Of Mice and Minerals: Unexpected Lessons of a Prayer Retreat

Rock beneath me. Rock above me.
This summer, loaded down with a variety of stressors and noticing my last actual trip to anywhere was in 2019, I desperately needed a vacation. Long road trips tend to help clear my head. But where to go?

During an insomnia-driven 3 a.m. skim of social media, I noted a favorite band's upcoming Hollywood tour date, checked the calendar and realized "we could actually do that." So, despite soaring fuel prices, we hit the road 3 weeks later, trekking from St. Louis as far as Santa Monica on a brand new set of Continentals. It was a fantastic and picturesque trip that helped me shake off the last couple years to some degree. But it clearly wasn't far enough, as we hit the ocean and had to turn back around. I still needed a little something more.
Turns out Route 66 only goes so far. Hello, the Pacific.
Now recognizing the need for some extended alone time with the Lord, I began processing plans for a prayer retreat. A private retreat would be a new experience for me, and I was again unsure exactly how this might look, so I asked Him for direction. After several Missouri spots came up short, I suddenly recalled rumors of some beautiful destinations in Southern Illinois' Shawnee National Forest, a place I'd yet to experience. A brief search yielded cabin lodging available on my choice dates, complete with friendly farm animals and trails right on property. Bonus opps to visit recently relocated friends and a favorite eatery along the way basically sealed the deal. Just a couple days out, I booked a 2 night stay.

I really didn't go with much agenda, other than to pray and do some hiking. Following a visit with the farm animals on that first afternoon, I took a hike around the perimeter and came to my first rock formations, for which the area is known. It was here the Lord brought Psalm 61 to mind, and particularly verse 2, "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I." This became my theme. From worshiping in song inside Cave-In-Rock with its fantastic acoustics, to the breathtaking beauty of Garden of the Gods at sunset, the psalm was a perfect meditation to pray through at each stop. Long solo hikes during the days, complemented by nights filled with mesmerizing campfires and magnificent stars, kept me solidly focused on the astoundingly creative majesty of Jesus.

From inside Cave-In-Rock, opposite the view above.
Garden of the Gods at sunset. Massive rock structures in this old sea bed.
On my first night in the cabin after quiet time, I sat down to read a book our church was going through thinking this might be a chance to get caught up. After a few sweet moments of quiet, I thought I heard rustling. Seeing nothing, I returned to my reading. The sound came again, and I replaced my glasses just in time to spot it: A mouse! I caught the tiny rodent climbing its way out of a bucket of tchotchkes and fire starter kits on the far side of the room only to scamper toward the bed.

Not knowing quite how to extract said mouse from cabin, I made a quick call to alert my otherwise elusive hosts to the situation. However, before the kind man could arrive, the mouse and I had an encounter somehow ending with its tail in a glue trap, making it an easy catch. With few reasonable options, I placed the helpless creature in a kitchen pot and presented it to my host, who restated, as had his wife, that this had been their first rough season with rodent kind. Offering some additional traps and his promise to try a few preventive measures outside, we departed with apologies. No worries, said I. Mice get into everything.

Around that magic hour of 3 a.m., I half-awoke and soon noted again the sounds of scampering. Another mouse. Toward the beginning of what would be an hour-long, Tom and Jerry style pursuit of Mouse Number Two, I began to wonder what was happening. Wasn't this supposed to be a restful retreat time with the Lord where perhaps I could actually sleep through the night? Instead, I was near to becoming a quite contradictory animal-loving hardened mouse hunter.

It was at this moment the thought occurred: "There will always be a mouse."

Even during what might have been an otherwise peaceful and quiet retreat, there was something disruptive, something to deal with, something to cause incredible distraction. And here I was, quite as I often am, sleeplessly attempting to work out clever ways to resolve the problem. But a critical question was also raised: Could I still keep my focus on the Lord in the midst of it all?

The hunt finally ended with Mouse Number Two caught in the same location as my previous friend and placed in a new kitchen pot on the screened porch outside to be dealt with in the morning.

The next day, I addressed my captive and worked to assist my hosts by various means, including an attempt to block a possible mouse entry point. Even with some delay, I still made it to all desired destinations, continuing my consideration of Psalm 61 and conversing with the Lord.

That afternoon, I reentered the cabin and headed toward the kitchen, pausing as I looked into the restroom. "Oh, hello there," I calmly said to a very-shocked-to-see-me Mouse Number Three, who eventually unfroze and skittered behind the commode. This time I gave a mental shrug and went about my business.

A while later, as I sat at a table to prayer-write through Psalm 61 and journal some of my experience, Mouse Number Three finally came out of hiding and headed for the living area. As it passed I continued writing, noting at some point, "I literally just heard a squeak. Time to pray." In short order, my third little friend ended up caught in the exact same spot as the other two and was similarly collected.

While it first seemed strange that the Lord would present these tiny disruptions among the more substantive rocks, the mice became such a powerful metaphor that people I've shared the story with now keep reminding me of it as they consider their own proverbial "mice" and reactions to distraction.

Personally, this event seemed to highlight the difference between over-processing and trust. I may be able to "clever" my way through many problems, but the Lord is provider of both the intellect and the means to solution. (For those wondering, taking mercy on helpless creatures became part of the story too. Unable to fully achieve "hardened hunter" status, I soon learned the secret to extracting creatures from glue traps: Vegetable oil. And of course the virgin coconut oil was conveniently packed.)

However, despite any success or failure to clear the daily "mice" of life, the Lord also made clear He arranges each situation and I must not lose sight of Him, which can contribute to much of the overwhelm I was feeling just weeks before. There may "always be a mouse," or several, but even if some should appear to be Rodents of Unusual Size, I can always call to Jesus, that high rock and strong tower in whom I can find rest and refuge.

Whatever "mice" you might be dealing with today, I pray you too can see the God who rules over and is present in every circumstance.
Certainly the One who once walked out of a rock-cut tomb has more than proven He can be trusted in any situation.

Praise the Lord for the creative ways He shows Himself through all things, whether road trips, rocks or even rodents.

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