As I walked past the parking area of the retreat house the other day, I felt a familiar tightness in my gut. I recognized it immediately as my discomfort with not having an exit strategy.
Exit strategies are important to me. I need to know I’m not stuck somewhere and can leave when I want. When in a restaurant and the choice is between a bench or chairs against the wall or chairs on the outside of the table, I choose the outside. I try to position myself at the end of pew in Mass, not in the middle. And my law students in NY knew that I would go to any party they were having except the ones that involved 3-hour boat tours around Manhattan; the idea of being stuck on a boat and not being able to leave the party when I was ready was too intolerable.
Here at the retreat house, having arrived early on the first evening of the retreat, I pulled my car all the way up to the grass, leaving two car spots behind me. Walking past the parking area, I could see cars on both sides and behind my car. The fact that I’m not planning to leave here until the end of my retreat on Wednesday morning and that, even then, waiting for the car behind me to pull out would not be an inordinate inconvenience was of no import. What I felt was that discomfort in my gut that said: I’m stuck. No exit strategy. (In retrospect, it turns out I was wrong about that. When I later spoke with my director about the experience, she told me that cars in my position drive over the grass to get out, but I didn’t know that at the time.)
I happened that day to be praying with the passage in Deuteronomy 30 where God tells His people, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
What powerfully struck me was that God always leaves us an exit strategy. We can always leave when we want. It is always out choice and God never blocks us in. And what I realized was that I couldn’t have it any other way.
My deepest desire is to always choose God. The phrasing of the desire in one version of the Spiritual Exercises speaks of the desire “to re-order and re-direct all aspects of my life to the praise and service of God.” That articulates well my desire. Yet, that it is my choice to do so matters immensely to me.
What I realized with deep force was that I can stay only because I can leave. Which makes that choice one of the greatest gifts God has given me.