I once went to a spiritual retreat in the mountains. There were sermons shared, a great deal of prayer, and time alone to walk in nature. It was a wonderful, spiritual experience. Throughout all the first day I felt my heart opening up and connecting to God. Away from the distractions of the world I could really hear God clearly. We had a more direct communication than I was used to, and I properly understood where I was in life, what was holding me back, and what God would like me to do to advance further.

But when I woke up on the second day of the retreat I found a strange numbness had come over me. I attended the first sermons of the day and struggled to be fully present with them. By the time I hit the second or third lecture the messages had rubbed away my emotional walls and I started to feel spiritually awake again. I had another positive experience throughout the rest of the day.

The third morning the coating of numbness was even thicker. I really wanted to engage with the spirit but it felt like many layers had grown on my heart overnight. The exposure to God, while wonderful, had been tenderizing. There had been a great deal of emotion and my heart had felt more raw and exposed than it was accustomed to. Just like how skin rubbed raw will begin to blister and callous to protect the tender flesh, my heart was toughening itself against further feeling.

This time I only half coaxed my heart back out of its shell. It had reached its saturation point and needed to rest.

Overall the retreat was still a very positive experience. I felt inspired to make some long-term changes to my life and I continue to carry the benefits of that to this day, three years later. I also left with an important lesson about my heart, though. It had an emotional capacity, a threshold for what it was willing to feel. And just like any other muscle, the heart has to be exercised to increase that capacity. I needed more experiences like this retreat to acclimate it to prolonged deep feelings.

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