Retreat: Withdrawing from everyday life for a short period of time to focus on spiritual matters.
We went by the van-load, Sketchers propped on seat backs, candy wrappers crumbled under our feet. We went by way of McDonalds, French fries and flirting, twenty-five or thirty of us draped across the plastic tables, then piling back into the vehicles to push forward in the snowy dark.
The Christian camp that hosted the winter retreat was in some other state – Michigan maybe – and we fell out of the vans, loud and laughing, running to our cabins, frozen grass breaking under our feet.
Remember the cabins? The bunk beds, the bathroom with too few curtained shower stalls, too many different Bath and Body Works fragrances mingling in the steam-drenched air.
Remember that camp auditorium, the way the guitars echoed against the wooden rafters as the worship band played the chorus “Better Is One Day in Your Court” while your eyes darted around the room, taking in the new faces, looking for someone cute.
And of course, there was the speaker, who stood there and said it all so well, made it all sound so easy, so wild, so inspirational, and the air was electric with energy and sweat and passion, all of us glowing like angels under the fluorescent lights.
We were bogged down in the deep gray of winter, one foot into a new semester, locker bursting with the miscellanea of high school life. Here was our chance.
Retreat. Fall back, hear it all anew: that life is better when we put God first, when we keep things PG, when we have a daily quiet time. It was a shot in the arm of Jesus and snow tubing, the wild singing of worship songs. It was hand-crafted to generate a certain outcome, to make you wide-eyed and recommitted and in love with Jesus.
And I remember what it was like to be there in the middle of it all, arms raised, calling down FIRE because I thought I might die without it.
In a few days, we are leaving for Florida.
We will be those people, flying with two crying kids, animal crackers all over the floor, lugging two giant car seats to the gate, and it will be worth it to step off the plane and be warm. It has been years now since I’ve seen the ocean, and I’m aching for a glimpse of it, the wide water rolling infinitely around the earth.
I’ve done fire. I’ve been on that roller coaster of spiritual highs and lows, that weekend climb toward the holy and then the plunge back into reality. What I’m looking for now is a little warmth – the kind that goes through your skin all the way to your shivering soul.
I want to sit barefoot on the beach and watch my son run on the sand – each wild, beautiful grain known to God even as they are sticking to his toes, washed off in the bathtub at night.
I’ll turn off the computer. Leave that endless, virtual conversation, just for a bit. Stop carrying so many things at once. I’d like to feel my arms get strong and tired as I row a kayak on the top of the water, the sun bearing down on my shoulders.
I am not looking for a jolt, a jump-start to a sub-par spiritual journey – the electric shock therapy of the traditional evangelical retreat. So, I don’t know, maybe it’s just a vacation.
Or maybe vacation and retreat have more in common than we really believe. We move back. We withdraw. We watch our children laugh and see the face of God.