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.