This past weekend, I reserved a one-night stay at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America in Washington, DC. I was looking for a respite from the everyday, a break from my usual responsibilities, time to enjoy nature, and space to work on some art projects. A tall order for a less-than-24-hour stay! By stepping away — REALLY away — from my usual surroundings and distractions, I was able to fully rest, retreat, and “go deeper” than I expected.

A Monastery? For a Nice Jewish Girl Like Me?

My daughter was going out of town last weekend, which left me with a very rare weekend on my own. I started looking into inexpensive, nearby getaways and retreats, and I came upon The Hermitage at the Franciscan Monastery. I had been to the Franciscan Monastery before; it’s actually one of my favorite hidden gems in DC. In addition to a couple of special events in one of their rental halls, I had spent time wandering around their beautiful gardens. The Hermitage seemed like the perfect fit for the kind of quick and easy, no frills getaway I was seeking! I booked it and started planning.

Plans, Plans, Plans…

And, there’s the rub. Or, at least, one of the rubs. I am a planner. A superlative planner. A world-class planner. I started planning all of the long-delayed projects I could work on during my retreat, imagining the activities I could pack into my day… and then I stopped. While there is some minimal planning one must do to visit there (reserve your stay, bring food, pack clothes), I was aware of my planner-mania and made a conscious effort to reel it in a bit and see where my day and my mood took me upon arrival.

While planning definitely has its upsides, it is a form of trying to control things. One day of a bit less planning isn’t going to change 50+ years of being a planner, and I really don’t want it to. I like making plans! Good plans can propel things forward, and they often save effort and stress in the long run. But I also want to give myself permission to let fabulous things unfold when I don’t plan.

My Own Sweet Cabin and Chapel

The Hermitage was like a tiny house in the woods: a one-room cabin with all of the necessary amenities (bed, desk, bathroom, kitchenette), a deck with a rocking chair, and no TV or internet. It’s designed to help you create the time and space to be quiet and look within. It’s surrounded by woods, and when you stay there, you have your own tiny chapel (pictured here) to use as you wish! What a wonderful surprise to discover the chapel. My un-planning was already paying off.

You know that expression, “God has a sense of humor”?

On previous visits to the Franciscan Monastery, wandering around the gardens has been a pure delight. There typically are other visitors, but it’s never so crowded that you can’t have your moments of peace among the flowers and trees.

Well, wouldn’t you know it: the day I was there was the day of the annual plant sale fundraiser for the monastery’s garden guild (the volunteers who help maintain the gardens), and the joint was PACKED. I mean, wall-to-wall people. The private area of the monastery, where my Hermitage was located, was not open to the public and was quiet. But the main grounds were open and bustling. Sigh. I resigned myself to not having quite the peaceful garden experience I was hoping for. As the old saying goes: People plan, God laughs.

But, wait — eureka! The main garden area with winding paths, grottos, koi ponds, and more is surrounded by a gate, and on the day of the plant sale, the gate was locked (I don’t know why, but maybe because they didn’t want too many people in the gardens?). But, as a resident in The Hermitage, I had a key! I let myself into the gardens and had several BLISSFUL strolls with the entire garden area all to myself! I got to wander around the plant sale and smell the lavender, basil, dill, and other plants and herbs they were selling, and I also got an experience of solitude in a beautiful setting. I couldn’t have planned it any better. People plan, God laughs!

So How Did I Spend My Time?

I walked. I meditated. I took photographs. I prayed. I journaled. I slept, and slept some more. I read. I worked on a craft project involving paints, unencumbered by the curious paws of my cat at home. It was only a day, but some days are deeper and fuller than others. I didn’t accomplish everything I thought I’d originally accomplish on my day away from home, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a win. I’m so grateful for my night at the monastery. I hope I can continue to carry some of it with me.


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