Finding God in the midst of stress
Emma Morrison describes how a retreat in daily life helped her through a stressful time and allowed her to encounter God's love
I first took part in the Week of Guided Prayer in my first year at university through the University Catholic Chaplaincy in Newcastle. I had such an enlightening, transforming week, so when the opportunity came again in my second year, I eagerly decided to take part again!
However, this second week fell just before a deadline for a particularly stressful, time-consuming university assignment, and by the time the retreat actually started, I was already nearly at breaking point.
My prayer guide for the week was trying to help me to just be still with God during my prayer, a practice which I found pretty difficult due to the constant stream of thoughts and worries about this assignment running through my head.
Early in the week, the stress was becoming counter-productive, so I decided to go to the Holy Hour for young adults at our cathedral. I knelt down before the Blessed Sacrament and attempted to let my mind fall silent as my prayer guide had been prompting me to do. And at some point in the hour I had an experience which totally changed me and how I view my relationship with God:
Without any particular endeavour on my part, I imagined myself standing in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and I felt God gently instructing me to take my medical student ID card out of my pocket, and place it on the floor behind me. And then my purse, and my phone. And then to take off my shoes, my jacket.
And to just stand there in front of God. Just me.
And in that moment I was overwhelmingly comforted and secure in the knowledge that God loves me just like this.
God loves me just as ‘Emma’, rather than for any of these ‘add-ons’ that I’ve worked to achieve, or that society says I need to have. I saw that without these things I am still ‘me’. And that my identity isn’t with anything I achieve or do. I am loved by God, and I belong to God, and that is my identity.
This experience massively changed how I view where my value lies, and also where I see the value of others. Looking back now, it was also the springboard into my current spiritual life: while I had previously had experiences of God in prayer, this felt like a whole new level of understanding what relationship God wants with me. And once I knew what existing in that relationship felt like, there was no way I could not want to move forward in that.
On reflection, the significance of this changing moment occurring during the ‘Retreat in Daily Life’, was that during this acute stress, with all the pressure just before my deadline, my insecurity and fears were most in focus. It allowed God to shed light on those obstructions that would not have been in my field of vision if I were on a ‘getaway retreat’ that I had taken in my own time.