Last weekend I was blessed to make my fourth annual silent retreat at the Jesuit Retreat House at Demontreville, near Lake Elmo, Minnesota. My two eldest sons went with me for a weekend of rest, reflection and spiritual rejuvenation.
The music that is played over the weekend ranges from Gregorian chant to sax-and-bongos praise music that too frequently causes my sons and I make eye contact and stifle laughter. Over the past few weeks, the three of us had been trying to recall a particular song from the late 1960s that seems to be played at every retreat, every year. It isn’t a bad song, but a little too…’60s…for us to really enjoy. We couldn’t remember the name, but knew that the instant it started our eyes would meet, for better or worse. And sure enough, they did, on Friday—the first full day of the retreat.
The song is “Lord, Teach Us to Pray,” by Joe Wise, and in God’s great humor and wisdom, He saw fit to make it a major piece of my reflection over the weekend. It opens with the chorus:
“Lord, teach us to pray/It’s been a long and cold December kind of day/With our hearts and hands all busy/In our private little wars/We stand and watch each other now/From separate shores/We lose the way”
I wanted to sit passively, but from that first chorus the phrase “private little wars” caught my attention and held it.
As much as I hate to admit it, I tend to be an insecure person—worried about whether I’m doing enough, whether I measure up, and what other people think of me. One of the ways this anxiety manifests itself is in imagined, defensive conversations with people close to me with whom I anticipate disagreement or criticism. These conversations—which have no source other than my own worry—escalate to arguments at times, and I find myself defending myself against an “enemy” who doesn’t even know we are fighting.
I fight these private little wars in my head. They have no basis in reality, and yet they have real effects on how I relate to those same real people in real life. I avoid them or lash out; I postpone phone calls, draft and redraft emails, dread meetings, and distract myself to avoid engaging and sorting through the “conflict.”
Throughout the weekend that chorus played circles in my head, and step by step, it became clearer: these anxieties and imagined conflicts are rooted in a fundamental lack of trust—of faith—in God that He is with me, has called me, has placed me where He wants me (at home, at work, and in the larger Church) and has gifted me to do the tasks at hand. Among the gifts He has given me are my so-called enemies—the beautiful souls who surround me, whose gifts complement, challenge and strengthen my own. They are a blessing. My imaginings are a curse.
It was humbling to walk into the confessional on Saturday afternoon and admit my insecurity and lack of trust. It has been challenging in the days since to recognize that I imagine new enemies and new battles constantly. But it is clear that God wants me to stand down, to stop worrying and do the work at hand—at home, at work, and in the larger Church—and it is inspiring to see those I know and love more clearly, as true partners in building the Kingdom.
Originally published on the Saint Andrew Catholic Church blog The Net on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.