I might have signed myself up for something really stupid or totally life changing. I won't know for sure until it is over.
I, Laura Phelps, a gifted rambler, lover of my own personal space, and unwavering in my belief that without my presence, my family will fall apart, will be attending a three-day silent retreat. I will have no cell phone. I will share a room and bathroom with a stranger. A complete and total stranger with whom I cannot speak.
What on earth was I thinking?
Here is what I was thinking:
I am a spiritual mess and I never stop talking. I am co-coordinating a WWP parish program, traveling the country to speak about God and what He has done and continues to do in my life, and writing on the side. Simultaneously, I am striving to be a good wife and mother by setting a holy example of Catholic marriage and parenting-while feeding the dogs, cleaning the guinea pig cages, and buying large crickets because a bearded dragon was exactly what my life needed.
And I am failing, sisters. I am stretched thin, utterly exhausted, and drowning in the chaos. What is making me even crazier is the fact that I have no idea if I am following God's will in all these aspects of my ridiculous life. Am I doing what God has called me to do? I think I am because everything on my to-do list is gift wrapped in ministry paper and tied with an evangelizing bow. But just because I have said yes to a million and one things that point to Jesus, does not mean Jesus was pointing to me while handing out the million and one things.
Feeling totally confused, and knowing confusion comes from the enemy, I recognized the spiritual danger I was in and did something stupid. I asked a priest for spiritual direction. What I thought was going to amount to a one-hour meeting with him every Tuesday morning, where I'd bring lattes, we'd pray on soft couches, and he'd find me both holy and hysterical, turned into me agreeing to and registering for a three-day silent retreat.
I cried about this to my friend last night. “I am already dreading it. What have I done? This is so not the time for me to leave my family! I want to throw up.”
She responded in her typical, gentle way by asking, “Have you asked the Lord if it is His will for you to go?”
Now, I love my friend. But seriously? Have I asked the Lord? What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I asked the Lord!
Okay. So I didn't ask the Lord. But here's the deal. Do we really think if I asked the Lord, “Hey, Lord...I have this opportunity to let go of everything, sit at your feet, and give you my undivided attention for three whole days where for the first time in...oh, I don't know...maybe in forever...I shut my mouth and listen to You. Is this something you would like for me to do, Lord? What was that, Lord? You'd prefer I stay home and continue to believe that I am in control of everything and that I should never stop talking at You because that's been working out so well? Okay, great-thanks. Phew...that was close! Almost made a mistake and went on retreat!”
Not by coincidence, in my struggle with the Lord's invitation to leave my family and go on a three-day silent retreat, I found myself praying with the story of Jonah-a story titled Disobedience and Flight. I read how Jonah fled far from the Lord when He asked him to set out for Nineveh. Jonah hopped on a boat ignoring God's will and tried to get as far from Him as he possibly could. I closed my eyes as I pictured the violent winds that hurled upon the sea. I imagined Jonah waking up in the hold of the boat and, upon hearing the mariners ask, “What are you doing asleep? Rise up, call upon your God!”, recognizing what he had done. The storm was the consequence of his disobedience. Jonah asks the others to throw him into the sea, and as they do, the seas calm. You would think that Jonah was going to drown but he doesn't. Instead, the merciful Father rescues him. “For the Lord sent a large fish that swallowed Jonah; and Jonah remained in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” (Jonah 2:1)
Invitations from the Lord can be so hard to receive. But you want to know what's even harder? Fleeing from them. What is the Lord asking of you that you are running from? Where is He inviting you to go that has you jumping on a boat, sailing far away, and going to sleep? Perhaps it is time for you to accept the Lord's invitation. To rise up, call upon your God, and silence the storm.
Now if you will excuse me, it is time I jump off of this boat and quiet my own chaos. Once afraid that my family would drown without me, I am realizing that perhaps this retreat is the very thing that God intends to use to save us. And isn't that just like the Lord? Just when I think I am in over my head, He sends a large fish.
Silently praying for you from the belly of the fish,
At the close of a Religious Education meeting, we were handed a prayer card, and in unison, recited it together. It was the Prayer of Abandonment. A beautiful prayer. And by beautiful, I mean terrifying and dangerous.
