Editor’s Note: Recently, our Study Together groups worked through Richard Foster’s book “Celebration of Discipline.” So many helpful conversations ensued that we thought we’d create a blog series on the topic and post articles the first week of each month. Enjoy!
“Like Jesus, we must go away from people so that we can be truly present when we are with people.” -Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline
In October 2019, I took a personal retreat to the beach for twenty-four hours. Up to that point, a personal retreat with God was not something that earned much thought in my mind. When I did think of it, it was a rather flawed desire that went something like this: “I just want to go run away to a cave! Who knows when I’ll return! Nobody else can come!” This had nothing to do with time with God. It was a desire to run away and shut the door on life. That was the attractiveness of my cave–a hypothetical place where I tuned out all situations and people that needed to shut up and stop bothering me.
But my beach retreat was different. It was not added to my schedule for the purpose of running away from the reality of my life. It was added so that I could ask the Lord to help me honestly confront the reality of my life.
Leading up to my retreat, Nick and I were coming off of nearly a year-long stretch of pondering our future. Specifically, we wondered where God wanted to place us as a couple and where Nick was being called to exercise his pastoral gifts. Moving to another state to join another church was on the table. Moving locally to start a church plant was on the table. And we knew God was prompting us to choose. Both involved change.
I do not do well with change. I found the whole decision-making process overwhelming and wanted to take no part in it. Old temptations crept back to my heart, causing me to resent Nick’s calling to pastoral ministry. I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and scream, “La la la, I’m not here!” There was so much fear and distrust in my heart. I did not believe God would provide for my needs if anything changed.
One August morning, I met with my friend, Trish, and confided in her that I was in complete denial about the Lord urging Nick and me to make a decision. She strongly encouraged me to take a personal retreat to wrestle with God and be honest with Him. He could see my heart anyway.
I took her advice and scheduled for October an overnight trip to Brigantine, New Jersey. I did not create a specific timeline or agenda. I simply needed a blocked off portion of time where I could no longer avoid decisions by leaning on my understandable excuses like, “I have no time to ponder this! I have to homeschool, grocery shop, make dinner, wash the dishes, not to mention fold laundry and tidy up the house! Is this house going to clean itself?”
October came and I went to the beach.
The ocean is such a wonderful gift. During my trip, I watched how relentless the ocean is. The waves crash repeatedly, never stopping. The ocean does not go to bed when night comes. It very much reminds me of the Lord. I suspect He gave us oceans to remind us of Him; He never slumbers nor sleeps (Psalm 121:4). He does not snooze through the events of my life. He is ever-present, and He promises not to leave me on my own. On that beach, I took out my journal and began writing. The Spirit spoke so gently yet firmly to my heart in a way I hope I never forget. He gave me two very specific messages:
First: “If you wanted to live your life autonomously and without concern for another person, why did you freely choose to get married?”
And second: “You believe that moving away may be the worst thing that could ever happen to you. However, the worst thing that could ever happen to you is being eternally separated from me forever with no joy or hope in this world. And that will never happen to you because you are mine in Christ.”
On that sandy beach on a lovely autumn morning, God unmistakably spoke to my heart. His Spirit’s conviction was clear. There was nothing I could say to refute Him. Just a few months prior to this, my friend, Bethany, prayed that I would receive the gift of faith to walk through the doorway ahead. I could not force myself to walk through; God had to first grant me the faith to do it. I believe this was the moment for which she prayed. I had been trapped in so much selfishness and fear of my future, and God was graciously freeing me from both. In solitude the Spirit visited me, asked me to stop rejecting my husband’s calling, and strengthened me to stop fearing my own life. Life is meant to be walked out by faith.
I chose to retreat to the beach, but not everyone has to do that. I found the separation from home distractions very helpful, but solitude ought not follow one specific formula. Perhaps you will find a sunny patch of lawn, or the front steps of your porch. Perhaps it is a soft chair in the corner of your room. The most important thing I needed to do was prioritize hearing from God, wherever that was. Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline, “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers.” James tells us, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” How remarkable that I found time for this solitude just a month before COVID-19 began its travels around the earth. God asks me to draw near to Him, to not resist hearing from Him. He drew near to me in October, He draws near to me during the pandemic we walked through, and He will continue drawing near to me in my future.