A few weeks ago, I decided to drive down to Sandy Cove in Maryland for a time of prayer and planning. Doing this had been on my mind for some months, but with Shainu and the kids visiting family in NY, it seemed like the perfect time to get away for a few days. I’ve often heard other pastors say that you can get so caught up working in the church that you neglect to work on the church. I felt that. I was working week in and week out on helping things run that it had been a long time since I stepped back and evaluated how things were running. So my goal was to get away, pray, plan, and think big picture for 48 hours. Some reflections from my time.
It is so hard to be Mary rather than Martha. I was nervous going in that these two days were going to be a disaster. No TV. No high-speed internet. No one else. It’s a bit humbling to have to admit to yourself that two days alone with Jesus does not sound appealing. I was afraid I was going to die of boredom. How would I pass the hours? And yet, two days alone with Jesus is exactly what I needed. I freed myself on the first day to not feel like I needed to get work done. I freed myself to spend time silently. Watch creation. Read. Sit. Rest. I was amazed at how much life slowed down when I freed myself to be unhurried. I took a nap without feeling guilty. Prayer and Scripture reading was something I got to do rather than something I had to do. None of this came naturally or easily. In fact, the whole time, there was a war being fought in my mind. “This is a waste of time.” “You better get some work done.” “Other guys would have so much accomplished, and all you’ve done is sat around.” I find so much of my identity in what I produce; what I get done; what I accomplish. So to sit in Jesus’ presence was breathing life to my soul while at the same time killing my flesh. I read the story of Mary and Martha. I get Martha. Busy, distracted, and anxious with much serving. How could it not be that she’s the hero of the story? If she doesn’t do the work, nobody eats, including Jesus. We get Martha. In our culture, the busier you are, the more important you seem. Honestly, Mary seems lazy. And yet, Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” These two days reminded me that Jesus was primarily after me, not my work. The Spirit was inviting me to sit quietly at Jesus’ feet and showing me that this was commendable rather than condemnable.
There is greater rest in God than the things of the world. By March of this year, I was dying for vacation. Three months into 2011 and I was already ready for a break. That means that I was bringing into the new year a great deal of tiredness from 2010. August couldn’t come fast enough. And in August, we took two solid weeks off. It was great. And yet, I returned still feeling like though my body had rested, my heart and mind were still racing. Part of that is what spurred this personal retreat at Sandy Cove. It’s telling what we turn to for rest and reprieve. We come to the end of a day and figure tuning out to TV or numbing our cares, concerns, headaches and hurts through…pick your poison: food, alcohol, video games, shopping, etc, etc, etc…will bring us the rest and relief we’re looking for. Day after day, week after week, month after month, we turn to these things and our heart cries, “Please help me feel better. Please kill my pain. Please give me rest.” Some of the things that we run to are not inherently bad, they’re good, but they’re not God. I gained greater rest in two days with Jesus than nine months of Netflix and second helpings of dessert. Sitting quietly and unhurried with Jesus let me return ready to tackle this next season with vigor.
Creation proclaims the glory of God. My wife is the nature-junkie in our family. In fact, through her, I have come to appreciate creation better. The Scriptures tell us that creation is like a preacher ceaselessly proclaiming and revealing the glory of God. There is nothing that helps you read Genesis 1 and 2 like sitting in front of an endless lake. Life slowed down enough for me to notice mountains, hear birds, and marvel at God’s handiwork. I had our camera in hand and found myself taking dozens of pictures. I don’t even like photography.
Retreats are essential for the life of faith. I don’t mean by this that you have to find a Christian camp somewhere and get away for a few days. (Though I hope to make this a regular practice going forward!) I mean that you find Jesus regularly retreating to be alone with God. He’d wake up before the others, while it was still dark, to meet with the Father. He’d get away from the crowds to be on a mountainside alone. He’d send His disciples on ahead and catch up with them after taking time to pray. If Jesus was going to live the life His Father had sent Him to live and do the things His Father had sent Him to do, it required retreating alone with the Father. Pause. Quiet. Solitude. These are good words – and they should be part of the rhythm of our lives. I’d recommend Celebration of the Discipline, particularly the chapter on Solitude, as a good resource to help you get started.