I was almost too selfish to share this one. That’s how special this place and that weekend are to me. It’s sort of a secret between me and God. But He wants you to share secrets with Him, too. And you may never try it if no one ever gives you an example of how to do it. So I guess I’ll reluctantly hand it over…
Do you ever feel lonely even when you’re surrounded by people? Unfulfilled even though your life is overflowing with amazing things? Lost even though you should know exactly where you are? I didn’t used to know what to do with those feelings.
But once I started focusing my life on God, and spending more and more time with Him, I realized what those feelings were – cravings for a connection with my Creator. And once that realization hit me, the cravings intensified. I couldn’t satisfy the need no matter what I tried. Bible reading didn’t help. Nature walks were never long enough. My mind wouldn’t focus on prayer. Little interruptions in my quiet time felt like monumental outbursts. Agitation and irritation built until I knew what I had to do.
I had to get away. I needed to be alone with Him. So I wouldn’t be distracted or interrupted. So I could hear Him, see Him, feel Him, experience Him.
At first the concept seemed really strange. Who does that? Who travels alone, eats alone, stays alone for an entire weekend? Maybe deeply spiritual people who are super in-tune with themselves. Maybe experienced meditators. But not normal, boring me. My ego was quick to shoot down the idea. You’re going to leave your family? Miss work? Skip out on chores and errands and commitments? Why? You can read your Bible and pray at home.
But my soul fought back. You go away for a weekend with your husband to reconnect. You’ve traveled with your best friend. Your family. This is what people do to connect with those they love the most. Push everything else aside and spend time with them. Focused, undivided, devoted time. You won’t actually be alone, you’ll be with Him. If you truly believe in God, and you truly love Him and trust Him more than anyone else, why wouldn’t you do something like this?
So I did some research and found a retreat center not far from where I live. I took a deep breath, and I booked it. 3 days with God. I was nervous. What if something amazing happened? What if nothing happened at all?
When the weekend finally arrived, I packed up my Bible, several spiritual books, and my journal. The retreat center was big enough to accommodate at least 20 people, maybe more. But when I got there, the last worker was leaving. She informed me that there were no other people booked for that particular weekend. I would literally be the only person there.
It’s not like I had planned for it to be a social event, making new friends and all that. But the reality of it seriously being just me and God…that felt scary. Even so, as the worker drove away and I breathed in the air of complete freedom, I quickly pushed past the fear and set out to explore the grounds.
The first place to catch my eye was the labyrinth. You simply must experience an intentional walk with God in the silence of a forest He created – I really can’t explain it for you. Words don’t do it justice. Pictures aren’t enough. Even feelings fall short. I walked miles on this path with Him in the span of those 3 days.
I’m not going to share every moment with you, it’s just too personal. But I will give you this one piece of advice for when you don’t even know how to start the conversation. Just tell Him you want to know Him better. I wasn’t there expecting miracles or healing or answers. I sincerely wanted to get to know my Father. His Son. Their Spirit. I wanted to put Him first – for real this time – through this offering of my time, my devotion, and my love. I wanted to align with His will.
It didn’t really register at the time I was making reservations, but I quickly realized I was at a Catholic prayer retreat center. This wasn’t a hindrance to me at all – they welcomed people from all faiths. But they also offered something unique that I had never tried before – the Stations of the Cross. What a powerful answer to my request to get to know Him better. There were 14 stations along a path in the woods – each with a picture, an explanation, and a prayer – taking me through Jesus’ last day leading up to His crucifixion. The twigs crunched under my feet and the breeze sighed through the trees as I silently followed His footsteps to Calvary.
Jesus is condemned to death. He was offered because it was His own will, and He opened not His mouth. He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter…
Jesus is made to carry His cross. He has borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows…all we like sheep have gone astray, every one has turned aside into his own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…
Jesus falls the first time. The iniquities of My people, like a flood, have overwhelmed Me; like a crushing burden they weigh upon Me.
Jesus meets His sorrowful mother. My child is desolate and the enemy has prevailed. All that pass by the way, attend and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.
Simon of Cyrene was made to help Jesus to carry His cross. I looked for one that would have pity on Me, but there was no man, and for one that would console Me, and I found none.
Veronica wipes the face of Jesus. For the sins of His people, she saw Jesus in torments and subject to stripes.
Jesus falls the second time. I am afflicted and greatly humbled, I roared with the groaning of My heart. My heart is troubled, My strength has left Me, and the light of My eyes itself is not with Me.
The women of Jerusalem weep over Jesus. Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over Me, but weep for yourselves and your children.
Jesus falls the third time. The iniquities of My people are put upon My neck. My strength is weakened.
Jesus is stripped of His garments. My foes gaze on Me and examine Me with malicious delight. They are dividing among them My clothes, and upon My vesture they cast lots.
Jesus is nailed to the cross. They have pierced My hands and My feet. They have numbered all My bones. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.
Jesus is raised upon the cross and dies. Eloi, Eloi, lamma sabacthani? O My God, My God, look upon Me, why hast Thou forsaken Me? It is consummated. Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit. And Jesus, bowing His head, gave up the ghost.
Jesus is taken down from the cross and placed in the arms of His mother. Full of sorrow she bathes with her tears His sweet lips, His gentle breast, His most dear side, His pierced right hand, His wounded left, and His feet red with blood.
Jesus is laid in the sepulcher. This day shall be a memorial for you. This is the Passage of the Lord. I will execute judgment, for I am the Lord. And this Blood shall be unto you a sign, and I shall see the Blood and shall pass over you, and the plague shall not be upon you to destroy you.*
Intently focusing on the passion of Christ, uninterrupted in the silence of nature, brought me to my knees in a mess of grateful tears. Even the squirrels stopped racing through the trees to stare in awe of His sacrifice.
I knew before that weekend that Jesus died for me. But until I took the time to feel it, to absorb it, to experience it – it was just words in a book. He breathed the truth into my soul that weekend, and it changed me. Knowledge became reality. Words became life. Opportunity. Hope. And that was just the beginning.
I have given but a small glimpse, so I know you can’t possibly understand how He showed up for me in so many ways. But I hope it’s enough to pique your interest. He wants you to spend time with Him, too. And not just once. It’s been almost a year since that weekend, and I can feel the longing to return to the silence, the solitude, and the connection.
I prayed for some magical way of tying this all together. Some way to help everyone understand how important it is to take the time to know Him. To prove to you that if you sincerely ask Him to show up, He will. To convince the world that one major flaw contributing to our problems is that we don’t spend time with God.
I wasn’t surprised that the answer came to me in the form of a song, because that’s a typical way for Him to get through to me. But I expected it to be a hymn or even a popular Christian song, not via Taylor Swift. Yet she (and Ed Sheeran) have captured my weekend with God so perfectly, I just had to leave you with this. Because after that weekend, literally everything has changed.
*The Stations of the Cross were paraphrased from the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, the Psalms, and the book of Isaiah.