Personal Retreat as Spiritual Discipline

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“But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.” Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.”–Isaiah 49:14-16

Hands

It was January, 2011, and my first resolution was to discipline myself to make time alone. My Danica had been through two major brain surgeries and a fusion that kept her in a body brace and a wheelchair. Our journey began in May, 2009, when her little eighteen month old neck went crooked. Every moment of my life became about finding her diagnosis, taking her to therapy, seeking treatment, scheduling surgery, fighting for resources, keeping her safe and soothing her pain. I was with her twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

I have always been one of those people who needs regular periods of being alone to be okay. The constant input of my children, my husband, friends, family, the internet, TV, social media and my blog swirl together and muffle the cry of my soul to be still and know God. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when I hear the catch phrases about putting myself on the list and taking care of me first so I’m there for others. This all seems to point to selfishness of some kind, and I’m pretty steeped in the martyr life by this point. While working through Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook I have come to realize the desire of my heart to retreat and be near God is not rooted in selfishness at all. It is a necessary spiritual exercise to strengthen my faith and remind me who I am in Christ. I am not just a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend . . . I am a child of God.

Adele writes in her chapter on Solitude,

Solitude opens a space where we can bring our empty and compulsive selves to God. And no matter how well we ‘do’ silence, God is there to accept, receive, and love us. In solitude we see how little we embrace our true identity in Christ. And we find the truth of who we are in Christ. We are the beloved, and God is pleased with us. This identity is given; it is not earned. Many other voices pull at us, seeking to own and name us, but in solitude we learn what it is to distinguish between the voice of God and the voices of the world.

My identity was slowly stripped away from me in new ways when I became even more ill than my girl. I couldn’t work in gainful employment. I couldn’t care for my children without help. I couldn’t be a true helpmate to my husband. I couldn’t participate in corporate worship. I couldn’t be a good sister or daughter or friend. When I woke up from my first brain surgery and fusion without the vice grip on the back of my neck one of my first thoughts was, “Who am I going to be if God chooses to remove this thorn in the flesh for good?” The answer is simple. I am a child of God. This identity never changed because of my ability to perform any duties. I am His beloved. There is no guilt here. There is no shame. I don’t have to produce anything or be recognized by anyone else. My name is written on His hands!

I left my family last Saturday. I checked into a local hotel for forty-eight hours. No one besides my husband and girls knew I was there. No one needed me. The world was moving on without my thought or action. I didn’t turn the TV on. I didn’t listen to music. I was very still. I inhaled and exhaled prayer like air. This is one of many times since New Year’s 2011 I have packed my bags and gone away to be alone with God.

In practicing personal retreat I am reminded I am “Preapproved.” I realize how much God delights in my drawing near to Him. The verses above are my dad’s “go to” verses when he visits the sick and people headed into surgery. Dan and I joke he needs to find some new material for repeat customers like us who seem to find someone in our family on a stretcher in a hospital several times a year. The truth is I find great comfort in these words. God paints a picture we can all understand and relate to. Tonight I kissed my fingers and touched the picture of my girls and I. Beside it is the sweetest picture my Danica Jean drew of her and I. I was thinking about how impossible it would be for me to ever forget my children. I breathe them no matter what else I am doing. This is how God feels about me but perfectly. I ran to get a Sharpie and wrote my name on my hand. No matter what I do it’s there. He never forgets me. Not just my name but my likeness. I am never off His mind or away from His sight or out of His care.

I trace the scars in the hands of my Savior and see my name embedded there.

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5 Comments on Personal Retreat as Spiritual Discipline

  1. Violet
    March 17, 2015 at 4:21 pm (2 years ago)

    ” No matter what I do it’s there. He never forgets me. Not just my name but my likeness. I am never off His mind or away from His sight or out of His care.

    “I trace the scars in the hands of my Savior and see my name embedded there.”

    You so beautifully expressed my heart here. All I can say is Amen and Amen!

    Reply
  2. Christy
    March 18, 2015 at 4:40 pm (2 years ago)

    You are a beloved child of God!

    Love –

    Reply
  3. Kim
    March 20, 2015 at 5:12 pm (2 years ago)

    Enjoyed this post, Monica! It’s fascinating how God decides to bless and challenge each life. We are alternately tempted to envy or wonder how we would endure the life’s circumstances of those around us. It’s difficult (for some more than others) to realize that at all times we’re exactly where we’re supposed to be. Blessings!

    Reply
  4. Jennifer Dukes Lee
    March 23, 2015 at 2:25 pm (2 years ago)

    You are such a treasure, Monica. I always feel like I’ve encountered something holy when I read your words.

    Reply
    • Monica
      March 25, 2015 at 5:14 pm (2 years ago)

      There are times I can feel the dross of my sinful self burning away, and I see His heart more clearly. This is so much Grace. I love you sweet sister.

      Reply

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