Maryknoll Lay Missioner Julie Lawler in Cambodia reflects on the need to retreat and re-center on God's call.
Today’s gospel reading leads us to reflect on and examine our priorities. What is most important? It is hard to choose between God and other commitments, but God is inviting us to choose God above all else, possessions and relationships, so that we can have eternal life.
Being a disciple is a daily decision to say “Yes” to God. We are called to reflect and ask ourselves, where are our commitments, where is our time being spent? When we make bad choices and stray away from God, can we forgive ourselves for those unloving choices or behaviors? Can we forgive ourselves and love ourselves like God forgives and loves us?
This is an invitation to enter into a space and be with Jesus. It can be peaceful, bringing us clarity and joy, but at the same time, it can be difficult to get there. This is the challenge. Saying yes is not just a one-and-done thing. We need to seek God’s counsel repeatedly so that we can continually take the steps to be a disciple of Christ.
I find the readings for this Sunday to be truly relevant to those times when we need to get out of a funk and get back to where we once were, secure on the path as disciples of Christ.
I am a recent missioner; I joined the Maryknoll Lay Missioners in January of 2020. I moved to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I started mission and began a new life away from my family. Needless to say, I was making adjustments, transitioning to a new culture, learning two languages and adapting to a way of living that was not like what I had before, plus dealing with Covid-19, like everyone else.
Time moved on and I realized I had been in Cambodia for nearly two years. I was thinking “Wow, where has the time gone?” I had met so many people, experienced celebrations, weddings, gathered for funerals, and was invited to join in family gatherings. I led workshops for deaf future leaders, trained teachers on deaf awareness and encouraged them to incorporate more activities and games that build skills and fluency in sign language, and designed training programs for teachers of the deaf (bilingual deaf education and STEM).
But I realized I was living in the fog of survival mode, distracting myself with social media, movies, and mindless thinking, to avoid focusing on feeling anxious in the time of the pandemic. How did you deal with the pandemic? For me, after long days in my ministry, I allowed myself to get caught up in mindless tasks that allowed me not to think about the uncertainty or unpredictable nature of what was unfolding around me. I was not seeking God’s counsel like I had in the past.
Then, I felt a nudge and a call “Come, follow me.” I recognized this feeling and like before, it was God calling me to give myself space to retreat and reset my priorities.
After reflecting on the readings for this Sunday, I am reminded of a recent experience I had of God calling me to set my mind straight again so that I could be a better disciple. I felt called to spend time in meditation so I could push out the noise of the world and seek God’s counsel once more. I felt like I was surviving the pandemic, doing the best that I could. But there comes a time, when you need a reset, and I was feeling just that.
After the borders reopened two years into the pandemic, I went to a Jesuit retreat center called the Seven Fountains, in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The retreat center is nestled in a property near the mountains, next to the hustle and bustle of Chiang Mai University. As you enter the grounds, the peace and tranquility surround you. There are winding paths outlined with brick that lead you under a canopy of old trees. Along one path, you go under an archway etched with the word peace and walk through a bamboo forest that leads to a prayer labyrinth, with side chapels and a small grotto with a statue of Mary. During my retreat, I was guided by a spiritual director who encouraged me to visit these outside stations and join in meditation prayers.
In those days during my retreat, I felt the love of Christ and also the desire to make my path straight again. Today’s reading encourages us to take those actions that make our paths on earth straight. If you fall, listen to God and go to God again. Seek God’s counsel and ask for the grace to let go and move on. Discernment is just that, a process of looking at our choices and evaluating our actions.
In saying yes, we know that being a disciple of Jesus is not easy. There is a constant need to be mindful and a mindset that tells us to stay alert to the advances of sin. How are you seeking God’s counsel? Take those first steps and act: pray, listen, and follow God’s call.
Photo: Bamboo forest at Seven Fountains Retreat Center, Chiang Mai, Thailand by Julie Lawler.