I lead a lot of retreats that include an extended time alone and quiet with God in the schedule. For many, it’s quite a challenge. For others, it’s a welcome opportunity. Sometimes, I think more would come to our retreats if they were scheduled nice and tight with lots of information to learn or techniques to try out. It’s much harder to “sell” the idea of space to just be with God.
Eugene Peterson says “the contemplative life generates and releases an enormous amount of energy into the world.” Sometimes, we have a hard time seeing the connection between simple abiding in God’s presence we experience in solitude and silence with God, and fruitful engagement in the relationships and work of our lives.
At another level, when a major portion of a day retreat is time alone rather than time hearing a presentation or learning some skill, it can feel like the participant is paying for a lot of “nothing.” I think some wonder why they should pay to attend a retreat like this when they could do it on their own for free?” Fair question.
My answer? Of course any of us can take the next free day in our schedule to get away somewhere and be with God like this. A better question is, simply, “Will we?” I’ve had the following experience more times than I can count. At the end of one of our retreat days, someone will say, “I’ve heard about solitude and silence for years,” or “I’ve read a lot of what Richard Foster or Dallas Willard say about solitude and silence.” The next thing they’ll say is, “But today is the first time I actually set aside extended time to try this practice on.”
The other day, I led a retreat with five hours alone with God at a local retreat center. At the end of the day, a number of these leaders talked about how hard it is to do what we actually want to do in getting away occasionally to be alone with God. It’s harder than it looks! This is why I work to provide days or weekends that are spacious in design, that include lots of open space and unhurried time to linger with and listen for God. Participants will often share the dramatic impact days like this have on the quality of their lives and their work.
I would love to see more and more Christ followers actually practicing the rhythm of a day (or partial day) a month alone with God to enjoy communion with Him, to listen for His voice, and to see life, relationships and work in the light of His constant, loving presence.
Burn-out would be dramatically reduced. Compassion would rise. Creativity would overflow. But like the child trying to get out of a Chinese finger trap, we usually just keep trying harder and only find ourselves more squeezed.
I love leading people into God’s presence. If I can serve you through your joining us in one of our Southern California day retreats, I’d love it. For nearly twenty years, this has been one of the greatest joys of my ministry.
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