This past weekend I attended the Christ Renews His Parish women's retreat. It was an awesome experience that is changing many things in my life. If you have a CRHP at your church, then you should go. I don't think it is possible to delve into all of the retreat in this blog. I am still unpacking much of the experience. I did unpack something that I need to write about and further sort out: my rock.
The Holy Spirit was very present in all of us on this retreat. There were many stories shared and many, many God moments that impacted us. For me the weekend was all about trust. Trust is a big word. It means that we have to give up control. It means we have to be vulnerable. It means we have to depend on someone else. For me, trust is hard. I struggle to trust people, and God. I want to be in control. If I don't have to trust, then I don't have to be disappointed or hurt. I protect myself from these possibilities by withholding trust. Unfortunately, I also deprive myself of the joys of trust. And I think that is what God wants me to experience; the joys of trusting. I have been trusting God more and more in these past few months. And the little trust that I have invested has bore so much more joy than I deserve.
When I tell you that the Holy Spirit was screaming the word trust at me, I am not kidding. I received little cards about trust at every break. I got a bag stamped with the words Trust in the Lord with all your heart(we all got bags with different phrases). I opened prayer books at random and there would be a prayer about trust. There were stories about trust. There were homilies about trust. There was much scripture about trust which played through my head whenever I knelt to pray. And trust was the common thread in all the women who were placed randomly at my table. If there had been a burning bush on the alter that spelled out the word trust, I would not have been surprised. Trust was definitely dancing in front of me in bright and pretty colors in order to get my attention.
The whole weekend, I knew that I needed to trust. This was the lesson God wanted me to take from the weekend. But what or who specifically did I need to trust? I want to trust God and I feel I have been trusting him more and more. I didn't feel like God was speaking to me about trusting Him so much but someone or something else.
I found something else that I was looking for at this retreat: community. I had been so frustrated about finding a community of believers that I can be a part of. I have been a member at St. Gabriel's but I had felt like I was really a part of a community. I couldn't find them. I tried being involved in a few ministries, and I never really felt like I belonged. I was starved for a community to be a part of and serve. And at this weekend, I found them. I knew it as soon as we sat down for breakfast. These women were to be my community. I was very excited. But I was also sacred which confused me.
And then there was my issue with priests. I have always avoided priests. I can list you a hundred reasons on why I didn't really need to talk or get to know a priest. They are intimidating, holy, too busy, and detached from someone like me since they live a completely different life. I could go on and on but you get the point. I would never expect for a priest to play a big role in my life. And that was just fine with me since I was extremely uncomfortable around them anyway. As you can imagine, there were priests around every corner this weekend. So I was very uncomfortable with that. I was forced more and more out of my comfort zone as the weekend progressed. And there was a moment where I wanted to run from the scene when the priest got a little too close. I didn't realize what a problem I had until that moment.
When I got home, I started to think and replay the events of the weekend in my brain and I came to the conclusion that I have a trust issue. I know- big surprise. And apparently, my trust issue is with my new found faith community. I was uncomfortable and scared around the sisters in Christ that I searched high and low for and I was ready to run from the building screaming when the priest got too close. Yes, trusting people in a faith community was definitely my issue. After I put this together, I thought "Why do I have this problem? This is not normal." And I instantly flashed back to the moment I got the letter from the Baptist Church saying that they would honor my request and remove my name from their membership. And then it all became crystal clear.
