Thursday, June 9, 2011

How to write a letter to someone on a retreat

A few weeks ago, someone arrived on my blog by Googling this title. What a superb idea! We need a How-To list for a lot these days, so let's help each other with this challenge.

First of all, the person who Googled that was probably running late on the task. Yes, we’re busy, but think of it this way: I’ve kept all of the letters written to me while on retreats. Retreatants know they're important.
    Hand-write your letters. (credit)

Letter-writing has been made more important with the advent of the Internet and emailing. Seeing your loved one’s handwriting on paper crinkled as their hand worked across the page adds value to the words. Making this effort will matter to your “retreat-ee”, so don’t put it off.

This is exciting! You care about someone enough to take on this challenge. It won't be easy because you want it to be genuine. Start with a prayer and start early.

Secondly, change things up. If you spend all of your time on the computer, give pen and paper a shot. Even if you draw blanks, start writing. Paper isn’t as rare as it used to be; you can start over.

If you live in 1789 and you tend to write with quill and parchment, Google up some typing lessons and draft your letter on a computer (transfer it to paper later, of course).

This letter is a visible sign of several relationships. Your relationship with the send-ee and his or her perception of you are good places to begin.
  1. Do they look up to you? Tell them something about them that you admire.
  2. Do they ignore you? (Secondary question: is he or she a teenager?) Surprise them. You don’t need to make yourself heard or try too hard. Most likely, you have their attention because of the compelling weight of an envelope full of pen and ink-scribbled paper. Remain authentic.
  3. Another set of important relationships in this exchange is that involving God. How is your relationship with your Creator? Share some pragmatic ways you build a relationship with our Lord or how you need to work harder to do so.
  4. Palancas for Love (credit)
  5. Do you forget to show His Love to others sometimes? Write it down. It's good to learn from others' mistakes. You're not writing this letter because you're perfect and bestowing your wisdom on an imperfect being. You're both imperfect. Tell them that you love the way they Love, if you have witnessed a strengthening relationship with Him. 
  6. If the letter’s receiver begrudgingly went to the retreat, they need your love now. The Devil hates the good fruit that retreats bring, so he constantly preys on retreatants. Start with Love. If you think their priorities stray from concentrating on Him, show them Love in your letter. 
  7. This is not the time to say, “I wish you were more like THIS.” Instead, tell them that God knows who they are: His son or daughter. 
  8. Chances are you’ve watched them grow at some point in their life. From an infant to a toddler. From singing the alphabet to writing stories with a fat pencil. From multiplication and division quizzes to algebra. Write to tell them how excited you are to watch them mature. Remind them that you know a sliver of what it must be like for God to watch all of his children grow. Let them know how privileged you feel to be in their life. 
Things to remember:
  • Less is more. Lots of words do not always mean more love. You can have a greater impact with carefully chosen, few words.
  • Keep in mind that he or she is probably exhausted. Retreats can take it out of you, physically and spiritually. He or she may not know how he or she feels at that point. Assure them that's okay.
  • He or she either learned new facts about the faith or are trying to convince himself or herself they haven't learned anything. Assure them that retreats affect people differently.
  • The person to whom you are writing may disagree with or dislike something about the faith. Encourage them to ask questions of the priest, if you suspect this is the case. Remind them to remain calm and polite when doing this. Discussion is good, but hostility will produce skewed results.
  • Quotes are used so often because smart people pack HUMONGOUS messages in succinct, profound nuggets. Before you start your letter, pick a few quotes or Bible verses that embody what you'd want to hear at a retreat. You may be surprised by what comes out of your pen without aid and may not need to use the quotes/verses... but it doesn't hurt to have them if you need them.
What is your process for writing letters to loved ones at retreats?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder - I have about 30 I need to start writing now because there will be another 30 generic ones that I'll have to draft next month! OY!

Trista said...

This is really interesting to me because although I've been on lots of retreats, I've never been given a letter or been asked to write a letter. Is this normally done for a certain type of retreat? I've heard of it, I can't remember the name...but obviously didn't go on it.

Anonymous said...

@Trista.. are you talking about Kairos? I recieved letters from both of those. Pretty much any of the big retreats we went on in high school (and I went on Kairos again in college) have letters involved.
Next year, I get to write one for my younger brother going on Kairos! I am so excited and thanks you Elizabeth for posting this! This will definitely come in handy next year when I am confused what to say!

Trista said...

Yes, Kairos! I find that so weird I never had to do that...I went on at least 6 retreats in high school and 4 during college.

Anonymous said...

I've never been on a Kairos retreat either. But I've done a lot of one that is very similar. Have any of you heard of the ACTS retreat??

Anonymous said...

Kairos is absolutely awesome. I highly reccomend if you get the chance to go, to go! Jim and I went together in January and I really think it helped both of us grow immensely in our faith!

Lisa Schmidt said...

I have a letter from my Dad from the last retreat I completed, written just one week before he passed away. I will cherish that letter and his wisdom and love contained within it forever!

Great post. Thanks!

The Catholic Couponer said...

This is a great post. We attempted to have parents write letters to their children for a confirmation retreat a few years ago. 90% of the letters we got back were very well written and were on target of what we were looking for. But about 10% of them were literally 2 sentences. I remember one said I hope you had a good weekend at retreat. We did give instructions but some people don't get it.

I think I'm an expert at this though I did awakenings all throughout college and spent many a nights writing letters throughout the weekends.

The Awakening experience I did in college is very similar to ACTS according to my friends that have done both. I haven't done Kairos. The Awakening is based on the Cursillo retreat movement/experience.

@Lisa omg that is crazy! I bet you will! It's so cool to read other peoples retreat letter experiences! Retreats hold a special place in my heart. I have so many wonderful memories of retreats from high school and college it's hard to explain to others sometimes.

Anonymous said...

Our ladies are going on an Acts Retreat this week-end. I am from South Africa, Durban . Have been on an Acts Retreat ,it was awesome.Have written 5 letters to the ladies from our Parish,wishing they have a wonderful Spiritual experience.

Cheryl P said...

was on the South Africa Acts retreat last weekend, all I can say is WOW. And yes the letters play such a vital part in finding comfort in knowing you are thought of prayed for & loved.

Lisa said...

Hay Elizabeth. am so lucky i found this letter on retreat. My search stopped here! Sample Letters

TwinAngels said...

My cousin is going to Kairos in a few weeks, Cincinnati, his mom asked me to write a letter........never heard of it & reading your info & the reply posts its truly a part of my life I could use for myself! Your "guide" really helped me put ink to paper. I am so glad to know he will share in ths "brotherhood" in Christ

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the guidance. I was asked today to write a letter for my Niece who will go on a Kairos retreat in Dec. I was willing, but baffled, until I found your site and posts. Thanks everybody. God bless us, everyone!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this , I was at a complete blank in writing this retreat letter , which isn't normal for me.I just didn't know where to start thank you. Blessings to you, L

Anonymous said...

I arrived here via a Google search, so relevant indeed! Thank you for your insights, this will be a huge help!

Anonymous said...

Another google searchee! But I would have appreciated help for writing letters for people you don't know!!! (I finally settled for putting an especially meaningful to me holy card in each letter and hoping that makes up for the genericness of the letter - but when I'm still so new to the parish, what else can I do?!?!? Better than nothing!)

adrianna weaver said...

have you ever heard of TEC?
(Teens Encounter Christ)

Elizabeth said...

@Adrianna - I have not! But I looked it up after you posted and it looks like a great opportunity for teens!

Ana REx said...

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Thanks again.

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