I imagine that for many people, when they hear the word “retreat” they think of relaxing in a quiet space for reflection. I think of that too. But the reality of “retreat” for me is work – very little relaxing, even less quiet space and, if I’m lucky, some reflection. Why? Because when I go on retreats it’s typically with 15-25 teenagers and an additional 5-10 adult leaders. Although there are moments of quiet and reflection, that is not the experience for the majority of the retreat.
A few weekends ago I lead a short, 5-hour local retreat for our confirmation class. I left the house around 9 am and was home by 4 pm. No big deal. But, it was a big deal. I was wiped out. I had no energy. I felt like I had been gone the entire weekend. I was tired and irritable and generally mad at a life. It was that evening that I chose to take a night walk to work out some of that negativity. However, this experience clued me into something I hadn’t paid much attention to. I was aware of it, but I hadn’t put the pieces together yet.
Grief is tiresome. Grief layers itself over everything I do. Grief limits the amount of energy I have to spend. Grief makes me start yawning at 3 in the afternoon. Even when I’m not actively thinking about my grief or talking about why I’m grieving, grief is still present. It doesn’t go away just because I have a fun evening with friends. It doesn’t go away just because I haven’t cried in a few days. Grief is always present, always draining that last bit of energy from me.
I’ve heard the term “phantom load” to describe the energy that gets drained from cords plugged into an electricity source. Even if the appliance isn’t on or being used – like a toaster or speaker – the cord is still draining electricity (or something like that!). You can’t see it happening. You may not even notice it on the electricity bill, but it’s happening. I think that’s what grief looks like – silently draining energy away without you even knowing.
So, I’m grateful for that short retreat because it alerted me to my invisible energy drain. It made me aware of my short supply. And, it made me really nervous about this weekend’s retreat. Our annual youth Lenten retreat. 45 hours. 24 youth. 11 adults. (That may seem like overkill to you, but trust me – it’s not.) If 5 hours drained me to the point of napping and crying and needing a night walk to set me straight, how in the world will I find the energy and stamina to manage 45 hours?!
My husband, a wise man, reminded me that the 5-hour retreat was pretty much just me in leadership – I was mostly on my own. The retreat this weekend is not all on me – there’s a reason I asked 10 other adults to come. So, last week I sent them an email letting them know that I need their support, I need them to force me to let go of some responsibilities, I need them to say “Anne, go rest.” Just acknowledging the energy drain is a huge step.
Today I’m taking it easy. I’m not going to overdo it because I don’t want to arrive at church later today already exhausted. So, I’m going to let myself take easier poses in yoga, I’m going to take a nap, I’m going to rest.
I know what Sunday afternoon will look like. I’ve been at this for over 13 years. I’m prepared for the drive home from church on Sunday. Every mile I get closer to home, I’ll feel exponentially more tired. The adrenaline will wear off and I’ll be left with little to nothing, which means irritable and tired. However, this year it might take more than Monday to recover. It might take a few days to build my energy back up after it was completely depleted.
The phantom load is real – every time a student wants to talk about a struggle, even though I want to listen and desire to help, I am drained. Even though the adult vs. youth basketball game is fun and upbeat, I will walk away exhausted. Even though I love seeing them kneeling at prayer stations and my heart is broken (in a good way) when I anoint each head with oil, I will be left with very little. All of my energy will be given away this weekend. Every last ounce will be offered to someone else, which means I will be left empty. I’m willing to make this sacrifice because I know on the other side there will be time for replenishing. However, in the midst of it all, I must remember to be excessively gentle with myself and others.
On top of all that, there’s a deeper significance to this retreat, one that will drain me in ways I probably can’t yet imagine. They don’t realize the importance of this retreat – the magnitude of what this retreat means for them and me and our ministry together. Soon they will, but for now I hold it alone. And, it’s so, so heavy.