Invitation to Rest

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The Discipline of Retreat

Do you have a favorite place to “get away from it all”? A place where you can pull back from the busyness of life and “recharge your batteries”? If there is a mountain or a beach involved, that would be a favorite place for me.  The only problem I have with getting away from it all is the compulsion to see and experience everything and I return more exhausted than when I left!

However, if we pause our activity for a moment, we sense there is a deeper yearning within our soul to truly get away and experience refreshment. What we are longing for is to retreat. In a previous blog, we discussed the struggle of “what would Jesus do” and how we must learn to live like Jesus, not just in the “on the spot moments” but in all of life.  One of the spiritual practices Jesus engaged in was retreat.  Remember after His baptism, He withdrew to the desert to be with His Father for 40 days. In another example in the midst of busy ministry activity, He invites his disciples to come away for a while and rest:  

And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31).

Luke also notes this:   Yet he often withdrew to deserted places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

What is Retreat?

What does it mean to retreat?  If I am to be completely honest, this has been a spiritual discipline that has been absent for most of my walk with God.  I have certainly had some awe-inspiring times of retreat, but not to the place where it has been a regular pattern for me. The biggest hangup in thinking about retreating and spending a longer time with God was “what would I do for all of that time?”  I mean, I can pray hard for 10-15 minutes, but then what?  I could read for a while and study, maybe sing a few songs, but that might fill up an hour maybe 2? …. Do you see what I am doing?  Even in planning to retreat, I am already prone to fill up the time with endless activity.  

I don’t know if our culture really understands retreat in the sense that Jesus experienced.  You may have been on a work retreat or even a spiritual retreat weekend, but often times those events are packed with activity, training, and action.  You usually are challenged with a todo list of things to take with you when you return.  These are all great retreats and they have their place. But I think Jesus experienced and is calling us into a different kind of retreat. Ruth Haley Barton describes a retreat this way in her book “Invitation to Retreat”:

Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention; it is, as Emilie Griffin puts it, “a generous commitment to our friendship with God.”

Three words really strike me in her definition:

  • Extended: retreat is more than 15-20 minutes here and there. It is for a longer period of time.
  • Undivided: our focus is directed fully and completely with God as much as possible.
  • Generous: Ruth says that “we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned.” We don’t allow ourselves time just to rest and be in God’s presence.

The Danger of Distraction

Every generation probably has said this, but it sure seems like we live in a world that is filled with distractions. We live in a world that thrives on activity 24 hours a day. We carry these electronic contraptions around with us wherever we go that are constantly “beeping” and “ringing” demanding our attention. And we regularly, willingly, relent to their demands! How often have I found myself drawn into this addiction to technology? Do I really need to immediately respond when I get a text or email?

Again, Ruth Haley Barton gives us something to think about:

One of the dangers of living in a constant state of distraction is that we never go to the bottom of our pain, our sadness, our emptiness, which means we never find that rock-bottom place of the peace that passes understanding and rest ourselves there. We never receive the comfort promised to those who mourn, so we are always on the prowl for more and better distractions.

Ouch! Our modern way of life has delivered to us a way of coping with our pain by providing endless avenues to help us forget about the pain for just a little while. I think that is also what makes thinking about going on a retreat a little scary. If we commit ourselves to a time of retreat where we are exercising disciplines of silence and solitude,  we may just have to confront some of the pain, anxiety, and fears that we have. But the good news is in retreat we can begin to give voice to our pain in the presence of God and experience healing, comfort, and freedom!

The normal course of day-to-day human interactions locks us into patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a world set against God.

Dallas Willard

Personal Example of Retreat

About 10 years ago, I went for a day of retreat. I remember before that day, I researched retreats and what people did on them so when the day came for retreat I would be armed with all kinds of things to do.  In a way, I was looking for “spiritually-sanctioned” distractions to fill up every moment of my retreat so when it was over I could feel like I really accomplished something. But, did God have other plans for me that day.

 I chose a local park to do my retreat and as I began driving to the park, I sensed God telling me to relax and let it all go. I was like, “But God, I have all kinds of things lined up for us to do today”.  But He simply said, “let it go.  Let go of your desire to perform or to have the perfect retreat.  I am not asking anything of you but to spend time with you.” 

I immediately began to sense a peace and a letting go of any apprehension about the day. The greatest takeaway I got from that day was God didn’t desire my activity, He desired my presence. I experienced the presence of God in a way I had never quite experienced before. 

 

In the quiet of solitude and silence, our souls have time to settle and we are more open to receiving the love and delight of God. In retreat, I experienced healing and freedom from the wound of performance and perfectionism, that was blocking how I experienced God and what was impacting how I related to others. When the retreat time was over, I sensed God lovingly saying to me “What took you so long? Can we do this again soon?”

Practice

How about you?  What do you think about taking a spiritual retreat, an extended time of undivided attention and generous commitment with God? In the next post, I am going to describe a wonderful illustration of what a retreat is like.  It is an illustration given by Trevor Hudson called “The Retreat House”. But for now, I’d like to leave you with one final quote from Ruth Haley-Barton as she beautifully describes the invitation God extends to all of us to retreat with Him:

The yearning for retreat: Can you feel it? That yearning is your invitation. It is the Spirit of God stirring up your deepest longings and questions in order to draw you deeper into the intimacy with the God you were created for. Will you trust it? Are you brave enough to let it carry you into the more?​

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