Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt, above, is the program director of Faith Connections, which runs the Busy Person’s Retreat. Photo by Vanessa Santilli

Bringing retreat reflection to the everyday

  • March 29, 2012

Upon returning from a Sisters of Life retreat in Connecticut, I decided my Lenten resolution would be to incorporate 20 minutes of prayer into my daily routine.

Finding it hard to fit prayer time into a hectic schedule, one of the sisters told me it might be helpful to get creative in my prayer life in order to better understand how God is speaking to me. So, along with the regular Hail Marys and Our Fathers, I started reading random Bible passages and keeping a journal to better open the lines of communication.

When I heard about Lenten Listening: A Busy Person’s Retreat, I jumped at the opportunity. As part of the retreat, participants are asked to pray for about 15 minutes every day. The retreat is run by Faith Connections, Regis College and the Toronto Area Vocation Directors Association.

Although all the participants met up on Ash Wednesday for Mass — and we’ll meet up again for an Easter social to compare notes at the end — the retreat is to be completed on our own time. Besides dedicating time to prayer every day, I’ve also been meeting throughout Lent with a spiritual director in my area who is acting as my mentor.

On a retreat where you’re physically away from home for a couple hours or days, you are immersed in your spirituality for a set time and feel more connected to God during that time.

But the difficulty for me was coming back to the everyday. Suddenly, it became harder to try to hear God — or feel Him — amidst the everyday commute, the deadlines, the errands that needed to be run.

I’ve had to make small changes in my life to incorporate God during this retreat, but I’ve learned the connection to Him is continuous. I don’t have to go anywhere. The retreat is showing me the often-forgotten fact that God is always with us.

As a self-guided retreat, we’ve received Lenten prayer handouts with material to be completed at our leisure.

Every week, there are different passages of Scripture to read, as well as questions for reflection, a meditative prayer, a walking prayer, a prayer incorporating different Scriptures and Psalms and a prayer for the world.

One of the walking prayers, for example, asks participants to “spend some time in a shopping mall watching for messages that tempt you to sign on to other values and opinions. What are these options? How do you respond to these voices of temptation?”

For me, these different prayer options have been effective because they’ve allowed me to build prayer into my day in a way that allows me to reflect and grow in awareness of my faith and its many related values.

I’ve been doing some of these along with the Awareness Examen, which my spiritual director gave me.

Essentially, it’s a prayer in which you try to find the movement of God’s Spirit in your daily life as you reflect on your day. The prayer helps us to grow in self-awareness in our relationship with God through looking at all the gifts received during the day and contemplating where God has been among those gifts. The examen also asks participants to seek God’s forgiveness for our failings, among other things.

With life as busy as it is, this is a great way to really see all the blessings encountered throughoutthe day and then drift into sleep on a positive note.

It also helps lighten any loads you may be carrying as you enter into a mindset of humility and honesty.

To help keep me motivated, I’ve also been reading select Scripture passages assigned by my spiritual director.

My favourite can be found in

Jeremiah 29: 11-14: “ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.’ “

I’ve read parts of the Bible, but I’ve not read it in its entirety. There’s so much to be discovered in these pages and it’s exciting to have access to such a giving resource where we are able to gain wisdom while also seeing ourselves reflected in some of the various parables.

To start and end the workday on the right foot, I’ve started using the Bible app I downloaded to my iPod Touch almost two years ago. Rather than listen to music for the whole bus and subway ride home, I fill part of my ride by reading Scripture and reflecting on what I’ve read.

And then there’s my spiritual director.

Although it was nerve wracking to be so honest with a total stranger at the very beginning, all in all, it has been a fantastic experience for me.

She’s helping me to see the different areas where God is working in my life — a true gift that has come to me this Lenten season.

The best part of the Busy Person’s Retreat is that it never has to end.

While I may not continue seeing my spiritual director — or maybe I will — this Lenten retreat has allowed me to see how very possible it is to make time for prayer, and how extremely beneficial making that time is.

I’ve also learned that you can’t wait for God to come for you. You must “seek him with all your heart,” as we’re told in the Gospel of Matthew: “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find.”

I’m trying my best, day by day.

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