So now I should fill you in on a little background. I am a convert to the Catholic faith. I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church. My parents brought me to church faithfully throughout my childhood. I went to Sunday school, VBS, camps, retreats- you name it. As a teenager, I got even more involved. I was at EVERY youth event. I planned youth events. I was president of the youth council for the church. I sang in the youth choir. I even played the role of music minister for youth led services. All my closest friends and most trusted adults in my life were at my church. Now, I was also the teenager who asked the most questions. I questioned everything. I asked questions until I got an answer that made sense to me and sometimes, I never got an answer. In other words, I drove the youth minister crazy. I was always putting him on the spot and since I was a leader in the youth group, that didn't always go too well for him. By the end of my senior year, he was done with me and I knew it. And I knew that God was leading me away from that church. They couldn't answer all of my questions and I didn't agree with many things that were being taught. So, after some clear nudging of the Holy Spirit, I decided that I was no longer going to be a member of the Southern Baptist Church. I wrote a very short, matter of fact letter requesting that my name be removed from membership. And the only response I got was a letter back saying that they removed it. I never got a phone call from a pastor, or a minister, or a Sunday school teacher, or even a friend. At the time, I took it as a sign that I was clearly not supposed to be at that church. God was calling me to go somewhere else and so I went. And I didn't look back. I didn't allow myself to feel the hurt and rejection. If I didn't feel the hurt, then they wouldn't have the satisfaction of hurting me. I just packed this rock away in my backpack and went searching for my God. One of the first places I went was a Catholic church. The presence of God in a Catholic church was over whelming to me. I couldn't find it in any other church I visited. It was the place God wanted me to be. So I went through RCIA and converted.
I wish I could tell you that I have always walked closely with God from that moment on. But I haven't. There have been some dark moments and some bright moments. He has always had a hold on me and has never let me go even though he has had many reasons to let me go. Through all of these moments, His love speaks volumes to me. But in all of this time, I never unpacked the rock. I carried in on my back pack and felt the weight of it on my shoulders. After some time, I forgot that the rock was in there. I was so used to the weight by then. It was my normal and since I was busy trying to live my life on my terms, I never had the desire to unpack the rock. I truly forgot about it. As I have renewed my spiritual life, it stayed in the shadows. I knew something was there but I couldn't put my finger on it. And I didn't realize that the weight of the rock was keeping me from finding my community and from finding joy with those whom I craved a relationship. Here I was frustrated with the Catholic church for not providing more opportunities for fellowship and the real reason I couldn't find fellowship was because of this rock.
Now you are probably wondering what I have done with the rock. This is where the story gets a little more entertaining. When I found the rock, I felt this overwhelming urge to see Father Don- the holy spirit at work I suspect. I couldn't find rest until I made an appointment. So I did and the rest arrived for a brief moment. And then the anxiety started to mount. And boy did it mount. I had no idea that the fear was so big. On the day of the appointment, I started to wonder if I was going to have a panic attack. I considered calling friends to see if I could find some Xanax. I told everyone I saw that day to pray for me at 5:00- the time of the appointment. So, at 5:00, I was waiting in the office of the church and felt a sense of peace. I know it was the prayers. When I walked into his office, I could tell he knew I was a mess. So I blurted out right away that I have a fear of priests. And then I began to tell him why. I talked really fast so I could hurry up and get it over with. I am sure this helped with his overall first impression of me. After I was done, he looked a little shocked. He didn't quite know how to respond to me. He did laugh because I was pretty comical. Here I am, a grown confident woman telling him I am afraid of him. And then he told me I had a lot of guts to face my fear head on. I could tell he knew I was hurt. As soon as I came to that part of the story, his face fell. And then he told me about the backpack full of rocks that we carry around. Nope, I didn't come up with that analogy on my own. He asked me what was I going to do with my rock. Was I going to take it out and leave it or was I going to hold on to it because it meant I could be right in the situation. I am still figuring out this one. I WANT to forgive and leave the rock. I WANT to unburden my backpack, but how? Do I really want to let go of being right? He asked me to think about what I would say to them if I met them in heaven. That is a tough one. They very well could be there. I didn't realize that I would face my past in heaven. Then, he told me to write a letter to them letting them know how I feel and then to tear up the letter as a way of letting go of the hurt. I haven't tried it yet but I am thinking that I will. I know that this will be a process and the layer of the onion I am trying to peel off will not shed itself overnight. The verse "He who has begun a great work in you will see it through to completion" keeps going through my mind.
I want to trust Father Don and I want to trust my new sisters in Christ. I want to be part of this community. In order to do that, I need to make myself vulnerable to them. I need to not just lay my burdens on the alter, but lay them up there for everyone to see. I am not sure what God is going to do with my rock once I let go. I do find it interesting that there are three women in my CRHP who work heavily with the youth- which only makes me want to hold on to the rock more. I don't think I am quite ready to connect all these dots but I do know I need to trust. And with trust will come great joy and the lightness of my spirit.