Retreat 1

A warm welcome

A First Reflection

Read the following words from Jesus slowly, as if you had never read them before. Imagine hearing them in His Galilean dialect, sitting on a hillside with the others who were listening that day. What expression do you see on His face? What tone do you hear in His voice? What look do you see in His eyes? As someone sitting in the crowd, what might surprise you about the content of His words?

 

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

— Matthew 6:5-8

 

Read His words again slowly, before moving on. Notice what stirs within you as you read.

 

 

How we pray, where we pray, when we pray, what we pray—all of these movements are like mirrors that reflect what we truly believe about our Father in Heaven.

There is nothing that unearths our deeply-held beliefs about God like our practice of prayer. How we pray, where we pray, when we pray, what we pray — all of these movements are like mirrors that reflect what we truly believe about our Father in heaven.

 

Especially in troubled times, we may be tempted to question God’s character, maybe not overtly, but in some small corner of our soul we may hear an ancient whisper: God is not good and cannot be trusted. Better grab what you can get. You are on your own.

 

It was that seed of insinuation that sent the first flash of fear through the first man and woman in a garden. It is that sinister seed that still germinates in the substrate of our souls today. So when the world collapses around us, our first impulse is to kick into overdrive, burn through fear like jet fuel and act upon a lie that we don’t even know we’ve heard:

 

Better grab what I can get. I am on my own.

 

What does that action look like in real time? For some of us, we aggressively grab as much power and control that we can wrangle. For others, we over-extend ourselves, grasping for affection and esteem. Still others develop a white-knuckle grip on our own security and survival. Or, if you’re like me (Donna), you master the ability to do all three. In other words, we act like orphans who’ve been abandoned or, at best, neglected children with a parent who lies to us and withholds the very things we need.

 

Jesus knew exactly what He was up against when He started gently digging around in our prayer life in His first sermon. He knew that a sinister seed had been tossed into our souls in a garden long ago, and He was here to once-and-for-all uproot it. He knew that our prayer practice reflected our most deeply-held beliefs about God, so He offered us a soft cloth to clean the mirror. Hear these words below in the kindest voice you can imagine. (I like to imagine the gentle voice of Mufasa under the stars with Simba. In my head, Jesus is played by James Earl Jones!):

 

You have a very good Father who knows you better than you know yourself, and He loves you. He is not standing over you with His arms folded, waiting for you to say the magic words to unlock His favor. He knows what you need before you even ask. You are not an orphan. You are His deeply-loved child.

 

The people sitting on the ground that day were likely shocked that Jesus spoke of Yahweh as their Father. As R.C. Sproul wrote, “The first Jewish rabbi to call God ‘Father’ directly was Jesus of Nazareth … It was for that reason that many of Jesus’ enemies sought to destroy him; he assumed to have this intimate, personal relationship with the sovereign God of heaven…” ​ Even more shocking still, Jesus suggested that our very good Father longs for a secret life with us, a hidden life of intimate communion, not meant for public consumption.

 

Jesus then invited those around Him to use their imaginations when thinking about their Father in heaven. He asked in Matthew 7, “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

 

How much more.​ With those three words, Jesus began to loosen the roots of the sinister seed that had grown into a sprawling plant within us. How much more. Jesus tossed His own mustard seed into the soil of our souls and invited us to think of the best father we could think of, then imagine how much more is our Father in heaven. Of course, Jesus knew He was sending us on an errand that would last a lifetime and beyond. He was planting a new seed in our soul that had the potential to grow into the largest of plants, if we would only give it light and water.

 

Whatever our best image of God, it will always fall short of who He truly is. We cannot imagine the depth of His goodness, His generosity, His love (Ephesians 3:14-21). Yet Jesus invites us to try.

 

Prayer is an invitation to plumb the depths of God’s goodness, and at the bottom of it all, to discover a heart of deep and abiding rest. We don’t have to grab, grasp or develop a white-knuckle grip. Our Father knows what we need, before we even ask. We can let go of our grip, and know that He is God(Psalm 46:10).

 

Take a moment to notice your internal level of tension. If you had to describe the state of your soul as either “clenched fists” or “open hands”, what is most true about you in this moment? Take a deep breath and say those words again slowly: Let go of your grip, and know that He is God.

 

When the world is collapsing around us, instead of grabbing, grasping or gripping, Jesus invites us to open up our hands and reach like a child for the Father. Instead of kicking into overdrive, Jesus invites us to collapse into our Father’s arms and rest.

 

There is a secret room where the Father waits to greet you. The more time you spend there, the less it becomes a place that you go to. Instead, it gradually becomes a place that you live from, a spacious place deep within you that unleashes the Father’s love — first into your own life, and then into the world.

