After your initial retreat, hopefully you feel physically rested and have begun to slow down your pace of life. If not, plan more days of rest where you “do nothing.” Being still and intentionally resting is not the same as doing nothing. As you emerge from this period of quiet repose with the Lord, it is time to focus on loving the neighbour. And the closest neighbour is yourself.

The way to a holy encounter with your neighbour is see the other through the eyes of God. This is not easy when the other person is yourself. Try to have a conversation with God about you. Listen to what God has to say. Be on the alert for other voices that try to drown out God’s voice:  your own estimate of yourself, what your family and friends say about you, the value that the media and culture place on you. All these voices are temporal. They are like shifting shadows that lack substance. Encounter the real you through God, through Christ and the Holy Spirit.

One way of doing this is to place yourself in the bible, in the shoes of one of the biblical characters. Who do you identify with? Timid Timothy, fearless David, proud Saul, devoted Mary, humble Moses, or loyal Ruth. We are all many faceted personalities and can identify with different characters at different times. So do not be afraid to identify also with sinners and others in their failure: unfaithful Peter, greedy Zacchaeus, the prodigal son, doubting Thomas, the person who was forgiven, and the sick who were healed. You can also identify with the mustard seed, the lost sheep, and the eagle. Listen to who the Lord says you are like, who you are, and how He feels about you. This is the truth about you.

Once you know who you are in Christ and how much you are loved by God, you are ready to encounter your neighbour, the other person, through Christ. Mother Teresa said that she saw Jesus in the face of the dying in Calcutta. She ministered to them as though she was ministering to Jesus himself (Matthew 25: 31-46). In so doing, she humanized the dying who were treated as useless trash; Mother Teresa restored their humanity and helped them die with dignity, the simple, natural, God-given dignity of a human being created in the image of God.

This is one way of relating to the neighbour who is from the bottom of the social strata. How do we relate to the neighbour who is at or above our social level? This neighbour may be your spouse, co-worker, or boss. The fundamental attitude we should have for our neighbours is that God loves them and that Jesus died for them too. The problem is that we so often forget this at the heat of the moment when our neighbour irks us or treats us poorly. This is when the practice praying continually comes to our aid. If we have toned our prayer muscles, we should be able to exercise them and pray a simple prayer such as, “Peace be upon you,” “Lord, bless (this person’s name); may s/he know you more,” and don’t forget to say a prayer for yourself, “Lord, bless me; may I know you more.”

The articulation of these simple prayers invites God into the relationship, into the action of the moment and reminds us that God loves our neighbour as well as us. Our posture towards the other begins to shift. No longer do we feel alone and under attack because we are holding God’s hands. Instead of reacting out of our own humanness and woundedness, we can respond through God’s love to our neighbour. We can begin to see and encounter our neighbour through God so that we begin to speak words that heal, inspire hope and restore love. Over time, with practice, these prayers become instinctive and can be prayed while driving, getting in and out of buses, waiting in a queue, over the phone, when reading the news, in the kitchen and across the dinner table.

The pace of normal life is generally too fast and makes it difficult, but not impossible, to nurture these prayer practices. The slower pace of a sabbatical is ideal to begin these practices, grow strong in them and adopt them in daily life. May the Lord’s peace be with you.

Next -> Beyond Your Sabbatical: Loving the World

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