I’m going to share, in a series of posts, the remarkable way that God met with me last weekend when I took 48 hours out to retreat, but before I begin I want to give you some idea of why I went on retreat. I will recap a little bit of my story, and tell you a few things I’ve not shared here before.
Just over two years ago I formed a relationship with a man I wasn’t married to. He was also married. It was a friendship which developed as we spent time together in church activities. Over many months it progressed to a point where we were talking of leaving our spouses for each other. The end was devastating. If you want to read more, it’s chronicled in my 31 Day series.
He was the minister of the church I was part of, so ending it did not mean that it was the end. I came face to face with the reality of power dynamics within the church; with the ‘it’s ok you were the only person he was obsessed with so we can move him on somewhere else,’ point of view. With his ‘you meant nothing to me, and it was all a huge mistake’ career salvaging retelling of events. There were misconduct proceedings, which left me bruised and frightened. An interview with a denominational investigator was so horrendous that I was physically ill and in bed for four days after it. The process was not transparent, the procedures were poor, we were advised it would take four weeks – it lasted seven months.
The aftermath shattered my relationship with the church, both local and wider. It also made me angry. Angry about unfairness and injustice and cover ups and lack of responsibility. Angry about lack of care for people, on both sides of the proceedings. Angry about all kinds of things.
Anger poisoned me and I knew I needed to grapple with forgiveness. Grapple, because it wasn’t going to come easily, in fact I had no idea how I would even begin to get to a place where I could forgive. My husband and I have worked so hard to restore our marriage, and with God’s grace we are in a much better place than we were before; so much of life, particularly relationally, is good, and yet unforgiveness weighed me down.
I reached a point two weeks ago where I was permanently exhausted, and I knew that it wasn’t physical. It was an emotional and spiritual exhaustion, and I realised that unless I deliberately put myself in a place where I could tell all and hear God, I was not going to be able to go on for much longer.
I’ve never gone on a retreat before, but I knew that I wanted quiet, beauty and someone to listen and pray with me. I sent emails to eight retreat houses, praying that God would make a room available at the right place. I heard back from only two; one could offer me less than 24 hours, the other urged me to come for a full weekend and also said I’d be the only person there for my first night. I booked in. It was only the next day that I discovered that the other six emails were still sitting in my outbox and for some strange reason hadn’t sent. I guess God had it figured out.
On the night I arrived I found a book written by a minister’s wife after she discovered that her husband had multiple affairs through their marriage, including one that lasted eighteen years. I reached a chapter entitled ‘Acceptance and Forgiveness’. I was very conscious of my need to forgive others and myself, but I hadn’t thought about acceptance at all. The author wrote that until you accept what has happened you can’t forgive because you are forever looking backwards, and are neither in your present nor able to think about your future.
That was a new thought to me and I realised that I hadn’t accepted any of the past. I hadn’t accepted my actions and feelings or other people’s actions and feelings and I was still gripping it tightly. I wanted my past to be different. I still didn’t know what to do about it.
The next morning I went for Morning Prayer in the chapel. There were just two of us – the warden and myself. He knew nothing of me or my story, and we’d had no conversation.
He prayed and then read this poem. It turned my thinking on its head and began to change my life.
There are cracks in my world
I noticed them one day and now they are everywhere:
Sinister hairline cracks that start and finish out of sight
cracks that grow and gape and laugh at my certainties
My world has been declared unsafe
I have tried to paper them over,
paint them out,
move the furniture to hide them,
but they always return,
cracks that hang like question marks in my mind.
And now I begin to think:
why do the cracks appear?
from where do they come?
They have made my room unsafe
They have thrown it open to new horizons
drawn back the curtains
raised long closed shutters.
One day I looked and crack had become a window.
Step through it said, what have you to fear?
Do you wish to stay in your crumbling room?
And then I remembered a childhood dream.
Watching the egg of some exotic bird
oval and perfect, spotted blue and cream
I wished to hold that egg and keep it on a shelf
As I watched it, cracks appeared.
Tiny fissures spread like zigzag ripples.
It broke in two and life struggled to its feet,
Wet and weak and blinking at the world.
Without those cracks that egg could hold
no more than rotting stagnant death
without its cracks my world would be
a room without a view
Cracks maybe uncomfortable, disturbing gaps
Could it be that I need them?
Do you believe in cracks?
Because I keep searching for God in the room
and find he is hiding in the cracks.