20 Nov 2015

a retreat experience

retreat /rɪˈtriːt/ - a period of withdrawal for prayer, meditation, study, or instruction under a director

According to all battle strategies; there is a time to retreat.

When -

We forget we are in a war. 
We don't build in the strategic moments of retreat. 
We face defeat.

God in His loving, attentive, all-wise way, beckons me to step away, leave it all, and go to a quiet place to rest, to hear, to rec calibrate ... in order to engage the battle with fresh vision and strength. My disobedience to my Commander-in-chief will lead to horrid outcomes.

Retreating is not a luxury. It is a necessity. And I nearly missed it.

After setting my heart and arranging to take a retreat; I made a last minute decision (upon my dear husband's strong support) to attend a 5-day writing-related conference. This was going to be just before my retreat dates; taking me away from home for more than a week. 

i tried to reason that perhaps i could kinda retreat during my conference if i stole pockets of time. But the very first day of conference, I was uncharacteristically exhausted! It looked like i couldn't even enjoy and benefit from the conference; much less burden it with one more agenda: God. 

Also, i needed and wanted to give Him undivided attention. 

Good thing I did not cancel my retreat plans!

Yesterday at Bible Study, we looked at that familiar verse from Mark 1v35:

"and while it was still dark, Jesus arose and went to a quiet place.."
We were asked: what did Jesus do in the dark and quiet when he met with God?

Did he look at the stars and remember the long-ago promise God gave to Abraham his ancestor?
Did he review the day's route and asked for God's-Positioning-System?
Did he ache over the faces and lives he encountered?
Did he grapple with his humanity?
Did he talk about each of his disciples by name?

What do you do when you get to a place of quiet with God?

Quite often in the past, I went into a retreat time with many burdens, questions and longings. My last retreat I went with a huge need to find direction as I was feeling so out of sorts with where I was at. I was doing what seemed right but it did not bring me peace and I felt my soul warping with frustration and pride.

Weeks earlier, I had several questions I wanted answers to at this retreat. But when I got to the place and set my things down in the bare room; I was unable to find or frame my questions.

A simple and bare space can do wonders for us. It seemed to strip me of the questions and longings that clung to me. As I shed all the things I usually surround myself with - no more laptop, familiar books, the cat (!), the schedule, responsibilities and noise... suddenly there is this sufficiency, this simplicity. I tried in fact to dig around because when I was busy and filled with much to think/say/do; the questions pressed on me with urgency. But now, they lose their power and their claim. So I stopped. I reminded myself that being on retreat is to receive care from the One who knows me completely. I gladly opened my hand and let Him lead the moments.

If you have never known the freedom of having no datelines, no whatsapp, no emails, no one to answer to...then you must go on a retreat! Simply being on your own with nothing to achieve/settle/ resolve is a most freeing experience. it is not that your troubles are all sorted out; it's just not the time for it. In fact, we are so used to being a problem-solving mode that we really need a break from it; in order to come back fresh.

I ate my meal quietly; it was all set out. I did not need to fuss over what to eat. There was just one option. I did find and enjoy the last green-tea packet though! Again, the mind gets to rest, the body gets to slow. This in turn allows the deepest part of us to surface.

I went to the lounge area and looked at some stuff on a table: art paper, two tins of fabric with needles and thread, a large bottle of buttons. In a cupboard I found markers and paint and glue. I walked away to sit in a large armchair and began exploring a huge hardcover book on Thomas Merton's art. A most charming title isn't it?

But my heart felt drawn to return to fiddle with those buttons. I flipped and read slowly; then I got up and went to the table. 

Not quite sure what i was going to slap together, I picked out some fifteen buttons that caught my eye. The word 'mystery' had been floating around so I wrote that down on the middle of the page. With a oil pastel, I drew a thick red line across the paper. Finally i drew and then stuck the buttons on. 

I selected a few books I found and took them to my room.

In the evening, I started to journal. The pages filled out quickly! The spiritual director I arranged to meet had suggested a few Scripture passages. I read those familiar passages and listened. As i journal; i realised those passages helped me to pray about the questions I had. It was good to turn the questions away from being a quest for answers to prayers that expressed my hope in a God who hears and answers.

sitting with Jesus

Over the next two days, God would let me know He knows exactly where I am at: the longing for clarity for my ministry, my recent dreams about a former church, entering a feminine season where loss and rejuvenation combine called menopause, growing children...

brave Mary

in the chapel

I felt something deep within me being filled up. 

Then the deepening impression. Joy. Joy, Joy. We need it but we are so afraid of it.

I prayed relinquishment.
I prayed hope.
i prayed about missing my mom.

i looked at my artwork and i knew its meaning would continue to unfold for me: there is mystery to life. But a river of redemption runs right through it. And along the way, God buttons us up where we may otherwise unravel or split apart.

When I finally packed my things, I was ready,and eager to be home.

Retreat to Advance.


  1. What a great reminder for all of us! I love what you said: "Retreating is not a luxury. It is a necessity." So glad you went back refreshed.

  2. Hey Stephanie, thank you so much for reading! I hope you found some time to rest and recharge after that busy conference and the long flight!


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