If i’m going to have to face this with You then I’m going to need a packet of Cigarettes.”

four hands of teens with thumbs up gestures and cigarettes

“WHAT???!!!” I hear you say – “A Catholic mother of 3 smoking???!!! On retreat???!!!”  Yes, I’m afraid so. I spent most of the rest of the evening sitting outside in the rain smoking, and and polarising between being extremely angry with God, and begging Him for help. In fact I stayed out there so long into the night, I actually found myself locked out of the retreat centre. In the rain.

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So eventually they let me in and I went to my room to dry my tears and lay down in the silence – until the fire alarm went of at 1am and proceeded to “BLAH!BLAH!BLAH!” until 4am.

Awesome silent retreat. Awesome.

14 thoughts on “Silent retreat FAIL.

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post this morning. Our circumstances are different but I sure do relate to the screaming in silence, and the running away feeling. But God keeps tracking me down and in the most creative ways. Thanks so much for your story, and I would LOVE to smoke again… but, alas, its not in my hands.

  2. I don’t call that a fail!

    You have been without an income for 18 months and on top of that have been forced to sell your business by the bullying of a disproportionate sector of the population (who will not tolerate those who disagree, who they insist must tolerate them, regardless of conscience, and their view, not yours which is equally valid. holds sway in law). That stress now affects your capacity to fulfil your vocation.

    Many would go under; you haven’t. It’s difficult to know how to encourage you, because it’s not within my power to help you out of that stress. I’ll just leave you with two short tales, and what I hope might be a chink of light.

    This is an old one and you might have heard it before:

    As the Jesuits began to give the Exercises, rumours began to circulate that those who did them saw terrible things – devils and the like. One retreatant was asked if this were true. He replied:

    “They did worse than that; they showed me myself.”

    Long years ago, I had a bout of flu. I thought it would be an opportunity to pray more, but I couldn’t concentrate enough. I complained to one of the Claver Sisters in our parish, who quoted one of the saints as saying that when you were ill, your job was no more than to be ill.

    I have just remembered an old Ignatian principle: don’t make decisions from a position of depression. I’m not saying you are depressed, but your situation would be enough to get anyone down, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Did you have an opportunity for individual direction? If not, it may be helpful to speak to a Spiritual Director. I’m sure I’m teaching my grandmother to suck eggs ……. (and I should do some of these things myself …… )

    I feel I have spent my whole life achieving nothing much. I have always wanted the Church to get more involved in Evangelisation, but there was no opportunity until now, and now I am too old and too much affected by mobility problems, to be able to do what I always wished I could. I started a Theology degree, but wasn’t able to finish it – I got discouraged by being so old and not being able to do anything with it as I could have earlier in life. I have spent my whole life as a Catholic with the Church lukewarm under the influence of Kasper and the like, so no-one to stretch me in my Faith and now that there are younger more orthodox people in sight, I have to cope with the fact that will not live long enough to see one as my parish priest.

    What an awful moaning Minnie! But here comes my little bit of encouragement. I am no more responsible for the circumstances I have lived in than are you. Maybe, given the influence of Kasper and others, we have done better than we think in sticking to the teaching of the Church and not getting caught up in the relativism which has affected so many who you’d think were much better known and much more significant theologians.

    Maybe, just by hanging on in there and sticking to our principles (as you did in selling your business) we have achieved more than we think. If we find it tough, so did Ratzinger – and although his brain leaves mine standing miles behind, as does his spirituality, there was still a limit to what he could achieve.

    Hang on in there!

    • Anne, may I humbly suggest that you are in a very good position to engage in Evangelism. You can be fully engaged in the most important part of any evangelistic activity… You can PRAY!
      BLESS YOU!

  3. I just saw a meme that stated how the devil leaves empty houses alone but throttles those who are persevering; even if having a difficult time of it. You sound so much like me! I have a time getting to the ugliness of my own thoughts, actions and inactions too. Even the smoking fits me. lol The thing is… you are not alone in your struggle! I do hope you can find a good spiritual director to help you continue to persevere. May the peace of Christ be with you.

  4. That actually sounds like just the retreat you needed right now. The spiritual journey begins with the purgative, and that requires honesty with God and yourself. If God’s giving you that grace right away, then it’s best to go with it.

    (Oh, and I can completely relate to the “smoking in the rain on retreat” bit.)

    • We should go for a drink Kensy! Teresa received great spiritual advice from the General of the Jesuits at the time!

  5. Doesn’t sound like a fail at all. “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Sometimes what we need most are those moments of brokenness.

  6. Clare, that was no failure but a resounding success. You achieved more than most of us ever do. I am praying for you as I am sure lots of your friends are. The road is never smooth, God is always there with you even if it doesn’t always seem that way. We never know what is plans for us are and they are not usually what we expected or want – but as the prayer says “Thy will be done”.
    God Bless

  7. Reblogged this on Deaconjohn1987's Blog and commented:
    Been there, done that! Good things will come to you soon Clare! God has a plan for your life. Back in the early 80’s, I lost my job; with a wife and four kids, I cried out, “why me God?” The answer came from my pastor, move back to New York; he even paid for the plane fare! I got a job in one day, saved for three months, brought the family back, and entered a formation class to be ordained a deacon. See, God had a plan for me too! 🙂 Thumbs Up!

  8. It’s very difficult to turn off the “noise” inside. Those who can require much mental and spiritual discipline. Don’t beat yourself up cuz you could only handle an hour or so of silence. That’s more than I can do.

    As someone who is also with an unemployed husband and a child, I totally understand your stress. We live off my limited unemployment benefits for now, but we have to totally rely on God and His Will if we stand to have a roof over our heads. Hang in there. He’s got you in His hand.

  9. Pingback: Faith In Our Families blog round-up 2015. Best year yet! | Faith in our Families

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