Before school let out for the summer, a few colleagues and I gathered for a mini-retreat to close out the year. At the beginning of the retreat, our director invited us to spend some time writing down all the graces we had experienced throughout the school year. Before he dismissed us to go off and reflect, he said, “Now, I’m sure you are wondering what the rectangle is all about.”
He was right. I was!
In the bottom right-hand corner of the provided paper, there was a small, empty rectangle. The director went on: “The tendency when we reflect about our year is to first bring to mind the challenges we faced instead of the graces we received. That’s OK; it happens, and it is a necessary part of reflection. But for this first part of our retreat, when a challenge comes to mind, I invite you to put it in the rectangle—the small rectangle—and leave it be, so you can return yourself to focus on the graces first.”
It was a new way of proceeding for me, and I have thought about that small rectangle a lot ever since.
I do have that tendency to focus on challenges over graces. When a problem arises in my day, it can become the only thing about which I can think or talk. Until I find a solution to the problem, it can become so all-encompassing that it blocks me from seeing God at work in my day.
In fact, a few weeks ago, right before I got into a meeting that I had been looking forward to, I got an e-mail about a problem that had my mind going in a million directions. I suddenly was very distracted. But then, the small rectangle from the retreat popped into my head. I thought, “What will happen if I draw my own small rectangle on the paper I’m going to use for notes, write down what is distracting me, and tell it to stay there until I am done with this meeting and can think more about it?”
So I did just that, and it worked! I put aside the e-mail until my meeting was over. When I returned to consider its context, I found that the intentional pause I took in thinking about it helped me to consider the issue more rationally when I returned to it. The big problem contained inside four thin pencil walls was suddenly not as big anymore.
As we gear up for a busy fall, it is inevitable that challenges will arise in our days. What would happen if we committed to temporarily banishing the challenges to the confines of a small rectangle so the graces can take over first without limit?
Photo by PNW Production on Pexels.