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.


Unhurried Is Not Un-Busy

Last Saturday I had the joy of leading what I call A Day with Jesus, which is simply a small group of people retreating together for half a day to enjoy solitude with God and to share in community with one another. Every time I do that, I am reminded by those who come of how valuable that intentional, extended time with God can be in the midst of much busyness and stress. And yet as valuable as a retreat can be, the reality of our stressful, busy lives makes the choice to retreat very counterintuitive. Especially in certain seasons of life, making space for retreat can feel impossible.

So I was encouraged by an email I received from Gem Fadling of Unhurried Living. This is some of what she shared…

Any of us in life stages where we find ourselves as caretakers can hear about an unhurried life and think, “Yeah, that’ll never happen. Not in this season. I’m just trying to take a shower and put on fresh sweatpants today.”

[Y]our cry is, “I have so many responsibilities. How would I possibly engage anything resembling unhurried time?”

Remember, busy is a matter of calendar. Hurry is a matter of soul.

[I have] a memory of sitting in a rocking chair in my bedroom. I was nursing one of my sons, enjoying the bonding that happens during that time. I remember very distinctly a small voice, whispering in my ear, “You know, this counts.”

I had been accustomed to following my good Christian girl to-do list fairly well. But all of that went out the window moving from one child to two. I loved being a mom, but I couldn’t figure out how to spend time with God the way I had before.

“You know, this counts” was God’s gentle way of saying, “I see you. I know what season of life you are in right now. This moment, with your son…this is how I feel about you. The care you are giving him is good and right. This counts. I am with you. You are with me.”

Every once in a while I would hear the whisper again, “You know, this counts.” It may have been a worship song that was playing in the background or a word of encouragement from a trusted friend. God was showing me that we were together and relating in far more ways than I was giving “credit” for.

My season of life made me tired, scattered and seemingly out of control of my schedule. But God wanted to show me that being with him, in the midst of my very real life, mattered and counted.

[M]y suggestion to you would be to make it a priority to get two to four hours per month in time alone with God in solitude. Not “me time” but honest to goodness solitude. What we call Unhurried Time with God.

Back in that season of young children, Alan and I would give each other that time by caring for our sons so the other could meet with God. We certainly didn’t do it perfectly, but we did our best to have a rhythm of Unhurried Time.

If you don’t have a spouse or relative that can help you, maybe you can swap with a friend. Or even pay for a babysitter or parent-sitter.

In order for the [moments of] “this counts” to have a solid foundation, these reservoir [longer] filling times must be included. I know it sounds impossible. But with a little work and creativity, you can make some time for yourself and God. Think of it as a holy invitation, not a luxury that you cannot afford.

So if you find yourself in a season of life where retreating for a few hours on a Saturday sounds wonderful but impossible, be encouraged by Gem’s realistic and hopeful challenge. And if you need some ideas or assistance in making it happen, feel free to email me and I’d love to walk with you in figuring out a plan that works for your situation.

Retreat for your life!

Taking an extended retreat in the midst of Christmas busyness feels totally counterintuitive. But here I am, in a cozy cabin set aside for pastors to retreat and rest, taking a few days to step away from the craziness and seek God’s direction for the coming year. As hard as it is to set work and family responsibilities aside in order to carve out this kind of time alone with God, I am really img_1196grateful for it.

The exclamation “Run for your life!” calls a person to frantic activity in order to save their life. (And certainly, if something dangerous is coming at you, you should run for your life!) “Retreat for your life!” is the opposite—rather than a call to frantic activity, it is the counterintuitive call to unhurried rest in God, believing that is where depth of life is found. The world around us looks for life by working harder or working longer or working faster, but activity on its own does not automatically produce life. Instead, responding to Jesus’ invitation to come to Him and learn from Him and find rest in Him is often what it takes to “recover your life” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message)… and that is what a retreat is for.

So I follow Jesus’ example of regularly withdrawing to desolate places to pray (Luke 5:16). I learn from Him how to create that space in order to be filled by Him (which is what the Greek word for “withdraw” literally means). And I thank God for a family that blesses me with this time, and for a ministry like The Oaks who provides a place like this to get away.


One of the reasons I love leading retreats is because a retreat can provide unhurried time to be with God and with one another. We so easily get caught up in the busyness of trying to live productively, but we end up just living hurriedly instead. And a hurried existence is not productive, nor is it sustainable. Retreats–whether a personal retreat or A Day with Jesus or a weekend with a small group–give us an opportunity to set aside the hurry and enter into a greater depth of rest and relationship and worship.

Alan Fadling is a friend and mentor to my wife and I, and he–together with his wife Gem–has recently launched a new ministry called Unhurried Living. Last week Alan was interviewed in a podcast from Renovare [look for Episode 32] about this concept of an unhurried life. One point that stood out to me was the comparison he made with breathing: It is impossible physiologically to only exhale for a day (or a week!), without also inhaling. Yet spiritually we live as if “inhaling” (i.e. rest, recreation, community, worship, etc.) were optional or only needed occasionally, and all of life becomes “exhale” (i.e. activity, service, productivity, ministry, etc.). There is certainly nothing wrong with activity and ministry, however if we are to sustain those activities and ministries for the long haul, we have to learn how to “breathe” in a balanced way. We must learn how to be devoted yet unhurried.

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.