Category Archives: retreat

Are Family Getaways Good For You?


As I sit here in our hideaway in the mountains I realize the value of down time for couples and families. Nan says “I feel younger here.” For me I just feel more engaged and connected. Both of us tend to be over-responsible by nature. I guess it’s a family of origin issue long ingrained by years of reinforcing behavior. Whatever the reason, if we’re home, we are never far from our jobs.

When at home the simple tasks of everyday life seem more rushed and intrusive, whereas when we are away they are the leisurely fillers of our day. Cooking is an adventure rather than a necessity. Going marketing is another voyage of exploration. Who knows what we may find? When we are away we talk more to each other. We read more and dream more.

That’s the way we approach time away. You may be very different. For you time away may mean not having to attend to the mundane at all. What might bring you joy is abdicating the routines of daily life and letting someone else attend to them. Your goal is just being together without any responsibilities and going at your own pace. Or perhaps it’s a recreational pursuit or exciting journey that brings you refreshment. No problem.

We have discovered that many families that seem to have elevated levels of conflict at home do very well when they detach from routine. Time away together restores and renews them. Often they return from vacations vowing to spend more time taking breaks from the daily grind. Those that actually follow through seem to grow in their relationships.

There is another group that brings their conflicts with them into their down time. They fight on vacation. They fight on dates. They complain that their partner doesn’t spend time with them – in the midst of  their partner spending time with them. They can turn ice-cream into vinegar. Perhaps what they discover is that they don’t really like each other that much. Or they just bring selfish and negative attitudes with them wherever they go.

I love where Paul the apostle says in Philippians that he has achieved contentment in all circumstances. What a great perspective to have! I must admit that I am not there yet, but I do get a lot closer when I am able to detach for a while.

Kids love time away. It’s often what they remember best after they have grown into adults. Although my family brought conflict with us on vacations, I wouldn’t trade the great camping adventures we had in the California mountains and beaches back in the 1950’s and 60’s.. It was something we took with us into our marriage, minus most of the conflicts.

We highly recommend that couples get away regularly without the kids as well. Even a night or weekend away can do wonders for a stressed relationship. Yes, you adore your kids, but sometimes you need the lover in you to be set free. That suppressed childlike  part of you needs to come out and play. By the way, it’s never going to happen if you don’t intentionally prioritize and plan it. So start a “getaway fund” and contribute to it regularly. If you put it on the credit card you will just create more stress.  Now get out the calendar and circle some dates.

Not Another Relationship Thingy!


I was really pleased with the turnout that we got at our last marriage conference (The Art of Marriage). Perhaps what pleased me the most were the longtime marriage veterans that showed up.  These were the people who you might think would have the lowest motivation to attend and the least to learn. But here’s the kicker: Some of the most positive comments came from these people. They were generally folks who had been to various marriage events over the years but still were interested in participating. Why?

People that are lifelong learners are winners.

The comments ranged from “Good seminar” to “I picked up a few new tips” to “I never thought about that before” to “I had low expectations but was pleasantly surprised.”

As you might imagine Nan & I have been through a sufficient amount of marriage and counseling material. It’s what we do. But still there is always more to absorb and there is an excitement that comes with opening a new book or watching a new DVD. We took some of this with this on vacation this year. In front of us was the television with a series on ‘Attachments’ playing and to the left was the pool and the ocean beyond. They both held their allure.

I actually have heard people brag that they haven’t read a book since high school or college. All I can think is “Wow, how sad, you are really missing out.” I must say that this doesn’t describe the bulk of my friends and co-workers – especially at church. Often they are exchanging book lists, looking for something new and interesting. And most of those who we counsel don’t fit into that category either. Usually there is a hunger to grow. Often we joke about “Here comes the homework part of the counseling”.

So how are you when a new relationship class or event or book is announced? Do you groan and hope your wife (or husband) isn’t interested or do you keep an open mind? In the interest of telling the most honest version of my story – I have done both, leaning toward the negative direction more often than I would want to admit in public. But I have rarely been disappointed when I have embraced the learning experience. It’s almost always been my attitude, not the event that was lacking.

Strong marriages put in the time. I have friends that do a yearly marriage retreat of some sort – and you can imagine the condition of their relationship. Nan and I take at least a yearly vacation – and a couple of long weekends away as well.

What have you done lately? What books have you read? Please use the comment section below to share your thoughts.


On a Beach Far Far Away

My first experience with a “retreat” was as a child. And for me, it wasn’t so wonderful, and certainly not restful. It was some sort of Christian boy’s camp held at a ranch. It was called Green Acres or Green Oaks or something like that. I was put on a bus with a bunch of kids I didn’t know and told to sit down and be quiet “or else” by the guy in charge. Nice.
The highlights of that long weekend that I can remember were the ability to buy candy at the camp store if your parents had thought to give you some pocket money, and riding a mule that stopped every few feet to relieve itself.
My idea of a retreat today is somewhat different than my early experience. 
There are many kinds of retreats – personal development retreats, educational retreats, spiritual retreats, and just-leave-me-alone-so-I-won’t-go-nuts retreats. Some professions (like raising children) are probably most subject to the last one. I think I’ll call it an emergency retreat. It becomes necessary when the stressors of life overwhelm us. Although I have heard that you can “have a retreat in your own home”, somehow I think the vast majority of us can’t detach enough in our own environments in order to accomplish that. There are simply too many things calling out for attention.
God’s plan for us is to have times of rest. If you are a motivated leader in any capacity, rest may feel like a low priority and an unneeded interruption in a busy life. But those who do not build rest into their lives may find unscheduled “retreats” in the form of doctor or hospital visits. Pastors, counselors, business leaders and medical professionals often fall into this category. But it is not just leaders that need to detach. Employees who work in high stress environments are subject to burnout and overload as well. Taking a couple of mental health days is better than a week of sick days.
Most people will have to have a planned retreat built into their lives. So often a vacation is not a restful retreat, especially if it involves children. A retreat should be free from daily responsibilities, and where kids are involved that is simply not possible. Also, many people make vacations heavy on activities – and that’s not the purpose of a retreat.
On retreats I want to have space to think, to dream, and to recreate without pressure to perform. I also want to be able to spend time with positive sensory input, in other words, just feeling stuff. I like long stretches of uninterrupted “being”, and not doing. I often wrestle with a feeling of anxiety for not accomplishing anything concrete. But then I remind myself that that is precisely the point. I am dealing with the intangibles of life that nourish the soul, like spending time with just me and God. All good retreats offered by churches and other organizations include a heavy dose of this separate time, away from the planned events and connect time.
Recently I posted a question on Facebook asking where you would most like to spend time in retreat: desert, mountain or beach. I would like to ask it here as well. Use the comment box below to describe your favorite formal or informal retreat setting.