I suppose much of my job is about creating space for people – space to explore and question, space to grow and learn, space to doubt and wonder. Until this past weekend, however, I had never really thought about my job in those terms.
I co-facilitated a women’s retreat with my mom for women I’d never met before. This was new for me. If my memory serves me correctly, every retreat I’ve designed and facilitated has been for teenagers with whom I already knew. Of course, sometimes there would be friends invited along that I hadn’t met, but for the most part, I knew the majority of the participants.
This retreat was different on several levels:
– I didn’t organize the registration, secure the location or manage the logistics.
– It was a group of adult women, most retired.
– With the exception of one person who arrived Saturday morning, I didn’t know any of the participants.
– The retreat was less than 24 hours: we started with dinner at 6:00 on Friday and left Saturday afternoon at 3:00.
– I didn’t lead every session – my mom and I shared the leadership.
For all the retreats I’ve done in the last nine years, I’ve done all the prep work myself – from securing the location to advertising to design and facilitation. Also, the retreats I create are usually 48 hours – gather Friday early evening and return mid-afternoon Sunday. Of course, I have lots of volunteers who lead the small groups, but the main sessions I’ve always done by myself.
Retreats for youth have to be more structured than retreats for adults. Although I always have open spaces for free time and games, it’s usually within a fairly structured schedule. And, for the most part, that has always worked well. I create questions for small group leaders to ask the youth during reflection time. I create activities to help them process the topics. I build each topic from Friday evening to Sunday morning, helping them follow a path to a new revelation or consideration for their lives.
This weekend, we had very little time together, which means I had to talk less. I had to present the idea and then open the space for them to process on their own. I had to create the space with a few boundaries and then let them take it from there. Although I had to prepare, I had to be ready for what might happen, I discovered this was much less exhausting and time-consuming than what I’m used to. And, I liked it!
On Saturday morning I asked them to work on an activity that would have them reflect on their lives. When everyone was done, I was surprised about how many people wanted to share with the group. In fact, due to time constraints, not everyone got to share. When that session was over one woman said to me: “When you told us what we were going to do, I really didn’t want to do it. I usually don’t have any idea how to start things like this. But, when I sat down it just came out. I really appreciated this. Thank you.” All I did was create the space. She did the work.
The same was true for other group conversations or individual reflections. I created the space. I set the scene. They interpreted it and created the dialogue. It was beautiful and opened up my eyes to the possibilities before me.
Co-facilitating this retreat was really easy for me. I loved doing this work with my mom. But, I realized, even if she hadn’t been there, it still would have been easy for me. This kind of work comes naturally. I was a bit worried that outside of my element (with teenagers I already know) I may not be as comfortable, but I was! I’m so grateful my mom asked me to join her. I’m so grateful for new opportunities to grow and discover what’s already in me.