Do you like to receive a gift? I don’t know about you, but I can feel my pulse speed up a little when I see a box wrapped up with a bow on top with my name on it! Webster defines a gift as “something voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation”. A gift also has meaning attached to it. When we are given a gift, it is because the giver is trying to communicate with us a measure of value and favor.
The thing about a gift is it really isn’t a gift unless we receive it. If we receive a gift from someone, but never open it and we place it on a shelf in our home, it is nothing more than a dust collector. Without opening the gift, we can never understand what has been given to us.
In this series of posts, we are exploring the discipline of retreat and using the metaphor of a retreat house to describe what a retreat is like. In the last post, we started to describe the foundations of a retreat house. In this post, we want to think of the idea of the retreat house as a gift. This gift has been given to us by our Heavenly Father, “voluntarily and without compensation” or need for good works. He offers it to us freely out of love as way to communicate the value and worth He places on us as His beloved children.
When I see a gift, I can’t wait to open it! Some gifts are more meaningful than others. Some are clearly special and when we open them we respond something like “wow, that’s exactly what I need!” Imagine the gift of the retreat house. We mentioned last time that we bring all of ourselves to this house. We open this gift and what we see inside is God Himself in all of His wonder and glory all for us to enjoy. Can you then imagine responding with “wow, this is exactly what I need!” In a broken and crazy life and world, God offers us a gift that we have been longing for. We just need to receive it. I can think of many times that I have taken this gift and put it up on a shelf somewhere thinking someday I’ll make some time to open that gift. To be honest, I let this gift collect too much dust over the years. But, wow, when I take it off the shelf, dust it off, and open it, it truly is exactly what I need.
Three Gifts in One
Not only can we view the Retreat House itself as a gift, but when we open this gift we see three additional gifts from God waiting for us. As I mentioned in the previous post, this Retreat House metaphor was developed by Trevor Hudson who presented this to us before we took a 24-hour silent retreat in September 2019. In the previous post we explored the foundation of community and walls of openness and courage. Now we look at roof, the covering of the house to examine the three gifts awaiting us.
The Gift of Place
Your retreat house is a physical existence. It can be a house, a park, a church, a retreat center, your car…. However you decide to conduct your retreat, you have been given a place to get away with Jesus. Jesus called his disciples to a place: “Come away to a quiet place and rest a while (Mark 6:31)”. This place is special because we are given the permission to just be. There are no expectations of performance. A place to fully unplug from the noise of the world, away from deadlines, financial pressures, and an endless barrage of media. In his talk, Trevor stressed that very, very, very few people have a place like this. Imagine what the world might be like of very, very, very few people did not have a place like this.
The Gift of Space
Have you ever uttered the phrase; “I just need some space!”. What do we mean by that? It can mean we are overwhelmed by circumstances of the moment and we need to get away to think. It can mean we are worn out and need some down time to recharge. We may feel unsafe in a relationship and we are declaring a boundary to provide some safety. God knows we all need some space. We bring our lives into the retreat house; the good, bad, and the ugly. Jesus gives us space to take some deep breaths and think about our lives without criticism, judgement, or condemnation. He gives us space; He doesn’t intrude or force His way on us.
As we abide in this sacred place and experience space to look at our lives, we are in a position to hear His voice, open the door to our hearts, and to let Him into those spaces in our lives that need His redeeming touch.
The Gift of Time
The Retreat House offers us a unique opportunity to let go of keeping track of time. We are given a window of time where we do not have to do anything at all. There are no deadlines to meet, emails to return, text messages to read, children to feed, ministry to be shared. This is truly a unique gift where we have the time to just be and experience the blessedness of being children of God.
My wife and I are grandparents. One of the things I notice about being a grandparent vs being a parent is time. What makes the bond of grandparent and grandchild special is the gift of time. In that time with my granddaughter, I just offer my presence to be with her, to watch her play, to read with her while she sits on my lap, to watch over her as she naps(when that happens!) with no compulsion to get it done in the next hour because of other responsibilities I need to attend to. It is a time that am filled with delight in her. It is a time that I relish being with her. God is our Father but He seems to operate with a time timetable of a Grandfather. He gives a gift of uninterrupted, undivided time. What a gift!
As you think about taking a retreat, focus for a moment on the gift that God is presenting you in entering the retreat house. What excites you about receiving and opening this gift? Meditate for a moment on the gifts of place, space, and time. What do these gifts mean to you? How might you plan your retreat so you experience giftedness of place, space, and time?
Next up, we look inside the Retreat House and examine several key ingredients in a good retreat.