(This is the letter I have written to my nephew, who will soon be attending the Kairos retreat, a Roman Catholic program designed for young teenagers, in order to be able to find “true meaning” in their lives.)
DEAR Rob, I heard from your mom that you will soon be attending a Kairos retreat, and she wanted me to write you a few words of encouragement. I looked up what a Kairos retreat is, and this is what I found:
“Kairos is a four-day/three-night retreat filled with community, shared witness, prayer and reflection for juniors and seniors in high school. Retreatants can expect to experience small group discussions, large group prayer sessions, witness talks, personal and group reflection time, three delicious meals a day, bountiful snacks, free time and private sleeping quarters.
Kairos, meaning “God’s time,” is a great opportunity to set aside your busy schedule and go “off-the-social-grid in order to get to know yourself, others and God on a deeper level.”
The bountiful meals and snacks aside, it seems that you are going to have some quiet time for yourself. As they used to say in the ‘60s, you are “dropping out and tuning in,” so that you can reflect on things that you would otherwise not have the time nor the attention span for, within your day-to-day routine.
This can only be a good thing. Part of the unfortunate feature of the world you dwell in today, is that everyone is always “connected.” Connected to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all manner of social media. Connected to the web, to email or to television. There is so much going on outside, it’s very hard to focus on the inside. So treasure this experience, if only for the opportunity to be with yourself, with no distractions from the outside world.
So, as you have this time for yourself, what should you reflect on?
What I hear a lot these days is that your generation want to “make a difference.” This is what I often hear from my young colleagues at work when they come to see me about their careers. They feel depressed and downcast because they can’t see the difference they are making within the organization. They are in some kind of existential desert, feeling lost because they can’t see their footprints in the sand.
How do I think you can make a difference? Frankly, I can’t. You will have to find this out for yourself. But what I can say is this: You can’t make a difference in the world, unless you first make a difference within yourself. As Gandhi is reputed to have said—“be the change you want to see in the world.”
Start with the small things.
Everyone laments about the degradation of our environment, and how we are not paying enough attention to it. But do we think long and hard about how some of the small things we do may be contributing to the larger problem we are trying to solve? Do we turn the tap off when we brush our teeth? Do we leave the lights on when we leave our rooms? Do we try to eat locally sourced food, rather than consume produce that came from the other side of the world?
As a 14th century proverb goes, “Mighty oaks from little acorns grow.” Like ripples in a pond, the small changes we effect within ourselves, the seemingly trivial good deeds we do on a daily basis, and the little acts of kindness we give to each other, go a lot to make this world a much better place for everyone.
So next time you find yourself asking if you have made a difference, ask yourself first what that difference is that you wish to make. And once you have answered your own question, ask whether you have already made the changes to yourself, that you wish to see in others, and the world around you.
Wishing you all the best in your retreat.