Roadmap to Couple Spiritual Growth
In Spanish-speaking countries, there are signs along the road that say “Retorno”. It means “to get off the path and check where you are going”.
As the word alludes, Marriage Retorno, a couple spirituality programme, is an opportunity for married couples and even the religious to check their spiritual “road map”. The road map is the Word of God as written in the Bible. This programme guides participants to establish God’s will for them, individually and as a couple, and to adjust the direction they are going or to confirm they are on the right road.
Here, Colin and Cheryl (not their real names) share how Retorno brought them back to where they first started serving together in a family ministry. A big U-turn after being away for eight years! They had experienced a period of dryness when routine had set in and the sense of purpose and mission was lost amidst the work. Through this weekend programme, Colin and Cheryl learnt to turn towards God as a couple again.
Come November, we would have been married for 33 years. We are blessed with three grown-up children and recently, a beautiful grandson.
We attended our original Marriage Encounter (ME) Weekend in 2002. We are still journeying with our Weekend couples in a Love Circle. We try to meet once a month and after 15 years, they are like family to us.
We first heard of Marriage Retorno from our ME circle of friends who, after attending the programme, incessantly nudged us to attend it. They said that it would make our couple relationship complete.
After running out of excuses, we reluctantly signed up. When that Weekend did not materialise (we could not recall the reason for the cancellation), we were secretly glad and relieved. With more persistent urging by these friends and upon our third attempt, we were accepted for the Retorno Weekend in June 2015.
One of the first questions posed to us at the Retorno Weekend was, “What do I hope and expect to gain from this experience?”
I wrote that I was expecting nothing and wanted to have an open mind. My wife and I decided that we would let the Holy Spirit lead us.
We found the pace of the Weekend right for us, and we went with the flow. The talks and the bible passage readings were very relevant and easy to understand. Interactions with other couples were discouraged and kept to a minimum. Everything, including meals, was done simply and quietly. It was refreshingly different from some of the other retreats we attended.
We particularly loved the quiet setting. It afforded us time and opportunity to reflect not only on our relationship but, more importantly, on God’s presence in our relationship. We took time deliberately to communicate with God and express freely our joys and anxieties, and to pray together for each other.
“We are going to have a relaxing weekend,” I whispered to my spouse on the first night. We grinned at each other, “Maybe we can even sneak in 40 winks in between the talks in the afternoon”. What wishful thinking!
We were in our bedroom, going through the handout after the fourth talk on Saturday afternoon. From the list of bible passages to read in the handout, I chose 1 Samuel 3: 1-18 (The Lord calls Samuel) and wrote down my reflection. My better-half read and reflected on the passage that she had chosen, Hosea 11:1-5 (God’s continuing love for Israel). As we were taught, after writing, we exchanged and read each other’s reflection, before ending with our conjugal prayer.
Just as we finished saying our prayer, I suddenly felt our room warping and saw a very bright light so brilliant that it dazzled everything in the room, causing the walls and the furniture in the room to fade away.
My first thoughts were, “What is happening? Am I in a movie?” as it felt like one.
All I could do was to gaze at the bright light from the window which was intense but not blinding to my eyes.
Then a strange calmness overcame me when I “heard” God’s call. He was calling us to return to serve in the ME movement.
The light gradually dimmed and the room returned to its original state.
I was in awe of the experience, and could not comprehend what had just happened. Not wanting to forget what had occurred, I furiously scribbled away my experience in my journal. I described as much as I could to capture that sensational moment before the bell rang for us to re-assemble in the conference room.
Later, I confided in my wife about what had happened in the room. She shared that she sensed something had come over me. She observed that I was suddenly quiet and writing frantically, which she thought was very unusual of me.
The rest of our Retorno Weekend was not the same after that. Like the prodigal son, we felt troubled at the thought of returning to active service in the ME movement. We were in denial and kept questioning if that was what the Holy Spirit wanted of us.
Towards the end of the Weekend on Sunday, there was a session of “Sharing our Marriage Retorno experience and expressing our commitments”. As I shared with the couples on what I experienced the day before, I found myself shaking uncontrollably. I was unnerved. I suspected the couples must have heard my heart beating hard and fast, or thought I had gone off the rails.
After Retorno, we continued with our daily practice of choosing a bible verse for reflection. Strangely or coincidentally, the readings we chose directed us to the same calling. We backtracked on the reflections we wrote during Retorno and were astounded that they too were gently leading us to the same call.
The call made us uncomfortable. We were still resisting it and were beginning to feel anxious.
You see, we were invited to be ME presenters after our original Weekend in 2002. After five years of discipleship and presenting three ME Weekends, things became a routine for us — we went to meetings and prepared for our presentations for the sake of doing it and out of obligation to the community. We felt dry and empty like a well after a drought whilst other team couples were gushing with enthusiasm about their Weekends and their role in the service teams.
We did not have the sense of belonging so we decided to turn our backs on ME and stopped serving altogether in 2008. We gave the reason that our jobs and family were demanding more of our time.
So the “recall” bothered us. Over the next few weeks, we prayed and read the bible. Then we had a flashback of a conversation we had a few months prior to signing up for Retorno.
We were saying how thankful we were to God as we reflected on His generous love for us. He graces us with more blessings than we truly deserve — our personal well-being, our happy marriage, our sensible children, our stable careers, and a comfortable life. We were telling each other that with all these unexpected gifts and unreserved blessings from God, we better know when to say ‘yes’ when He calls us.
Slowly, it dawned on us that He was calling us now. Out of fear, we did not want to say ‘no’. However, through deeper reflection, we realised we could not say we love God and not pass on His overflowing love to those who are seeking Him. We surrendered ourselves and placed our trust in the Holy Spirit to guide us and smoothen our journey back to ME.
Thanks to Retorno, we are now involved with the ME movement again after being away for eight years. This time around, the fervour to serve is very different. It started with attending the ME Deeper (Team Formation) Weekend for the second time and rewriting our talks.
We have learnt to put God as our centre of focus, and let Him be our driver. We have begun to see ourselves in the larger picture of His plan – He has given us talents and resources to be His hands and feet to reach out to couples, like us, and spread His message of love.
This is our encounter with God at Marriage Retorno. We do not know how Retorno Weekend may move or touch you spiritually; ours might have been a little dramatic. You just need to open your mind, surrender yourself, and take that first step … after all, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” (Lao Tzu).
Sign up for the upcoming run of Marriage Retorno, taking place 13-15 October (Friday-Sunday) 2017.