A few years ago, I led a weekend retreat for a wonderful church community. It was a very encouraging time. Some commented that the schedule was not as intense as in past retreats.
I had input on the content and a little on the schedule. The group chose the theme of “Rest” and the key verse of “Be still and know that I am God.” That helped shape the schedule quite a bit.
One person shared that he often comes home from a retreat more tired instead of refreshed. Can you identify? I can.
Elton Trueblood once said that “the retreats I now value most are those which are entirely unprogrammed. It is my responsibility to guide each session in order to avoid, if possible, unprofitable discussions, but we have a complete absence of agenda, prepared speeches, reports, and minutes. We are able thereby to demonstrate a break with the standard practice of church gatherings, which are nearly always overprogrammed. The human results of this unconventional kind of meeting of minds are phenomenal.” (Elton Trueblood. While It Is Day. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1974, p. 121.)
We need enough open and unplanned space in a retreat for God to surprise us, meet with us and pursue His own agenda with us. It is tragic when we overfill a retreat with too much good stuff. If you’ve ever attended a retreat that I lead, you’ll know that I seek to provide just enough direction and content without packing the schedule too fully.
Think about the last retreat you were part of (or even led). How much space was there for unhurried communion with God, personal reflection or conversation with one another? I love teaching (and being taught), but a retreat should also include times for reflection and interaction. It takes a while for our hearts and minds to quiet enough to discern the voice of God’s Spirit. It’s hard, as a leader, to be patient enough to give the kind of time such quieting takes.
Having led these sorts of retreats for nearly twenty years now, I have a growing confidence in how God will meet us when we offer ourselves and our schedule to Him.