Emilie Griffin, author of Wilderness Time: A Guide for Spiritual Retreat reinforces the importance of Sabbath keeping with times of spiritual retreat. Finding time for retreat is as difficult as finding time for prayer in an ordinary, overscheduled day. Whether the time be measured in days or minutes, the issues are the same. Is Sabbath keeping a priority? “Possibly the barrier is not time at all. What we are up against is not really the pressure of events, not the many demands on our time, but stubbornness within ourselves, a hard-heartedness that will not yield to transformation and change.” Setting aside a morning, a day, even a week or more for Sabbath keeping and spiritual retreat is one of the most strengthening and reinforcing experiences of our lives. We need to yield. We have to bend.
For humans, God designated the boundary between work and rest, sleep and wakefulness, and He expects us to apportion wisely between them. Our need for Sabbath keeping and retreat is designed into the created order, and tampering with it is hazardous to our bodies, minds, and souls. When we neglect time to create “tranquility, serenity, peace, and repose” in our lives, we limit our Christ-likeness and miss out on some of God’s greatest gifts. Emilie Griffin shares some practical and simple definitions for us to consider in keeping Sabbath with times of retreat:
What is a retreat? Spiritual retreat is simply a matter of going into a separate place to seek Christian growth in a disciplined way. Retreat offers us the grace to be ourselves in God’s presence without self-consciousness, without masquerade. Retreat provides the chance to be both physically and spiritually refreshed. It is the blessed opportunity to spend time generously in the presence of God. In such a time, God helps us to empty ourselves of cares and anxieties, to be filled up with wisdom that restores us.
Why should I make a retreat? You should make it because your heart demands it, because a definite yearning calls you to something better, something more, because the stirrings of grace are prompting you, because the Lord is inviting you to spend time in the courts of praise.
When should I make a retreat? When there is no time to do it, that’s when you most need to un-clutter the calendar and go apart to pray. When the gridlock of your schedule relentlessly forbids it is the time you most need retreat. That is when your heart beats against the prison walls of your enslavement and says, “Yes, Lord, I want to spend time with you.”
Where should I make a retreat? Where the gates of prayer open wide to receive you, where the banquet table is generously spread, in a place of your own choosing, but as if it had been chosen for you: where there’s meat and drink in abundance, spiritual meat and drink above all.
How will I know the way? If you follow the leading-strings of God’s grace, by putting one foot in front of the other your wilderness time will come.
“One of the most important rhythms for a person in ministry,” says Ruth Haley Barton, “is to establish a constant back-and-forth motion between engagement and retreat – times when we are engaged in the battle, giving our best energy to taking the next hill, and times when we step back in order to gain perspective, re-strategize and tend our wounds – an inevitability of life in ministry. If an army keeps slogging it out on the battlefield without taking time to regroup, it is doomed to defeat. And so it is with the Christian leader-warrior.”
“One of the most important rhythms for a person in ministry,” says Ruth Haley Barton, “is to establish a constant back-and-forth motion between engagement and retreat – times when we are engaged in the battle, giving our best energy to taking the next hill, and times when we step back in order to gain perspective, re-strategize and tend our wounds – an inevitability of life in ministry. If an army keeps slogging it out on the battlefield without taking time to regroup, it is doomed to defeat. And so it is with the Christian leader-warrior.” One of the occupational hazards for those of us in Christian ministry is that it can become hard to distinguish between the times when we are “on” and working for God and times when we can just be with God for our own soul’s sake. Times of Sabbath keeping and retreat give us a chance to come home to ourselves in God’s presence and to bring the realities of our life to God in utter privacy. This is important for us and for those we serve. When we repress what is real in our life and just keep soldiering on, we get weary from holding it in, and eventually it leaks out in ways that are damaging to ourselves and to others. But in faithful Sabbath keeping and times of retreat there is time and space to attend to what is real in my own life – to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, attend to my loneliness – and allow God to be with me in those places. These are not times for problem solving or fixing, because not everything can be fixed or solved. During times of Sabbath and retreat we rest in God and wait on him to do what is needed. Eventually we return to the battle with fresh energy and keener insight.
Written by Major Faith Miller, Corps Commanding Officer, Oil City, PA