Each week, there will be some practical help to prepare for this week's retreat and for getting the most from it.
The first and most important point is to begin this journey with great hope and confidence. God is never outdone in generosity. So, if we make even a small change in our weekly pattern, that is a tremendous opening for God to work in us. One way to affirm this hope and confidence is to express it for just a brief instant, each morning, at the same time each day — as I’m finding my slippers, or as I’m brushing my teeth, or while I’m pouring that first cup of coffee — “I know you are with me today, Lord.”
Each of us will have a different amount of time we will be able to give to this retreat each week. We recommend that if your time is limited, just read the guide. On another day that week, you may find you have time to return to reflect on another resource.
This week’s guide offers us the opportunity to review our life stories through the photo album of our lives. Throughout these weeks, we’ll make use of the practice, habit, exercise of letting a reflection or image be part of the background of our day. All of us are aware, from time to time, that there is stuff that occupies the background of our consciousness. The song that plays in our head is a common example. This retreat invites us to practice taking advantage of this facility our brain has. Rather than have that space filled at random with stuff that just comes and goes, we will focus it more consciously. While doing all the ordinary tasks we do in our everyday lives, we will be using that background space to give a distinctive tone to our week. This won’t be a distraction to our work, or take any extra time away from our work, but it will eventually make a difference in how we experience our work. It just takes practice.
Concretely, for this week, we all know the outline of our story. This isn’t new material. What is new is that I will consciously be aware that I am reviewing my life story this week. I can plan it fairly deliberately — as an example: Monday and Tuesday, I will be remembering the images of my childhood; Wednesday and Thursday, my teens and early adulthood; Friday and Saturday, the rest of my adult life. So, throughout Wednesday — as I’m finding my slippers, driving to work, walking to my first meeting, walking to the restroom, looking at that image on my monitor, walking to the parking lot, getting supper ready, sharing a memory with a family member, or undressing before going to bed — during all those brief every day times, I’ll have in the background the formative images that shape my story during my teen years.
It’s about feelings. Each picture in my life story has feeling attached to it. I might look long and hard at that image of myself on the playground in fifth grade. Feelings come to the surface if I let them — or, the picture of myself in that relationship in my early twenties. We know there are feelings there. There are powerful feelings associated with the birth of a child, the death of a loved one, the change of jobs, terrible family crises, images that come to mind throughout my marriage, battles with people I’ve struggled with. My feelings will help me see and experience how these pictures tell my story, who I am today.
It’s about God’s fidelity. This isn’t a sentimental journey. With every picture in my story, there is a grace offered to me as I look for God’s presence there. If, throughout this week, I imagine God’s having been present there with me — even when I didn’t notice or feel it at the time — that would be a tremendous grace unifying my life.
It’s about gratitude. With every memory, every image and feeling, practice saying, “Thank you.” Even the painful ones. Even if I was not grateful then. Even if it involved some bad stuff I did to myself or to others. The Lord was there, loving me. Let gratitude now touch and span throughout the story of my life.
It’s about a journey. This is only the beginning. We have thirty-four weeks. We will move slowly. And all we need to do is give God just a little space to transform our everyday lives, a moment at a time.
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