 

Take a few moments to engage with the following video and enjoy the warm welcome of God.

For Reflection and/or Journaling

Lord, here I am

Before you begin engaging with words, take time to continue resting in the warm welcome of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Be reminded that God sees you as you are and welcomes you as His deeply-loved child. Words are not needed, but if it is helpful, you might simply (and slowly) say,

Here I am, Lord.

Thank you that:

You see me.

You know me.

You love me.

Here I am, with You.

 

Allow each phrase to take you more deeply into His Presence.

The questions in these retreats are offered to help facilitate our inner conversation with the Father. In that matter, however, we always defer to the Spirit’s leading. Notice which questions you are drawn to, and move towards them. As best you can, engage with the questions without judging yourself or raking yourself over any coals. Simply notice and name what stirs within you. Be mindful that you are sitting beneath the kind and compassionate gaze

of our loving God.

Return to the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:5-8. What does your current experience of prayer reveal about your most deeply-held beliefs about God? Take some time to linger with this question.

 

Bring those beliefs to the Father. Hold them up in the light of His love. Ask Him for the grace to let go of whatever does not accurately reflect His image. Ask Him to begin to reveal to you the deeper reality of who He is.

What does your current experience of prayer reveal about your most deeply-held beliefs about God?

 

We invite you to take a few moments each day to enter into your inner room with God, take a few deep breaths and sit with Him in silence. If you need words, you might simply say,“Lord, Here I am.” Be assured:“He will rise up to show you compassion,” (Isaiah 30:18).

An Optional Creative Exercise

Engaging with art, especially if you are “allergic” to engaging with art, can help set us free from our analytical mind and create some new space within us where we can breathe a little more deeply. Consider gathering some art supplies, whether it be paper and crayons, markers or paint; Play Doh or modeling clay; or paper, scissors, textured objects and glue. Ask the Lord to help you imagine the room where He waits to welcome you and embrace you. Express what you imagine through the medium you have chosen. Ask the Lord to speak to you through what you have created.

Questions for Reflection and/or Journaling ​

Before you begin engaging with words, take time to continue resting in the warm welcome of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Be reminded that God sees you as you are and welcomes you as His deeply-loved child. Words are not needed, but if it is helpful, you might simply say, “Lord, here I am.” ​

 

The questions below are offered to help facilitate our inner conversation with the Father. In that matter, however, we always defer to the Spirit’s leading. Notice which questions you are drawn to, and move towards them. As best you can, engage with the questions without judging yourself or raking yourself over any coals. Simply notice and name what stirs within you. Be mindful that you are sitting beneath the kind and compassionate gaze of our loving God.

 

Return to the words of Jesus from Matthew 6:5-8. He is offering us a soft cloth to polish the mirror of our prayer experience so that it might more accurately reflect the reality of who God is. What does your current experience of prayer reveal about your most deeply-held beliefs about God? Take some time to linger with this question. ​

 

Bring those beliefs to the Father. Hold them up in the light of His love. Ask Him for the grace to let go of whatever does not accurately reflect His image. Ask Him to begin to reveal to you the deeper reality of who He is. Have confidence that this is a prayer our Father is glad to respond to, although His response may be gentle and gradual, unfolding over time.

 

 

An Invitation

We invite you to take a few moments each day to enter into your inner room with God, take a few deep breaths and sit with Him in silence. If you need words, you might simply say, “Lord, Here I am.” Be assured: “He will rise up to show you compassion,” (Isaiah 30:18).

End your retreat with a heart-to-heart conversation with your Father, with or without words.

Friends in the Video

The video for this retreat included members of Young Life’s Good Way team: Donna Hatasaki, Daniel Lai and Tracey Meeks. Donna is the Director of Spiritual Formation for Young Life; Daniel is an Associate Regional Director for the Golden Gate Region; and Tracey is a Training Associate and Women’s Leadership Coordinator for the Eastern Division. Also on the video were two guests from this year’s Good Way cohort, Danita Calhoun and Lucho Llanco. Danita is an Area Director in Memphis, and Lucho is the Regional Director for the Greater Houston Region. This retreat was written by Donna Hatasaki.

 

If you are interested in exploring participation in the Good Way, visit the Training Department page in Staff Resources and search for The Good Way.

Additional reading

You might be interested in reading this article by Ruth Haley Barton, Beyond Words: An Invitation to Solitude and Silence. You might also like the book, Tattoos on the Heart,​ by Father Gregory Boyle, or The Inner Voice of Love,​ by Henri Nouwen.

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