The leadership team from my local congregation recently returned from a retreat, refreshed and optimistic. Spiritual retreats can be quite renewing and invigorating (especially if they include campfires). Retreats allow us to pull back from the battle of everyday life, to heal, to resupply, to regroup, to reflect, to learn, to plan, to build unity with like-minded believers. We love retreats. But we also know the disillusionment that comes so often once the retreat is over, and we are confronted with the reality of our standard daily grind.
Deitrich Bonhoeffer warned of the dangers inherent in fellowship gained through retreats of short duration.
“Nothing is easier than to stimulate the glow of fellowship in a few days of life together, but nothing is more fatal to the sound, sober brotherly fellowship of everyday life.”
There is a dichotomy between what we feel – what we experience in the retreat setting, and the reality we face in our daily existance. The strength we feel in the retreat setting often gets diminished to a mousy sheepishness when confronted with the growl of the world in which we live day after day. Here are three tips to help minimize that deflating, post-retreat experience:
1. Avoid Quixotic Expectations: The romantic idealism we attach to the retreat experience can be spiritually intoxicating. It is wonderful while we are immersed in it, and truly, lives are changed in these settings. The freedom from distraction allows for focused attention on those aspects of our lives that need such focus. When we return to our standard pathway, however, those very same distractions (sins, fears, frustrations, obligations) will be by our side, just as they were when we left for the retreat. Expect great things from the retreat. Learn. Grow. Revive your spirit. Just make certain your expectations are realistic.
2. Supplement Concentration with post-retreat Consistency: Retreats are concentrated times, rich and robust, filled with prayer, fellowship, teaching, study, worship, praise, everything wonderful about life in Christ. Recognize that the activities we compress into a single weekend or week, activities that make that time rewarding and uplifting, will have the same effect longer-term, when experienced in smaller, measured amounts day by day. Think of these times as daily “mini-retreats,” perhaps 20 minutes, that keep your buckets filled. Find a place free of distraction, and fill that time with the same uplifting activities you find meaningful in the retreat setting. On occasion, include two or three fellow believers and have a mini-retreat together. The key to this is consistency.
3. Model the Behavior of Jesus: Luke 5:16 says that Jesus often withdrew to lonely places for prayer. The fact that he did it often affirms the consistency over concentration of item 2 above. The fact that he went to lonely places affirms that we need to remove distractions. The fact that he prayed affirms that he recognized the Heavenly Father as the supreme director of his life. This is firmly established by such statements as, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19), or “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30).
We cannot attend a perpetual retreat, but even if we could, that is not what Jesus wants for us. “I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:15) Engaging in mini-retreats that develop into a daily habit, will help solidify in us a life of perpetual joy and praise.
Victoriously in Christ!