I have a feeling that for the rest of my life when I return from a retreat, I will only be able to speak of graces and revelations that are profound in their magnitude but elementary in their complexity. This doesn’t bother me, but it was a bit surprising when I came to this conclusion a few years ago. While I’m not saying the Lord can’t reveal anything new to me, I think the revelations will primarily be a deepened understanding and solidifying of truths I already know, albeit superficially.
This understanding came about when I returned from a beautiful retreat. It was enlightening and life giving. Yet the main take-away was nothing new: God loves me. In fact, it seemed laughably basic. Didn’t I already know God loved me? Yes, of course. But after that retreat, I knew it in a deeper, more significant way. I experienced the love of God and it left behind a smattering of old truths seen with new eyes.
Sometimes, the students insist we all keep teaching them the same things. Sometimes, it is true that unnecessary repetition happens. But, it is also true that learning something as a child is quite different than learning about it as a high schooler or an adult. They believe that since they have heard the words before, they know it. Knowledge, however, is something that can be known with the head yet not known with the heart. It is often important to repeat well-known truths because they haven’t journeyed yet from words the mind understands to a reality the heart lives from.
High school students are far from the only ones to do this. The familiar sometimes seems uninteresting when actually we just haven’t plumbed the depths of it yet.
Jesus loves me.
God became man.
The Lord is faithful.
Trust in the Lord.
Jesus rose from the dead.
All of these truths have been heard by Christians innumerable times. Yet how many of these truths have fully penetrated our hearts? How deep of an understanding of the Lord’s love do we actually have? Do we really know and experience the faithfulness of the Lord or do we simply parrot the words? We can stay on the surface with these realities or we can bore down deep and imprint these words on our hearts. Like the circles within a tree, each experience with a particular truth can be packed in deeper and deeper, each additional layer increasing the beauty and profundity of the simple reality.
To be sure, these truths can be imprinted through beautiful retreat experiences. But they can also be imprinted through suffering and difficulty. Abram’s faith was tested and strengthened through the many years he lived with the promise of God in his heart and yet no children to fulfill that promise. He wavers, yet ultimately endures in his faith that God would be faithful to His promises. St. Thomas More endeavored to remain patient despite his imprisonment by the king and wrote to his daughter, Margaret,
“And, therefore, my own good daughter, do not let your mind be troubled over anything that shall happen to me in this world. Nothing can come but what God wills. And I am very sure that whatever that be, however bad it might seem, it shall indeed be the best.”St. Thomas More’s Letter to his daughter Margaret
He was beheaded, nonetheless, by an order of King Henry VIII. His time of trying, though, was certain to have deepened his resolve and knowledge of the Lord’s providence, whether here on earth or in heaven for all eternity.
It is the familiar, seemingly commonplace things that we should force ourselves to re-examine. The Mass may appear boring in its ritual, but it is profound in the truths it is conveying. Try to slow down next time and listen to the actual words of the prayers and see if something strikes your heart anew. Ordinary phrases about the love or mercy or forgiveness of the Lord aren’t shocking, but if we give them a fresh look, there should be something new for us to receive from it.
How is the Lord working today in your life? It might be through taking something old and familiar and breathing new life, new meaning into it. Simply because you have heard it before, don’t discount that the Lord may speak through it in a new way to you.
Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?Isaiah 43:19a