“You know what would be so good? A retreat on how our relationship with God energizes us,” Katherine said as we chatted away over the phone, sorting out the most important points for the upcoming Giving Voice retreat.
We talked about our key relationships, especially our personal relationship with God, and how these energize and support our lives. We knew that the wealth of energy, love, and mutual support depends on sharing what is deep and most true about ourselves, bringing our whole authentic self into all of our relationships. We also knew how hard that can be.
“Deep sharing is no easy task; it seems like people are trained to only show the parts we think others want to see,” I wondered; then, thinking about the other side of this question, I asked myself if I felt worthy:
‘Am I enough, just as I am, with all my struggles and failing?’
The question I could not answer followed me to Arizona, and into the monetary chapel where the eyes of no less than twenty-six Our Ladies of Guadeloupe gazed benignly back at me. I sat in the circle, one of thirty young sisters gathered for the retreat, and we began as we so often do by sharing the story of a personal symbol. Holding a pile of old note cards tied with a ribbon, my nerves tightened into little knots. I listened to others share their symbol, why it was important, and how it related to the theme.
“I have received these cards over the past nine years, mostly at ceremonies. I keep the cards that are touching, or supportive ones from friends and family,” I could feel my voice starting to shake a little. Speaking slower to hide the frog growing in my throat, I went on, “when I’m having a hard time I pull out a card and reread it. That keeps me going.”
I thought back to some of those hard times when ministry hadn’t been life giving or things in community were challenging me. The year I moved three times before finally settling into a new house and ministry. The death of a dear friend. I knew if I tried to say any of that out loud I wouldn’t be able to finish sharing my story so I stopped and let others share their struggles and joys, all the while holding a line from the opening prayer in my heart:
“Do not press me to go back and abandon you.” (Ruth 1:16).
These words were not the ones I chose for myself when Katherine and I poured through pages of quotes and bible passages, collecting resources for reflection. I had a nice quote from Henri Nouwen all picked out for my weekend, nothing as challenging as this one line from Ruth. Yet, Ruth’s words reached me that night as if God was asking me why I kept God at a safe distance, protesting to God that I had not yet earned this relationship. As if I could earn this, or any friendship, as if God was asking me to, as if God did not already know everything about me.
“Do not press me to go back and abandon you… I will go where you go…”
The realization flooded in, not for the first time in my life, that God has gone where ever I have gone. God’s faithfulness, at my most triumphant moments and my lowest lows, has never failed even when I was sure I was alone. I laughed while scribbeling in my journal; I thought I would one day say Ruth’s words to God, not the other way around. But, reaching out to say the words I most needed to hear is the action of a true friend, one who has never asked me to earn the love that is so freely given. That weekend God reminded me again that I am enough, that I am worthy just as I am.
Soaking up the warm Arizona sun I remembered something I wrote in my journal years ago:
“You don’t want my words or my work, You just want to to sit still so You can hold me close to You.”