For most of my life, the word retreat has been synomynous with the church. I can’t tell you how many youth group retreats I went on in high school or women’s retreats I’ve signed up for as an adult. Graham and I even did a couples’ retreat once in Seattle and fought the whole way home. So, that didn’t seem to have the intended effect.
As my memory serves me, these weekends away were filled with girlfriends and gab with a few speakers and group activities built in. Maybe an hour in the morning for solitary reflection. We’d wrap up the weekend with a prayer partner with whom we spent time sharing—also known as gossiping—about the people really needing prayer. And we’d ask God for our mothers to ease up, our boyfriends to stick around and our Biology grade to improve, amen.
For years, I’ve gathered my people around me for familiarity and safety. Silence has been something to avoid because to dwell with my own thoughts is to be uncomfortable. But something about this season of life, with a pandemic raging and the country’s in-fighting, and the church’s tepid indifference to injustice as well as truth, I have begun to crave silence and solitude.
There are certain paths you have to walk alone.
As I lean into the wardrobe of reflection of all I’ve learned this last year, there are some things that no longer belong. Proverbial shoes I borrowed and forgot to return. Colors that used to be me and now feel ostentatious. Jeans I’ve been forcing myself to wear because they look good, though they’re not at all comfortable.
All these things begin to take up space. They become extra and not enough at the same time, like standing in a walk-in closet filled to the brim when all you want is a capsule wardrobe.
And so, last weekend’s invitation to retreat was meant to be a quiet place where I could decide what stays and what goes. Sometimes we have to give away a whole lot of things to discover what we actually want. Who we really are.
Retreating—taking 24 hours away from my responsibilities and checking myself into a hotel room—offered space to pull each role I hold off the shelf and ask these questions:
Why am I doing this?
What do I love about it?
What no longer fits?
So many of us have forgotten that we get to decide how we want to live. We have agency over our days and minutes and dreams. Those days may be on someone else’s agenda right now, like a boss or a nursing baby, but the say is ultimately ours.
Friend. Do you need to retreat? Do you need to sit in a quiet place so you can ask the important questions and really hear the answers? Does your closet require purging? Maybe it’s time to return the shoes, donate the loud colors, and use the jeans as a trade-in—y’all, Madewell gives a $20 credit—for a pair you actually love. (Clearly I’m talking in metaphor here but I thought you’d be interested to know the trade-in bit. You’re welcome.)
If you’re considering a retreat in 2021, here are a few tips from me:
Ask your dearest ones to hold space for your time away.
Go to the most beautiful location you can find. This doesn’t have a look like a fancy hotel. A delightful place can be a nature preserve, a nearby lake, a church sanctuary, or the walking trails behind your house or apartment.
Devote as much distraction-free time as you can manage to think and write and pray about each area of your life. As the questions, why am I doing this? What do I love? What doesn’t fit? What now?
Reenter with a plan. This may be as simple as saying, I need to keep thinking through this over the next two weeks before I make a decision. Or it could be, my decision is made and now I am developing a strategy. Know that not every determination can be implemented immediately. Careers don’t often change overnight. Parenting techniques have to be learned and practiced. Most relationships need time to mend. Commit to the long game.
Revisit your retreat takeaways often. Why am I doing this? What do I love? What doesn’t fit? What now?
Tell a friend it’s not too late for her to embrace the silence, reclaim her dreams and befriend her life. Sit with her while she looks at her calendar and schedules her own time away.