10 Reasons NOT to Go on a Solitude Retreat

  1. Your life is much too busy as it is–if you gave up half a day to spend time cultivating the most important relationship in your life, you would not be able to check off as many things on your to-do list.Fountain
  2. Your sanctification is pretty much complete, so even if you did decide to spend some unhurried time with God, there probably wouldn’t be anything He would want you to grow in.
  3. You can’t imagine actually turning off your phone for a few hours in order to have uninterrupted time with God–what would happen if you missed an important message?
  4. You’re all about advancement, not retreat. Retreating sounds too much like you’re actually in need of help from God, but you’re doing pretty well on your own.
  5. The things you must do are too pressing. Besides, aren’t retreats just an occasional luxury, not a regular necessity?
  6. Your family is counting on you to be available–you want to be a model of responsibility to them, kind of like Martha in Luke 10.
  7. Retreats must be primarily for introverts who enjoy being quiet and alone, not for extroverts like you who thrive on
    constant activity and noise.
  8. If you had to choose, you’d prefer to go to a conference–at least there you could hear some popular speakers (instead of just sitting around waiting to hear from God).
  9. Jesus probably spent time in solitude because He had such a big mission to accomplish, but you’re just doing your job here, so you probably don’t need it like He did.
  10. You might actually enjoy the time with your Heavenly Father, and then you’d be wanting to have another solitude retreat and spend even more time.

Rain Clouds and Weather Apps

I grew up in Portland, Oregon, where there are typically more days of rain in a year than days without rain (or at least that’s how it felt). I also grew up without a TV in the house, so we never watched the weather reports on the news. Instead, I learned pretty well how to look at the clouds and the wind and figure out when it was about to rain.

In Southern California, rain is not nearly as commonplace as in the Pacific Northwest. And the technology that my children have access to differs dramatically from what I grew up with. So the other day when I was working outside with my 8-year-old son, I felt the breeze picking up and noticed that the sky was looking pretty grey and overcast, so I made some comment about it looking like it was going to rain. My son, without looking up or breaking his rhythm of sweeping, said “Do you have your phone on you? Why don’t you just look at the weather app and then you’ll know if it’s going to rain.”

I smiled to myself as I pulled out my phone to check. A different generation in a different geographic location using different means of addressing the same questions. Should I be feeling old?

It didn’t rain that day–my son (and my phone) were correct.

Repulsed by Neediness

I like to be competent. I don’t like to be needy.

I enjoy being around people who seem to have it all together. I have a hard time enjoying people whose lives are a mess.

The problem is that Scripture speaks an awful lot about us being needy and God caring for the needy, and it has very little to say–except woes–to those who have it all together. The book of Psalms especially is filled with statements of neediness and of God’s nearness to the needy (Ps. 40:17, 70:5, 72:13, 109:22, etc.). So why am I so easily repulsed by my own neediness and the neediness of others?

We do not fault a 2-month-old baby for crying when she is hungry. But the incessant whining of a hungry 10-year-old is not acceptable. We cheer for Frodo in his state of utter need. But we are repulsed by Gollum’s groveling. Both are needy. So what distinguishes their neediness? On one side they know their need and also know that they cannot meet their own need and thus are desperate for help. On the other side, they don’t realize their true need but they are trying to meet it in their own power. And it is that latter expression of neediness that tends to repulse us the most.

So when David (King David, mind you) says in Psalm 109:22 “For I am poor and needy…”, is his neediness like the crying infant or the whining child? What makes that expression of neediness not only acceptable but something to be modeled in my own life? It is a neediness worthy of mimicking because it is not merely selfish whining but is a true expression of his incapability to save himself and a humble recognition that God alone can bring about the rescue that his soul requires.

Ed Welch, in his excellent book Side by Side, argues that deep, Biblical community requires us to be both “needy and needed.” I’m usually pretty good at being needed, but it’s the being needy part that gets me hung up. Perhaps a part of the reason I resist that call to neediness is this misperception of neediness being only the whining, groveling, life-sucking immaturity that repulses people. Instead, I can embrace the neediness that Scripture portrays: the humble, desperate state of total dependence on God as my Rescuer and Sustainer and Provider.

Thorns that Choke: Distracting Thoughts

In Jesus’ parable of the soils, some seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked the plants so that they were not fruitful. Jesus explained that the thorns are “the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things.” In previous posts I reflected on the significance of “cares of the world” and of “deceitfulness of riches,” and here I want to take a look at the final aspect of that triad: “desires for other things.”

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis’ The Silver Chair (my favorite book in The Chronicles of Narnia) where the evil enchantress talks with the children in the midst of their perilous and difficult quest to rescue the lost prince. They have been given clear signs to follow that will move them along in their journey, but all the witch needs to do to distract them from their vital mission is to “innocently” mention that there is a city of giants ahead of them, in which they could enjoy hot baths and warm beds and be refreshed. Stopping at this city is nowhere mentioned in the directions they have been given, but once that suggestion has been spoken, they can think of nothing else but hot baths and warm beds. Apart from Aslan’s intervention, their quest would have been abandoned altogether.

I think that scene vividly captures the essence of this “desire for other things” that the thorns in Jesus’ parable are depicting. We too have been given a mission (Make disciples!) and the journey of carrying out that mission is often long and difficult. And in the midst of our disciple-making journey, we are constantly bombarded by “innocent” suggestions of worthwhile pursuits. Oftentimes, those suggestions are not temptations to explicitly sinful activities, but are merely reminders of good things–even Godly things. The problem comes when our attention is diverted to those good and Godly things and thus away from the mission that God has called us to. The thorns choke our fruitfulness by turning our minds toward other desires.

In the metaphor of a plant, thorns choke out simply by taking up space–soil and water and sunlight–so that the plant cannot grow and mature enough to bear fruit. In the same way, thoughts and desires for other things can fill up so much space in our lives that there is no time left to invest in that which helps us to grow and mature in Christ. Thus we do not bear fruit, not because of obvious sin but simply because our lives are too full of other (good) things and there is no space to grow and mature.

As John Piper says, “The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world… The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts.” (Hunger for God, pg 14).