I recently retreated with 6 other men for a weekend. We spent about 44 hours together in a remote but comfortable setting to talk about our spiritual lives, our journeys and our vision for the future. The three of us who planned the weekend made a decision to forgo an agenda and trust the Holy Spirit to lead us during our time together.
Breakfast was at 8am both mornings, and some men used the time before breakfast for quiet devotional reading. The setting offered many places throughout the house where one could sit comfortably, look out a window at the countryside and be in deep quiet. Others ended up talking with the host and his wife as they prepared breakfast in the spacious kitchen, while others took the opportunity to sleep later than usual and get the additional rest.
The balance of our time we spent together. We lingered at the table after eating, until our fannies begged for softer chairs, and then settled into the host’s study, an intimate room filled with books and windows and a stone fireplace. There was no hierarchy, no need for anyone to take the lead. The Wild Goose, the Spirit of Truth, The Comforter was our leader and inspired the topics and direction of the conversations.
The hostess of the home has studied healing prayer. We asked and she agreed to sit with us and explain what she has learned from three years of study and practice. We asked questions and took notes and listened with interest. Her contribution to our time was unplanned and was a gift. Our host offered to have us watch a video of a speaker presenting a monologue interpretation of the parable of the prodigal son. We took him up on it and had a meaningful discussion when the video was finished.
Several times during the weekend I held a conversation with myself inside my mind and simply marveled at the joy and value of retreating like this and sharing these discussions with others who are in serious pursuit of life, life with Jesus as our guide.
So the question is –
Very few of the Christians in my world make a priority of ever retreating. Taking time to go to a quiet place separate from the routine places of living and working for the purposes of being with God. Why don’t we do it?
I think there are a few obvious reasons: people will say they are too busy, they can’t get away, too much going on. Others will say they don’t really need a retreat with God, they go to church each week and have a bible study during the week (maybe) and get what spiritual inspiration they need from that routine. Still others might avoid a setting like what I have described thinking it is too spiritual, not for ordinary Christians, digging too deep into issues they aren’t comfortable with. Yet another reason might be simply not knowing where to find a place to retreat to.
At the core of why we don’t do a lot of things that are necessary for a good spiritual walk with God is an upside down perspective. What I mean is, what makes us so certain our commitments of time are so important that we cannot rearrange our schedules to make time for spiritual fitness? Who tells us we get a pass on developing an intimate walk with God because we have filled our days and hours with so much work? Or so many responsibilities? This affirmation seldom comes from God, no? God says, instead, he is capable of providing all we need if we will believe it and trust him for it. God tells us not to be covered with anxiety and worry because he knows what we need and offers it to us. God suggests there is a deep abiding peace of mind/heart that can be ours if we take our worries and burdens to him, instead of stressing and worrying and grinding ourselves up trying to get it done on our own. He even implies that many of the things we are striving for are not even part of his strategy or plan for our life, they are not even on the radar!
So to retreat is to step away. To put those tasks and responsibilities on hold for a time and step into a space with God. To retreat is to expect, or at least hope for, the stress bound up in your body and shoulders to settle out of you as you slow down before God. To retreat is to put the energy of your mind into considering the things of God: love, acceptance, worthiness, grace, power, promise, courage, trust, joy, peace; and to invite the Holy Spirit to speak into you, into your heart, and your deep soul, words set aside for you. A retreat is a place to slow down the rhythms of your daily life to a pace where listening and sensing God’s movements toward you is possible.