Amy Welborn is a columnist for Our Sunday Visitor and Catholic News Service and a regular contributer to the Living Faith quarterly devotional.
We listened to lots of talks, mostly from our peers. We prayed together and apart. We experienced the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We were led through various exercises – like a “Trust Walk” in which we were led together, blindfolded, around the property and ended up in the school chapel in front a large crucifix, where our blindfolds were removed.
And we wept. Partly because of emotion, partly because by Saturday night we were so tired, the weekend was filled with tears, tears which built to a flood by Sunday afternoon when we opened letters of affirmation and love from family and friends.
In retrospect, I have to resent the emotional manipulation that I think moves that kind of retreat, but I also have to say that it did me a world of good right when I needed it.
I won’t say I was completely transformed, but the experience did challenge me to open up a bit more to everyone around me, and to see, with tremendous intensity, the depth and power of God’s love for me.
The greater challenge, though, lay ahead. Could I keep it? It would be impossible to keep the high of the weekend going for the rest of my life, but would I be able to keep any part of it at all? Would the awareness of God’s love I’d learned on the weekend stay with me for more than a week?
Maybe that’s something you’re feeling these days, too. A lot of kids make retreats this time of year, and a lot of kids have just celebrated the Sacrament of Confirmation. Those can be moments of great spiritual realization and growth, and a lot of kids wonder, even as they’re marveling at the fruits of those experiences, the same thing I did: How can I keep this going?
Here are some ideas.
First, be realistic. Highs don’t, indeed, last. Ask anyone who’s experienced any time of intense experience. We even have a specific phrase to refer to the waning of the heights of emotion such an experience evokes: “the honeymoon’s over.”
Secondly, understand that even though emotions wane, God’s presence doesn’t. You may have felt God’s love and mercy in an intense way on your retreat, but just because your emotions aren’t as strong a couple of months later, that doesn’t mean God’s love and mercy aren’t either. God never stops loving you, whether you feel it or not. God is never less than ready to forgive you, whether you remember that or not. God is never away from you, whether you are aware of Him or not.
Third, commit yourself to deepening your relationship with God. Don’t depend on an external experience to do it for you. Make time to pray every day – many times. Go to Mass. Continue to evaluate your heart and your life in God’s eyes, not the world’s.
And when you do all that, you just might find that even though the emotional high has passed, something better has taken its place: a calm, steady inner sense of God’s presence, no matter where you are, no matter what, a kind of joy that outlasts everything – even emotion, believe it or not!