A Time to Retreat
|by Suzie Johnson|
Have you ever been to a women’s church retreat?
I was twenty-four years old the first time I went and I’d never been to anything like it. I was in awe of the sound of three-hundred women raising their voices in songs of praise. Along with the fun, fellowship, and new friends, it was simply amazing. From that weekend on, I looked forward to each retreat. Then, after ten years of attending yearly and soaking up all everything I could learn, it came to an end. I had a full time job and had difficulty getting away.
Eleven years would pass before I could attend again. But this time, I wasn’t going for the fellowship. My motive was simply four days away from stress. Four days of writing time. I didn’t want to spend time chatting with other women. I didn’t want to attend group studies or participate in skit night. I certainly didn’t want to stay up all night laughing and planning pranks to pull on other cabins. I had reached a point in my life where I simply wanted to escape the stress. This was the perfect opportunity for me to hole up in a cabin and write.
Don’t you know God had other plans?
Almost immediately I encountered a friend I hadn’t seen in years. She’d changed churches long ago, and we both worked, and…well, you know how that goes… We made plans to eat our meals together. Yes, I wanted to write, but I couldn’t ignore the fact that Leslie was there. I seized the opportunity to spend time with her. Later, in my cabin, I couldn’t ignore the laugher, chatter, and moments of sharing that were going on right under my bunk. So I made new friends with some of the ladies from my own church – ladies I never got a chance to really know because we all worked.
But something even more incredible happened. I reconnected with God on a level I’d never experienced. Not that I thought I was disconnected, but looking back, I realize I was in a place of stagnancy in my relationship with Him, just going through the motions and letting everything get in the way of my time with Him.
At the camp, there’s a lovely wrap-around porch on the main lodge. Part of it overlooks the woods and river, and part of it overlooks a grassy meadow with the other mountains in the background. I was sitting on the porch with my friend, Lynn, talking about the issues some of our family members were having – issues we couldn’t fix that caused deep hurt to all involved.
As we talked, we noticed someone had planted a wooden cross in the meadow. Painted white, it stood about six feet tall and was surrounded by small rocks. We walked down the rock-lined path to the cross. Lynn suggested we write the names of each of our hurting family members on a rock and place them at the foot of the cross.
Then we prayed for each of them.
In that wonderful, incredible moment, I felt God’s presence so strongly it was undeniable. Lynn did, too. We cried and hugged each other, and as we walked back to the lodge, the sun was beginning to set. It was a perfect God-healing-moment.
I went away from the retreat marveling at the way God’s plans were much, much different than my own, and how He provided just what I needed when I needed it.
I’m not saying the issues were resolved overnight. The road was long, but I had many more God-healing moments along the way. One thing that helped me through was remembering how it felt to stand at the foot of that cross and physically place the burden there – to physically turn it over to the Lord. It made me wish I could create my own rock-lined trail leading to a cross.
I wonder, though, if it would become forgotten over time. For me, I think it is better to close my eyes and meet God at the cross – the real cross where Jesus hung – to imagine physically handing over my burdens to the One who wants to carry it for me. It’s such a simple thing, so easily forgotten, and yet so powerful.
An excellent prayer series by our own Dina Sleiman, brought this all back to my mind. In Open They Eyes of My Heart, Dina talks about Visio Divina, picturing yourself in a place where you meet God as you pray. At the time, I first read this, I imagined the place I’d like to meet with God as the beach – a place where I frequently meet with Him as I walk and pray. But as I keep thinking over Dina’s prayer series, I’m reminded of my time at the cross with Lynn during the retreat, and the overwhelming closeness I felt with Him. This is where I want to meet with Him. This is where I want to imagine His face. This is my Visio Divina.
Some of the Inkies, and one of my critique partners, are at a retreat of sorts this week – the American Christian Fiction Writer’s conference where they’ll have a praise and worship service, prayer time, and fellowship. I’m praying for my critique partner and each of the Inkies, to be successful in their networking, that God puts them in the right place to make the best contacts for their careers, to make new friends, and to renew friendships. I’m also praying they go home from the conference refreshed, and ready to write the stories God gives to them.
Questions for the day:
- Do you ever make plans for your spiritual life, and later find they slipped away over time?
- What do you do when God’s plans for you don’t match the ones you have for yourself?