How Much Love Must I Receive to Believe I Am Loveable?
I fell asleep on my back. My three-year-old niece and six-year-old nephew intertwined around me like I was their body pillow. Every shift they’d make, I awoke and would slowly return to sleep. The love I felt from their embraces though, triggering some feeling-of-contentment neurons in my brain, made the lack of sleep worth it. Spoken like someone who doesn’t have kids of her own and is able to sleep without interruption the next night. I had no idea how this feeling would be powerfully prescient of what I was to experience in the coming week.
Chipmunk Stories and Love at a Funeral
The next day I started a prayer retreat my spiritual director had recommended and my head did the bob and snap as soon as the leader read the prayer text. I looked around to see if anyone noticed. It was bad enough that I had introduced myself to everyone at the retreat as a non-Christ-believer and non-church-goer, but now I couldn’t even stay awake for the very prayer that this retreat was all about. I noted the irony of my feeling shame around falling asleep when my reason for doing the retreat was to try to learn to feel God’s love even when I was in my “bad” place.
My spiritual director was aware of my non-belief and knew that I recoiled at a lot of Jesus talk, but the retreat focused on the first of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, which focus on feeling God’s love, so she recommended it to me. I had found shorter retreats enlightening and so here I was, trying another.
After the text, the leader directed us to “recreate a time when you felt loved.” Instantly I thought of my niece and nephew wrapped around me while we slept the night before and I felt my heart bloom like a flower stretching out its petals to catch the rain. After a short time sitting with that image, we were asked to come back to the present and note any change in our feelings. I fell asleep again. Fortunately, I didn’t snore.
After the first meeting with the group, the retreat took place in the form of structured prayer at home. As with the group prayer, over the following four days, I was to recreate times I felt loved and switch back and forth between the image and the present. Each day had a different theme. And each day I worried that I wouldn’t see…