COMMENTARY | Erich Bridges
No matter how long the school year dragged on, I knew that once summer came, I’d get to go to my grandmother’s beach house. Once there, I could count on her good cooking and unconditional love.
We would fish in the surf or from the boardwalk and watch the sun go down beyond the horizon as the ocean wind cooled our faces. We sometimes talked, but silence was just as good. Being together sufficed.
I think about those summers as today’s July heat begins to bake. Grandma is long gone, and I miss her. But my spirit still yearns for beaches, rivers, mountains and other places that offer respite from the daily routine.
It’s a desire common to humanity. It predates by millennia the idea of vacation, which is a modern phenomenon. We long for a break, however brief, from the daily grind, a pause from the familiar. We crave rest and renewal. A “separation from the world, a penetration to some source of power and a life-enhancing return,” the folklorist Arnold van Gennep described it.
Church folks call it a retreat. Modern-day retreats have become scheduled events with programs, speakers, themes and such. But the older concept of Christian spiritual retreat harks back to the holy men and women of the early church who went into the desert to seek the Lord. They followed the example of Christ, who sought out the wilderness to pray and be alone with His Father before returning to minister to the needy crowds.
The craving for retreat is never stronger than when the world seems to be falling apart. Wars that were supposed to be over aren’t. Old enemies remain and new ones emerge. Political and cultural disputes become more hateful by the day. People refuse to make peace with God or each other, holding onto their evil ways. Those closest to us let us down. We let them down. We disappoint the Lord. It’s time for a rest and a fresh start.
These are times for a retreat in the old sense. Jesus beckons us to come away with Him to a quiet place, there to rest with Him and renew our spirits. Vacationing is OK, but it’s a poor imitation of walking with Jesus in the wilderness.
The other great thing about true retreat is returning to the world. Vacations these days tend to be rushed, expensive, over-planned and more tiring than the demands they’re supposed to relieve. When you get home, you’re ready for a vacation from your vacation. But you return from a retreat with the Lord refreshed, renewed and ready to follow Him back into the fray.
That’s the real point of retreat — being with God, then returning to the world. He needs servants who have met with Him before they enter the global struggle for souls. If we try to serve Him in our own puny power, we’ll make no impact.
Seek Him in the wilderness and quiet, and renew yourself in His Spirit. Return to the world to shine His light into darkness.