Surprises come in all shapes and sizes. They can bring unexpected blessings or catastrophic misfortunes. I’ve been the recipient of both and it has put me on a pendulum between happiness and sadness – loving life for its beauty, but hating it for its incredible unfairness.
My most recent surprise was being invited to partake in the Kairos retreat once again. Yes, I have written about it a million and one times: what it taught me about sacramental moments, people and experiences; what it taught me about community and how we as humans really do belong to one another; how I could see God in all things, people and experiences; what it taught me about keeping the spirit of this retreat in my heart always. It’s easy to forget these lessons, but each Kairos gives me a fresh reminder and a new lesson to take away. The familiarity and the unexpected is what makes Kairos such a nurturing and enlightening journey. And so I write one more time about my latest journey.
God brought me to Kairos six different times. As I joke that I’m the Meryl Streep of Kairos retreats, I have to ask myself, have I not been listening? Was I just in need of this experience each and every time? Whatever the reason, I was surprised to learn why God brought me to this latest retreat.
I’ve been in a state of grief for what has now dawning its seven-month milestone. As I write that statement, I just realized more than half of a year has gone by without my friend Matt on this earth. I’ve done a bang up job of avoiding my grief. I’ve drowned myself in the distractions of work and binging TV shows. I haven’t really allowed myself to feel that pain. Sure, a few moments of anger and sadness have come to the surface, but I haven’t truly addressed my grief.
And I still haven’t.
And to be honest, I’m not sure I will immediately either.
I’ve been in a state of numbness, that I know I need to shake. The first crack of this numbness was acknowledging with the words “I need a retreat,” only to be called three days later by my friend Daphne to help lead the Kairos 56 retreat. So I thought of it, asked a few friends what I should do, and found myself taking the sign from God to go.
The retreat allowed me to just be, as it would be the first time I’d meet the other leaders and hear their talks. Being added just a few days before, allowed me to feel as if I was a retreatant, myself and hear many messages that resonated with me. It was almost as if God beat me over the head by making sure I took something away from every talk. Many talks built off of one another with common themes emerging that I needed to hear.
“To know yourself is to love yourself.”
It was a powerful message that radiated one of the first talks of the retreat and came full circle in the end. I suddenly realized I haven’t been loving or taking care of myself lately. I’ve been feeling so lost as if my soul went missing in the night. I haven’t known myself because I haven’t been loving myself through the pain. I’ve compartmentalized and because of that, I woke up one day feeling like a stranger to myself. But this retreat brought the idea that it is okay to not to know yourself, but to be open to finding and creating yourself.
“There is love behind every obstacle.”
Love is complex and imperfect because we as humans are fallible. Any obstacle that comes into our lives whether it’s centered around a relationship or experience has love on the other side. We face heartbreak because we love. We face grief because we care. We face adversity because we are different. We face loss because we belong. As much as love is complex, it is pure and it is the best thing we do. It’s behind every obstacle because love is in everything. It is what makes us persist even when we want to give up. When we fall in love, it does decide everything.
“Wherever you are be all there.”
When I journeyed through the spiritual exercises, I learned how to take my faith and make it my own. I met God where I was and learned how he carried me through my struggles and high-fived me through my triumphs. So whether I’m in a space of happiness, or a state of grief, to acknowledge it and be present in it is the most authentic thing to do. There is nothing more important than to be present, to forget what has happened and to not worry about what will happen, but rather to just be. Acknowledging where you are, whether you want to be there or not, allows you to learn and grow to get to a different and better place.
“God is serendipitous.”
The divine can come in the simplest of moments. Maybe without even realizing it, God makes Himself known. It can in the metaphorical collisions of strangers being in the right place at the right time. It can be saying you need a retreat and three days later you’re invited on one. Whatever the case may be, I find God to be in all things and that there is no such thing as coincidence. Whether it was the people I met or the talks I heard, I was on Kairos for a reason. The reason is unfolding and as I continue to reflect on that weekend, I see just how serendipitous God is.
“It’s not easy to be your best self.”
Whether that’s your ideals and values being tested, wanting something to happen so bad, but circumstances preventing it, or maybe just losing sight of what you’ve learned. We are humans. We make mistakes. We resort to bad habits. We lose sight of our truest selves. Just as love is complex and imperfect, it is never easy to be our best self. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the struggles of life and allow our frustrations, anger, or sadness to overwhelm us. But the point is, we always have the chance to stop for a moment, remind ourselves of the good that we’ve been given, and let that, in turn, bring out the good in us.
I don’t want my grief to dominate this post, but rather what Kairos was able to do for me in the state I’m in. I felt as though I was nudged by God saying “Okay, dude, you can’t ignore me forever.” I couldn’t help but to see and feel God on this retreat. In the talks heard, the stories shared, in the eyes of retreatants, in the sunsets over the lake, in the endless hugs. But most importantly, I was able to open the door to my own healing.
I realized it was Kairos that helped me understand that a relationship with God was based on friendship. I haven’t let Him in since my world was turned upside down. I’ve drowned all forms of coping and healing until Kairos. I was reminded how God is present in all our lives. I could feel my heart begin to open once again. I could feel it because suddenly I noticed how I’ve numbed myself to not leaning on God, or much of anyone for that matter.
I’m not okay. I’m not sure when I will be. But I’m thankful that I feel there is hope and that on the other side of my own grief there is love that will help me heal. And that is possibly the best surprise I could’ve ever asked for.