Into the Woods

Luke 5:16 But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.

Tell me if you have heard this one before. A person has just gotten back from a vacation and they tell you how they need a vacation.

I often lament every time I hear about someone’s “vacation” that does not sound very restful. The intended idea of vacationing is the act of vacating (temporarily removing ourselves from) that which is wearing us out, and subsequently getting more of what gives us life. We seek to exchange the boring for the exciting, work for rest and the mundane with adventure. We want mountains instead of cityscapes; we want oceans instead of the homogeneous suburbs. We go on boats and planes and sleep in hammocks and tents; we go dancing and ride on roller coasters. We seek the adjectives and verbs of the weekend over the nouns of everyday life.

But what we really need is to go away and be reminded of whose we are and how that reality orders and should reorder everything about us. Jesus knew this secret and acted on it. To remove oneself temporarily from the norm is the quickest way to re-engage oneself in God’s purposes. As long as we are in the grind, running on the wheel, taking care of business, we don’t give ourselves the proper time to reflect and to hear from Him whose image we bear. We need to more often slip away for this express purpose.

Reflecting on this idea of getting away, I am reminded of the summer camp I worked at while in college. At the end of every week, I would ask the high school students to give an account of their week. The most common response was that “it was the best week of my life” spiritually and that they were scared of going back because they didn’t want to go back to “regular life.” At first, this was an encouraging yet sad moment because I knew what they meant. I felt the same way about returning to school. Then one week, God impressed on me something paradigm shifting. He gave me the idea to think through why my summer was always the “best summer of my life” spiritually. What did I do every day? As I recounted in my mind I listed the following things in no particular order: constant fellowship with other strong believers, regular times of prayer and praise throughout the day, minimal frivolous distractions, receiving strong biblical teaching, consistent meditation scripture and Bible study, frequent opportunities to share about God’s goodness and love.

Each of those days was amazing. They were filled with grace, meaning, goodness, hope, joy, and truth. Then two things hit me square in my soul: 1. This type of life is what I wanted and needed, and 2. those activities and their results could be true of my life every day…even in “regular life.” My life is not found in what I do in the many moments between doing “church stuff” or even in the escapism of vacation. My life is found in God. He is the author, the purveyor, and the sustainer of life–eternal life, abundant life, real life.

Here’s the bottom line: spiritual retreat is necessary and an important strengthener of our faith. Retreat allows us to value margin and nourish our souls back to spiritual health. It’s a reminder to realign our lives with God’s rhythms and leave behind those unsustainable ones we set for ourselves. Retreating for spiritual purposes can be done by ourselves more frequently than we realize, but is also important to do with others. When we retreat with others, we discover the proper rhythms of communal life and will long to have them be true of our everyday life.

Rob Nicholes
Rob Nicholes