During the weekend of March 21–23, I was privileged to attend the Spiritual Formation Retreat. I cannot begin to describe the effect this retreat has had on my life, my relationship with everyone who was on the retreat, and my relationship with God. I was extremely skeptical prior to going on the retreat. I had heard so many good things about it, yet I felt like our class did not have a strong bond before the retreat. This led me to be skeptical of how it would turn out. But it was life changing and an experience that I will never forget.
The best part of the retreat was Friday night during our community activities. These activities helped me get to know not only my classmates better, but also myself. During our first activity, we had to pick an animal to describe us and our spirituality, I chose a mouse. I chose a mouse because I’ve always thought of myself as tiny and weak, and when I would try and go do something I would become afraid and run away like a mouse does. It was amazing to see which animals people picked for themselves, and it was very eye-opening to see that we often see ourselves differently than others see us.
Then we did an activity called two truths and lie where we told three things about ourselves, two being true, and one being false, and then people have to guess which one is false. During this game people really began opening up about deeply personal things. It brought me to tears knowing that barriers had been broken and people were being completely open by being honest with each other. I was so proud of everyone for opening themselves up to each other, yet in the back of my mind I was a little sad because I knew I could have said more. Instead of being open, I continued to act like a mouse and did not have to courage to speak up. But then came our final activity of the night that changed everything for me. This activity was called affirmation, which is where we got a slip of paper, and wrote something nice about everyone on the retreat. Being able to affirm others and receive affirmation from others was very emotional for me. I loved being able to tell the people that I care about how special they are and how much they mean to me, but the most shocking part was what my classmates thoughts of me. Everyone’s thoughts did not reflect what I thought of myself. I had accepted the fact that I was the timid and shy girl that sat in the background quietly, so it was very shocking hearing others say things like: “You are a mouse with a roar louder than a lion;” “You may be shy but you have a strong and vivid spirit;” and “I am woman, hear me roar.” As I was thinking about all the activities we did on Friday and reflecting on them, a realization hit me all of a sudden. I realized that I don’t have to be a scared little mouse anymore. I am surrounded by people who see the good in me, believe in me, and like me for who I am. Therefore, this experience helped free me of the fear I had been experiencing. Another statement that really struck me was when one of my classmates said, “Sometimes I think you sell yourself short.” Honestly when he said this, he was confirming what I already knew in my heart. I had let fear hold me back from doing things, sayings things, and believing in myself. After hearing him say what I already knew, it was like I was free from my fear. So, on the first day of the retreat I learned that it is okay to be who I am because God loves me and other people do as well. This was when I really felt that our class was becoming a close knit community and not just some people who saw each other in class every day. We had become something more. I finally felt connected with these people.
After the community activities, we went to bed in silence. We were not supposed to talk, text, or any other type of verbal communication. Going to bed and waking up in silence was a challenge, not so much because of the silence, but because we were not allowed to use our phones or electronics. I am so used to having my phone everywhere with me and using it all the time that it felt odd to not be able to use it during that time. However, during that silent time I was able to be quiet and reflect on myself and my relationship with God. Being in silence helped me put away all distractions, stress, and annoyances. This allowed me to listen for God’s voice. It seemed that when we were in silence I could feel the presence of God with me. I was able to think about Him more and reflect on our activities. I was able to feel a great sense of joy and peace during the silence.
On Saturday we created mandalas. A mandala is a piece of paper with a circle in the middle. On the mandala we drew a picture of whatever we wanted to on the paper. The picture that we ended up with was supposed to represent where we are in our spiritual journey. My mandala was a tree that had deep, thick roots, but all of its branches were tangled and going in different directions. There was one, single green leaf blooming from the tree. When I first drew the tree, I had no idea how it could represent me or where I am at in my spiritual journey, but the more I looked at it, the more I realized that it does. When I first started drawing the tree I used harsh, dark sketching which represented all the struggles and hardships that have brought me to where I am today. The branches being tangled and going in all different directions represented the fact that I don’t know exactly where I am going in life. Then there was one little blooming leaf in the picture that showed that I am growing. I am growing spiritually, and I feel as if I have a stronger connection with God than I have ever had before. By drawing my mandala, I realized that I may not know where I am going in life, but I know that I have a calling. Through this calling I know that God is with me and that is what matters most, the rest will fall into place in due time.
This retreat meant so much to me, and I can honestly say that I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. I was able to learn that it is okay to be whom I am and there is no need to be afraid. I can release my fear because God loves me and I have a community of friends who love me as well. I was also able to be filled with God’s love and peace during our time of silence. Last of all, though I may not know the direction that my life is heading, I can be confident in God because He is always with me. With this peace of mind, I know one day my future plans will be known.
On Sunday, I felt a true sense of community with my classmates on the retreat. It was an incredible feeling to look at the person next to me in the eye and tell them with sincerity, “The Christ in me sees the Christ in you,” while we partook in communion. Each person who went on this retreat holds a special place in my heart. Whether I talked to them a lot or barely at all, they were all a part of an experience that has changed my life for the better.
After leaving the retreat, I am ready to love people and be in a community with them. I am ready to be open about my weaknesses because I know there are people there to support me. Now I am ready to support others, and most of all I am ready to love God and let Him lead me where I need to be in my life.