The Small Rectangle

rectangle card and leaves - photo by PNW Production on Pexels

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.

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Gretchen Crowder
Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last 15 years. She is also a freelance writer and speaker and is the host of Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.


  1. Gretchen,
    Thank you for sharing this reflection. Such a helpful approach to being able to slow down and listen more carefully, thoughtfully, and emotionally for the Voice of our loving God.

    Being able to “set aside” the many powerful distractions whether they are fear-based, anxiety-inducing thoughts, or ego-centric self congratulatory thoughts, this technique is, for me, a key to unlocking one’s heart to connect with our triune God. Many thanks.

  2. Fitting that – in order to leave a reply – one must type a reply in none other than…a rectangle! Graces always > challenges, thankfully. Thank you for your reflection!

  3. What an inspiration and a helpful practice to draw a rectangle for whatever is troubling your mind
    and as I say, flip the switch.!

  4. Typo on previous should have said “I knew that GOD was talking to me. I also know, he wouldn’t care about the typo, so why do I ??!!!!!!!! 🙂

  5. I will endeavour to use this technique and pass it on.

    Many years ago, I picked up a book called Mustard Seeds from a church, with the byline Daily thoughts to grow with.

    Twice over the past 4 weeks, I had appointments of which I was nervous about. I picked up the book on the day of my firSt appt and it said one word COURAGE, I laughed and said God was surely talking to me.

    The reading today was meant for me as it said “Why is it that you so easily become a victim of your own imagination.” I laughed again, and new GOD was reminding me to stop worrying.

  6. Nice reflection! I’ve used a similar technique for decades but used it to reserve an open space for God. I found in business meetings I could draw a square as a place to remind me that God was present in the meeting. And I create open squares intentionally in my prayer journal so that I am not doing all the talking. It may sound silly, but you are right: it works.

  7. Thanks for sharing, Ms. Crowther. I’ll use this as a tool, too. It’s so nice to see a person share what works for them, helping them grow and manage their lives. I’ll put your name in the “graces” column.


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