Yesterday morning I read a short but mind-churning blog post about the essence of spirituality. It got me thinking more about something I’ve been churning over in my head for a couple of days.
“Spiritual retreats” are popular–getting away for a week, a weekend, a day, or even a few hours by yourself to be alone with God. I have a lot of friends who have taken spiritual retreats recently and have all come back refreshed and renewed, recommending that everyone take a spiritual retreat. I have friends who work for churches where spiritual retreats are required–at least one day per month must be used as a spiritual retreat. Keep in mind, this is different from the “daily God time” that should be part of our routine. Spiritual retreats are extended periods of time, even if its just a few hours.
As I look back over the last eleven years (that’s how long I’ve been doing “professional ministry”), I’m tempted to think that I haven’t taken enough spiritual retreats. I’ve never taken a week to be with God. I’ve sporadically taken several hours at a time (the coolest of which is watching the sun rise on the beach, and spending the time anticipating the sun breaking over the horizon in prayer). I think I’ve benefited from those times.
And I’ve realized how unrealistic they are for “non-professional Christians.”
As I’m preparing to leave the “professional ministry” (where I get paid to be a Christian and do “church work”–and I’m leaving by choice and conviction, not by force or scandal), stuff like this keeps swirling around in my brain. Spiritual retreats are nearly impossible for those outside of professional ministry. It requires taking time off (which, in this economy, is becoming a luxury). For those who are married and/or have kids, it means taking time away from family on the weekends. As I visualize what will be my new “normal” when we move to NC, I won’t be able to do extended spiritual retreats that focus on solitude and silence. Regular, daily time with God? Yes. Extended spiritual retreats? Probably not.
Some of us would say that Jesus took spiritual retreats–He often went away by Himself to be with God. While this is true, when did many of these retreats take place? At night. He robbed Himself of sleep to be with God. He would invite His disciples to come away from the crowds at times, but the crowds always found them. I would almost argue that Jesus wasn’t taking spiritual retreats as much as He would spend regular time with God (if I’m wrong, someone please point it out to me).
Is there anything wrong with taking a spiritual retreat? No. But maybe those of us in “professional ministry” should try and put ourselves in the shoes of those we lead–especially those who cannot afford to take time off from their careers, who must work to make ends meet. If we’re to model practices for those we lead, should we consider ditching those that aren’t realistic for them? I don’t know. But it’s worth thinking about.
Maybe instead of solely emphasizing solitude, we should look for ways to also emphasize community when it comes to this idea of spiritual retreat. I like what author Tim Chester writes:
Biblical spirituality is about:
- Bible meditation, not mystical silence
- Passionate engagement, not rural retreat
- Growing together, not individual solitude
I think he’s right on. What are your thoughts about the idea of spiritual retreats?