“Father, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will….”¹
When we finished the prayer it took everything inside of me to not stand up on top of my chair and shout out for all to hear, “Really, everybody? I mean, do you really mean that? DO WITH ME WHAT YOU WILL? Or, do you have no idea what you even just prayed?”
I want to give it all over to God. I want to do His will. But not always. It's not like I enjoy carrying my burdens alone. It is not like I want to add weight to my cross. I would love nothing more than to cast all my cares (plus a few loads of laundry) on Him and move on with my day; anxiety free, iced latte in hand, and yes- make that a Venti, with coconut milk, thank you very much. And yet, there is always something that trips me up. Always something that gets me running back to the foot of the cross to pick up a few items I had laid down, because I mean... what if He doesn't take care of things in the way that I asked? If you ask me, this whole surrender thing, while great in theory, is downright scary.
In my quest to uncover the secret to surrender, I have learned some valuable things. The biggest surprise of all? Fear has nothing to do with it.
Uncovered secret #1: Surrender is not a “one and done” deal. When I had to make a difficult call that involved the well-being of my own child, I was under the false impression that if I did this one hard thing for God-surrendered it all and trusted in Him-surely, the trial with my child would end. This, sweet friends, was not, and is not, the case. Surrender is not some big gesture we make just once, wipe our hands free of, and sit back with a bag of chips; as fabulous as that might sound. But rather, it is a daily choice. We surrender right up until our very last breath.
Uncovered secret #2: Surrender is not the same as compliance. Why do so many addicts do everything right in treatment, get discharged, only to relapse hours later? I'll give you a hint: it has nothing to do with will power, and everything to do with surrendering to HIS will. It is no coincidence that the 12-step program, which is so successful for those who work the steps, begins with admitting you are not in control and handing yourself over to a higher power.
And I suppose, in many ways, I have been nothing more than a religious addict; eager to comply with all of the rules and regulations so when I come face to face with my Maker, He can look at my life and see how well I highlighted verses in my Bible and recited my morning prayers. But this isn't what God wants from me, is it? A life of compliance disguised as surrender might get me out of trouble for a while, but it won't secure my safety. If I simply check the boxes without the buy-in, I'm not really letting go of control, and let's be honest... I'm not fooling anyone. Not even myself.
A few days ago, I found myself wrestling with the enemy's invitation to use this past week's “latest upset” as reason enough to take the reins out of the Lord's hands and put them firmly back in my own. Sure, a few trials back I was good to admit that God was in full control, but now? Now, I am not so sure. And as I struggled to understand how it can be possible to remain at peace when things are in pieces-how I could possibly surrender all to a God who appears to have bought me a season pass to the world's fastest roller coaster of events and emotions-I realized why surrendering to His will and letting go of mine was so hard. It wasn't because I was afraid. It was because I was discouraged.
Disappointments are a part of life, but allowing them to give way to discouragement is something we choose. In Charles Stanley's Life Principles Daily Bible, he writes, “You should not allow the challenges that arise to steal your enthusiasm or confidence in Him.”² I'll admit. I love this. I agree with this. But I fail at it often. And by often, I mean yesterday. Thankfully, Stanley uses Matthew 1:24 to support this life principle: “Joseph did not allow his initial disappointment to give way to discouragement. Rather, he accepted God's will, obeyed the Lord, and brought Mary home to live with him.”
As someone who so easily allows unexpected circumstances to take control of me, I find great comfort in this. I have come too far to allow disappointment to steal my joy, and I will bet you have too. As Stanley says, “You never have to be the victim of your feelings. You can choose to look to God, listen, learn, and move ahead.”³
Today, you have the power to let go and surrender from whatever it is that has you held emotionally hostage; to really buy-in and give it all to God.
Accept God's will, obey the Lord, and bring Mary into your home.
Put yourself totally in His hands.
I promise, there is no safer place to be.
¹ Prayer of Abandonment, Br. Charles of Jesus (de Foucauld)
² The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20
³ The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Daily Bible, Thomas Nelson 2011, p. 1599, Life Principle 20