To welcome guests to our home I keep a peace lily plant in a pot by the front door. Whenever its dark glossy green leaves lose their graceful arch and start wilting (usually when I’ve been too busy to notice it for a few weeks) I don’t just spray some water onto it and expect it to perk up. I give the whole plant a deep watering and maybe add some fertiliser if any leaves are looking a bit yellow at the tips as well.
I know how to look after a plant. But sometimes, when I’ve been feeling really tired and burned out, I’ve hoped that a little treat or distraction will cure me and it only helps for a while before I feel the fatigue and negativity creeping again.
Have you also, when fighting a spot of existential angst or just plain dryness, despondency, or fatigue, just taken a little metaphorical spritz of water and kept on going, instead of stopping for the deep rehydration and refreshment that souls (and minds and bodies) need?
Sometimes our life simply won’t let us stop for long and then we just have to keep going the best we can.
But often we can spend whole years, whole DECADES, limping along unnecessarily overwhelmed and undernourished. Is this what Jesus meant when he said he came to give us life to the full? Is this how we honour and live the joy of our married vocation? I doubt it.
For a Christian, the ‘water’ needed to keep us alive and glossy is prayer and friendship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus said to the Samaritan woman coming to draw water at the well at midday: “Those that drink of the water I will give them will never be thirsty again. The water I give them will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” (John 4:14)
Catholics have spiritual food in the Scriptures, the Mass, and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Properly refreshed on these, we are healthy and strong despite our circumstances, and can offer beauty and joy and healing to others, especially within our own families. But we have to be disposed to receive all the graces and help God wants to give us in the sacraments.
St Augustine said, “We are made for you O God and our hearts are restless until they rest in you”. It can be frustrating trying to rest in God in scattered moments throughout the week when we decide to pick up the Bible or during the five minutes we were able to concentrate during Sunday Mass. We generally need to invest longer parcels of time to allow God to connect more deeply with us.
When people are falling in love they generally spend hours upon hours alone together. Our relationship with God normally grows in a similar way; we need to spend extended time with him.
Without extended time enjoying the company of the one we love, our interest cools, and what used to be little gestures of love can become routine and meaningless. Like the quick, thoughtless, peck on the cheek or the rushed grace before meals.
What exactly is ‘extended time’? In The Soul of the Apostolate Jean-Baptist Chautard recommends taking time out to devote to God and the needs of our soul for an hour every day, a day every month, and a week every year. St Francis de Sales wrote once that every Christian needs half an hour a day to pray, unless he or she is too busy, in which case an hour is needed!
That seems like a lot, especially the annual retreat, but I know people who do it who have jobs and/or young families. And if you factor in spiritual reading (of the Bible or writings of a saint for example) as a kind of prayer, then it’s easy to hit an hour a day.
I try to go on a weekend-long retreat once a year. It isn’t easy and we have to call in favours from family and friends to help with the children during that time. But I notice the difference when I haven’t done it.
Jesus wants to spend some extended quality time with you. “Come away to a quiet place for a while, and rest,” he told his apostles who had been busy in ministry. Commit to giving him that time. And do it.
We can feel guilty about going away and leaving our responsibilities at home. But we should feel more guilt about how we fulfil our responsibilities less ideally when we don’t take the time to rest and be strengthened by God who loves us and knows what is best for us.
This year for the first time I will be helping to host a weekend retreat for mothers entitled ‘Come to me and I will give you rest’. It will be held at the Carmelite Retreat Centre at Varroville, a beautiful semi-rural area south west of Sydney. For more information and bookings visit the retreat house website. If you are able to make it this August 14-16, beginning on the Friday evening and ending with Mass and lunch on the Sunday, I would love to welcome you there. It is a special place.
If I don’t see you I hope you will find another retreat to go on this year, especially if you haven’t been to one for a long time or at all. I pray that is it is a very fruitful time with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
This year God wants to give you everything and fill you with His peace – let Him!