The Cost of Retreat

Retreats are costly. Not always financially–I’m finishing up a personal retreat at The Oaks Conference Center and they have a Shepherd’s Rest cabin that is free for pastors and missionaries–but retreats are costly in other ways. By definition retreats require setting aside a large chunk of time, and that is a huge cost. Retreats usually imply going away from your usual setting of family or work or friends, which also involves a significant cost.

But retreats are not just costly for the person retreating. There is also a cost paid by those who grant the space for a retreat. I know that firsthand–allowing my wife to get away for a day or a couple nights means that a lot more responsibility is on me to cover for the things she would normally do in our home and family. And when I am away, as I have been the past couple nights, I know it adds extra work and burden on my wife. Our kids also bear some of that cost, as they have extra chores added to their plates when one of us is on retreat. Realizing how costly it is for those who love me makes me value the time away even more, and pushes me to be very intentional in how I utilize such a gracious and costly gift.

Retreats are costly. But not retreating carries an even greater cost. Endlessly plugging away at life and work without pulling aside to refocus and be refreshed in Christ leads only to burnout. Refusing to ask a spouse or friend to cover for you, or refusing to release a spouse or friend to go, may save some of that cost up front but, like an unpaid credit card, accrues a much greater cost later on.

So I’m tremendously grateful for my wife and children, who have absorbed the cost of allowing me space to retreat, not just this time, but regularly! And I’m grateful to God for the refreshment and renewed focus that He brings through a retreat like this. Retreats are costly, but they are definitely worth the cost.

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Slackers Need Not Apply

Robert Coleman might raise a few eyebrows with his statement “There is no place in the Kingdom for a slacker…”. But lest you mistakenly interpret that as a general indictment against laziness or a false theology emphasizing works, what he intends to communicate is that following Jesus requires a seriousness and wholehearted commitment. Being a disciple of Jesus means He is the Master–and if He is the Master, then I don’t get to pick and choose which parts of His teaching I want to obey. And if He is the Master, then to be flippant or lackadaisical in my obedience is really to disobey.

However, Jesus modeled for His disciples–including we who follow Him now–a rhythm of life and ministry that included regular periods of withdrawal from the very ones He was calling to follow Him. In other words, Jesus Himself might have been accused of slacking off when He deliberately left the crowds behind (Mark 6:31-32) or refused to make Himself known (John 7:3-9). Careful examination, though, makes it clear that the purpose for Jesus’ pattern of regular withdrawal was not an introverted or isolationist attempt to get away from the pressures of ministry, but rather His purpose was to engage deeply with His Father (Mark 6:46). Jesus was not disengaged from His Father even in the midst of intense ministry, yet He still intentionally chose to step away from active ministry in order to create space to commune with His Father alone (Mark 1:35-37).

You and I land somewhere on a spectrum of engagement, with lazy indifference on one end and devoted burnout on the other end. Jesus’ pattern challenges us regardless of which end we default toward. For those more likely to be (accurately) accused of slacking off, may Jesus’ example of tireless service toward those who could never repay Him jolt you out of your indifference and move you to invest yourself in the work of the Kingdom. But may that work start, not with the crowds in need, but alone with the One who can meet their need (and yours)–as Jesus modeled for you. And for those more likely to fizzle or flame out while trying to do it all, may Jesus’ example of regularly creating space to be alone with God remind you of your humanity and your dependence on God, so that your Kingdom work would be done in an attitude of joyful humility. And may that humility lead you to regularly withdraw into those “unproductive” spaces of deep communion with God.

Following Jesus requires total commitment. But total commitment does not merely mean busyness and hard work–creating unhurried spaces for communion with God is a vital part of that commitment.