When I am asked to lead a retreat, something I like to do at the very end is have a moment of remembrance with God, a standing stone so to speak, something tangible capturing what God has done in our hearts.
At the closings of various retreats there have been glorious times of memorable sharing. Once everyone wrote one word or phrase from retreat on a key tag and the keys were posted on a large wooden cross. Several groups have had a certain place at retreat where prayers to God could be left all weekend untouched and unread. At the end of retreat those prayers were offered to God. Especially meaningful are the times we have closed with communion and offered bits of paper, our surrenders to God, as we took the bread.
After one retreat I was handed a small sack and in the rush of leaving I put it in my bag with hardly a thought. Much later I came across the sack, opened it, and began reading.
Words. Words of such tenderness and such pain. Words with such honesty that it hurt to read them. My first thought – Who wrote this? Overcome I read further. Could I have been so blind as not to see this? Did I talk to her? Did I sit beside her? Weren’t we laughing together? Where did she hide her pain?
Who is she?
I realized that as we were laughing over funny stories, whooping and hollering during an ice breaker, casually talking about our families over dinner – yes and exactly this: what was written on these bits of paper were the things consuming her heart the whole time.
This hurt and pain was what she brought to retreat. This was what was going on in her God-heart and at some point at retreat she spoke with God about it. And these bits of paper –
I was holding holy shards of someone’s heart.
And my heart… didn’t I do the very same thing? Didn’t I teach and laugh and share and talk about all kinds of things, when the one thing consumed my heart, yet I kept carefully covered? Without divulging what was entrusted to me, these words screamed the need for forgiveness. They cried out with life’s disappointments and begged God for something more than a shallow complacent relationship with Him. Over and again I read this word: judging. We don’t want to judge others, do we? Yet we do.
Do I know anyone? Do we know our neighbor? Who is siting at the end of our row in church? Who is doing our nails, our hair, sitting across the table at Starbucks? Most of all, who like me, is longing to take her mask off in a safe place with a safe person?
These bits of paper I hold so tenderly have made me ask God to peel back the layers. Make me more vulnerable, let my realness come through, let me not be afraid to know me and own me. On one note, words written in a scribbled list pretty much sum up every woman’s prayer: adultery, abortion, hatred, resentment, jealousy, judgment, sex, lust, lies.
I’ve seen in plain black and white who she is.
She is women everywhere. She is all of us. She is we. She is me.
I am not through with this story. It is keeping me awake at night, thinking about her, about me. I desperately want to hear what God is teaching me. My heart is sad but it's open. I'll post on this again soon and again and go on until it is finished. I'll keep writing until God says stop.