When was the last time you went on a church retreat? How about a retreat just you and God? Letitia Suk, author of Getaway with God, joins us today to share about the importance of getting away with God.
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Have you been on a retreat this past year? If you have any connection with a church, you have probably been at least invited to go on a retreat, right?
Seems to me the bigger the church, the more diverse is the retreat menu: family retreats, all-church retreats, small group retreats, women’s retreats, and marriage retreats. Smaller churches offer them too as do para-church organizations. You might say, retreating (or advancing as some would call it) is an essential part of a healthy church. After all, there must be a reason they keep having them.
Common elements usually include singing, plentiful (and sometimes good) food, inspiring messages, and lots of people. Retreats provide great opportunity for strengthening relationships, renewing vision, and letting someone else cook for a change. Usually, we return home feeling encouraged, energized, and probably in need of some sleep.
Now, I love the girlfriend time at the retreats, the laughing, the skits and snacks, and the teachings. Some women freely admit to not caring who is teaching; they just like leaving home. That would include me from time to time too, especially in a crazy season of life.
But while most of my weekend experiences enriched my relationships with my family and friends, time alone with God at these events often seemed minimal and tacked on at the beginning or end of a long day. In spite of all the fun and great camaraderie, I often still felt in need of a retreat.
In the early years of our young church, I attended one of these large group retreats at a local convent. Don’t get me wrong, it was going well, and I was enjoying the experience, but since I am a tad introverted, I took a little walk alone.
While browsing the book area, always a favorite spot, I picked up a brochure for the facility and noticed “Private retreats available” listed among the amenities. Right away I was intrigued, but I was unsure what a “private” retreat would be. The idea suggested an unhurried time to pray, read, and just enjoy being with God at my own pace.
Could someone ordinary like me do that? Didn’t I have to be a bit more, let’s say “spiritually disciplined?”
Nonetheless, I was ready to sign up, but, honestly, I felt clueless how to spend twenty-four hours without a retreat schedule in hand. So I stuck the brochure in my bag and took it home.
A few months later, while seeking God’s direction about of my life (again) and not hearing much back, I pulled out the brochure. Immediately myriad questions flooded my mind:
If I do this, will I just pray the whole time?
Should I fast?
What does it mean to “wait on God”?
What if I get bored?
How spiritual do I have to be to try this?
Then the possibilities began to emerge—time alone, hours to seek God, a chance to finish that Bible study I started at the beginning of the year, an opportunity to sort out the next season of my life. Way too much agenda for one retreat. But suddenly I couldn’t wait to sign up. I called the facility and made a reservation.
Kind of making it up as I went along, I was blown away by the experience of intimacy with God. He responded to all my questions, and I came away filled with a renewed sense of purpose, clarity of vision, trust in God’s ability to untie all the knots of my life, and an overwhelming sense of being loved. I guess you could say it worked.
For the next nearly thirty-five years, I went back once or twice a year. First to that convent until it was torn down for a housing development, then to other places. Some years I went to a bed and breakfast; other times, to a friend’s empty-during-the-day apartment. The where wasn’t as important as just showing up to hang out with Jesus.
Sure, I still go on the group retreats, and sometimes I am behind the podium instead of in the audience. I laugh at the skits, sing along loudly, linger at the table with new and old friends and almost always come away with something new about growing in faith.
But when I need a deep drink of restoration, a time to lean into God and his word, a longer look at the trajectory of my life, I go it alone. Well, not really, he is always there waiting.