When I was younger I went on a few family retreats, but I didn’t experience a retreat on my own as my own person until late in high school. My dad was appointed to a new church half way through my junior year of high school – this church was much bigger than our previous one. The youth ministry offered several retreats a year and I went on all of them. I loved the excitement of the week before – seeing my friends at school, talking about the retreat coming up that weekend. I loved gathering at church on a Friday after school – all of us with our bags in tow, pillows under our arms and smiles plastered to our faces. I loved arriving at the retreat location, usually a camp – the smell of the leaves, the open sky, and yes, even the uncomfortable beds. I loved sharing a room with several friends, talking late into the night, laughing uncontrollably. I loved the small groups, conversations, activities and worship around a campfire. I loved our leaders – at the time I didn’t appreciate what they were giving to us so freely. I even loved Sunday morning when I arrived back at church, headed home and jumped into a clean, private, hot shower and later slept in my own comfy bed.
From those first retreats in the late 90s to the one I led at the end of August, I find that I still love retreats, but for different reasons now. I didn’t realize when I was in high school all that went into the planning of a retreat. I just had to show up and let it happen to me. Later when I started helping with retreats as a college student and then designing them as a young youth minister, I began to realize what it took to create the atmosphere and environment that allowed my friends and I to have such powerful moments on those retreats.
Although I still love retreats – the anticipation, the arrival, the laughter and tears and the return – I’m finding more and more that the preparation is where my true love lies. Months before the retreat I begin tossing around themes, I look for quotes and scriptures, I hold onto images just in case this one will be the one. After considering who will probably attend the retreat and what they need, after thinking about what excites me, after praying and reading and searching, I decide on a theme. I start putting together an outline – from Friday night through Sunday morning – where will we begin and where I want us to end. Each session gets a smaller theme and a scriptural focus. Then the fun begins – Pinterest! I search for activities and crafts and games that help expand on the themes and the verses. Some ideas I’m able to use just as they are but most need some revisions. Once again, I keep in the front of my mind who will be there – making sure there is a good mix of activities for everyone.
I know that not every person in attendance will like everything planned. That’s a given. However, I want to make sure that every person connects with at least one or two portions of the retreat. I want to make sure each person arrives at home on Sunday knowing the theme and how it connects to his or her life. I have to be careful not to overload the retreat with crafty things – that’s my tendency, I love crafts! I have to remember to include movement, sounds, taste, touch, smells and visuals – everyone connects in different ways, so there has to be something for everyone.
As I write the retreat curriculum, I am energized. Yes, I love to see the retreat come to its full fruition, but there is a joy for me in just creating it. Actually going on the retreat, seeing the participants connect and grow – that’s just icing on the cake. My work was already done before they even arrived. Recently I’ve talked to a few people who were surprised by my enjoyment in writing retreats. It never dawned on me that some people may not like this aspect of retreats – it just comes so naturally to me, it’s easy. I’m beginning to wonder if there is a place for me in this world to do just that – write retreats.
At this point I’m still unsure about my future plans. I’m unsure about what I’ll be doing a year from now. I know the responsible side of me says, “You need a steady paycheck and retirement and insurance.” I also know the dreamer side of me says, “Surely there’s a way to make it all work – to write and collaborate and dream with others, while also getting paid…” I don’t know if it’s possible. I know that writing this down for others to read makes me very nervous. I know that putting it out there – saying what I want – makes me feel selfish and ungrateful for what I already have. I know that suggesting I get to follow a dream and get paid for it is lofty and beyond what many people in the world even think about. I know that change scares me and sometimes I opt not to change just because I’d rather not hurt others or challenge myself. I also know the universe is much bigger than me and the changes I consider for my life.
I know that thinking about something new excites me and terrifies me. I know that I’m really good at what I do now – what if I change and I’m not so good anymore. I am known there and am unknown over there – that’s liberating and so, so scary. I know that I’m longing for something different – it may be something different where I already am, it may be something different in a different place. I know that right now there are many things I don’t know. At times I feel internal pressure – I’m about half way through this sabbatical, why don’t I have more answers? And yet…maybe I have more than I realize. I long for something…I long for many things.
As scary as it is, I’m going to hit “publish.” I’m going to let my dreams be read by you. I’m going to allow the universe to hear what I have to say in a very public way. I trust that my words will reach the person who is intended to read them – whether that’s today or years from now. I will continue to honor my longing, recognizing it’s not selfish. In fact, to keep my dreams hidden is selfish because there may be someone out there who needs exactly what I can offer to the world.
If you’re longing too, maybe you’ll find comfort in this blessing from John O’Donohue – I know I do.
Blessed be the longing that brought you here
And quickens your soul with wonder.
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease
To discover the new direction your longing wants you to take.
May the forms of your belonging – in love, creativity, and friendship –
Be equal to the grandeur and the call of your soul.
May the one you long for long for you.
May your dreams gradually reveal the destination of your desire.
May a secret Providence guide your thought and nurture your feeling.
May your mind inhabit your life with the sureness with which your body inhabits the world.
May your heart never be haunted by ghost-structures of old damage.
May you come to accept your longing as divine urgency.
May you know the urgency with which God longs for you.