As I near the end of my personal retreat, I struggle to put into words what came from it. On the one hand, it almost feels like trying to quantify the retreat cheapens it somehow. But I think that’s really because it seems that retreats are supposed to be mountaintop experiences and those types of experiences can’t be limited by mere words.
Eh, something like that.
The fact is, every time I’ve had a retreat, I’ve always gone in with some huge set of expectations. Sometimes it’s been to plan my family’s life, sometimes to map out the future, sometimes to draw nearer to God, sometimes just to have “me” time. But every time, regardless of the goal, it’s been a letdown. The problem with expectations, especially “spiritual” ones, seem to be the very real possibility of not meeting them.
With this retreat, leading up to it, I really just wanted it because I was beat, rundown, exhausted, spent. My only goal was escape, pure and simple and straight up selfish.
But the Father, in his kindness, saw my heart. And he knew what I didn’t–that all of my exhaustion and weariness was from chasing idols and setting up the kingdom of Bill. He knew it and he prepared my heart for it. Events and conversations leading up to the retreat were outpourings of his kindness to rebuke me gently and call me to repentance. He knew what I wanted for myself was so much smaller and cheaper than what he wanted for me.
So how do I leave my retreat this time? First, grateful. Because my original “plans” were crap and I’m glad my Dad has better plans for me than I have for myself.
Second, a little lower. While I’ve been blinded by the deceitfulness of sin to think that all my “hard work” lately had been for others, it had all been for me. I was actively and passively working to bring glory and praise to the name of Bill Bell. And I find myself lower now, not because my repentance and humility are so great, but because God has revealed himself to me as greater and more glorious.
Third, refreshed. And that, in a number of ways. Refreshed from trying to seek my own glory. Refreshed to rediscover quiet and moving slowly. Refreshed to want to hear the Good News over and over again, where it had felt like Old and Boring News before.
Fourth, open. You see, I’ve felt so increasingly isolated in my biblical convictions for so long that I’ve stopped listening to the Spirit speaking through other men. I haven’t listened to or read other godly men in ages, because I simply didn’t care what they had to say. Why would I? I knew I’d disagree with something, if not most or all of what they said. Malarkey. That same pride of building my kingdom was also closing me off to the larger family available to me in Jesus, a family I need so that I hear and see and taste God’s goodness afresh.
Fifth, ready. Ready to see my wife and hold her close. Ready to smile and laugh with my kids. Ready to see God’s goodness on display. Ready to stop chasing after wind and find my satisfaction rooted in the love of Jesus, who died and rose again. Ready to live by dying and die by living.
Was it a “successful” retreat? Well, I came out smaller and God came out bigger than when I began. I don’t know any better kind of success to look for.