Thoughts on the Annual Women’s Retreat: An Open Letter to My Eldest Daughter
Emily, we have walked and talked together for almost 14 years now, and it has been a joy. I am a “teacher” not only through education, but by nature (God’s gifting) and so it has been fun to talk you through life’s experiences so far. This weekend, you will get to attend your first annual women’s retreat away from home for two nights. I can not tell you how pleased I am to finally get to have you along. I have been waiting for this day since I found out I had a daughter, and my joy will only become more complete as your sisters join us one by one.
“You shall therefore impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall teach them to your sons, talking of them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates . . . Deuteronomy 11:18-20
We’ve been talking a lot lately about what the weekend will look like for us. It has been a blessing to see your heart willing to submit to your daddy and I. Let me also just take a minute here to lay out some more of the reasons behind the vision that your daddy and I have operated under since we both were young.
Since I was in 5th grade, I have attended summer camps, youth retreats, and then women’s retreats, seldom missing a year . . . and the purpose in each of them has been the same:
(1) – to get away from the busy-ness of life and spend some concentrated time meditating on and fellowshipping with the Lord through the Word and prayer.
(2) – to minister to those in need.
(3) – to spend time with friends, making memories through crazy times.
(Some of these things you have heard before, but it’s on my mind to write it all down together for you.)
It has been nice that your dad grew up and still holds very similar views. So, you all get “double-whammied”!!
Ok. So, what do those priorities look like practically?
Well, first, let’s set some biblical premise for them.
(1) – Why must we make the teaching of the Word and personal meditation the highest priority, when we only get to do this once a year?
Exactly. I only get to do this once a year! At home, my routine distracts me from desiring to sit and read and think. My “toys” distract me. My “to do” list distracts me. Other people distract me. My music distracts me. The “noise” of everyday life distracts me. Over the years, I have endeavored to leave as much of “everyday life” at home, and have enjoyed the “new scenery” in finding a quiet place by a stream, or in a meadow, or over-looking the ocean . . . or something else that helps take my mind off of the people around me and helps me focus on the Scripture and taking my burdens, questions, struggles, requests, praises, thoughts, etc. to the Lord. There have been sweet memories stored over the years, many recorded in my journal. Yes, I do this in the mornings at home, but I can’t escape the house and the “to do” list that it constantly reminds me of. Getting away gives me extended time to focus.
Psalm 1 . . . "But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He will be like a tree firmly planted y streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.”
I want to be like that. I want to be “firmly planted”. I want to yield fruit, and I don’t want to wither. I want to prosper. I want to be a good testimony of how God cares for His people . . . I want to be use-able by God . . . I want to play a part in His big plan. If I say I love God and desire Him above all else, yet not choose to get to know Him better or spend time with Him or talk with Him when I have extra chances, then maybe I don’t really love Him and desire Him as much as I say I do. Yes, life is a fight . . . a fight to really walk out what I believe, as well as a fight to believe what I need/want to.
When you were young . . . you preferred the “sweets” to the “regular” food. What child doesn’t? What would have happened if I had decided as your parent, “She really doesn’t prefer the regular food, but likes the sweets, so that is what I will feed her”.? Would you have ever learned to like foods besides the sweet stuff? Not easily. But, oh how difficult it was to endure that “training” phase as a parent. It would have been much easier to just let you eat what you preferred, believe me!
We see the ridiculousness in that, and yet, we tend to do the very thing with ourselves when it comes to other “appetites”. We somehow think it would be hypocritical to cultivate something that isn’t there.
But, what if that truly isn’t your desire? What if you don’t feel like being “spiritual” all weekend? (Those really aren’t the words I would choose, but words I have had others use with me.) Paul tells Timothy to “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7), which implies making our bodies do that which we naturally don’t want to do. That is the picture of life, my dear.
Emily, your daddy and I have operated under this strategy for years: decide what your priorities will be before you get there. Because I can guarantee you that there will be many choices that you will have to make and if your vision isn’t set and clear, then those decisions will be harder to make and you may not look back on them with joy.
So, our number one priority will be to spend time hearing the Word taught, spending time alone meditating on the Scriptures and in prayer. We will attend all the sessions. We will work through all of the questions that have been prepared for us. We will take advantage of the quiet times that have been scheduled and we will attend the prayer times. This retreat has been prayed over by dedicated women and the elders of our church that we might grow spiritually and be refreshed . . . may they see the fruit of their labors in our lives!
Then . . . when the schedule that has been carefully crafted tells us that it is time to play . . . Whooo Hoooo! I’m looking forward to spending time with you and enjoying all there is to experience up there this weekend. I anticipate doing a lot of laughing and taking some fun pictures and enjoying developing some new friendships. It’s always so much fun to see who the Lord puts me with and who I get to know a little bit better each year. We will stay up and fellowship at night as late as we think we can and still be able to get up for the prayer time in the morning and focus during the sessions. We will squeeze as much fun as we can into the free time allowed, deal? :-)
My second priority is also to minister to others while I’m up there. That has always been a huge part of your daddy’s and my vision . . . “Who does the Lord want us to spend time with and minister to this weekend?” This may start out as your 3rd priority, but I pray that as you grow it too will become your 2nd priority. I pray that you too will develop eyes for those around you who may need a friend, or who may need to talk, etc. As you learn more about the person of Jesus and as you learn more and more about what it is to be loved by Him, that same love will begin to flow from you to others. And I’ll tell you . . . those moments have been the highlights of my retreats.
But Em, be careful. We women can fall into the trap of ministering to others at the expense of sacrificing our first priority of listening to the Word and spending alone time with Him. I have seen this happen so many times . . . a friend is really struggling and needs to talk, and it’s right before the session starts, so we skip the session to help our friend. Or it’s right after the session and we skip our quiet time to help our friend. All in the name of love and ministry. But to be honest, there is nothing wrong with giving a hug, expressing our concern and making plans to meet at the next break. Here’s where Satan tempts us though . . . “What if someone else comes along who is willing to listen now and I look like I don’t care?” Our pride wants to be the one to listen and give counsel sometimes, and it takes strength and maturity to keep our priorities in place and trust the Lord to meet our friend’s needs in His time. There are no coincidences. You know that. Your friend, and you, are at this retreat, listening to this topic, dealing with these struggles because that is what God has ordained for you both. Encourage your friend to listen to what God may want to say to her through the speaker and encourage her to pray about it and then plan on getting together to talk later.
So . . . there you go. I think this is the longest post I’ve posted, but it’s really for you and Molly and Annie . . . and it is much of what is in my heart for you three. You will make your own choices in the near future. You may set your priorities differently than mine. So be it. But, my responsibility (and joy) is to teach you about mine and why I do the things I do. I have enjoyed these years we’ve had to walk together and talk together. It has been nice to know that you are comfortable being you in the ways we are similar as well as in the ways we are different. Your differences are refreshing to me and I am excited to see all that the Lord has in store for you!
Alrighty then. We’re all packed and ready to head out tomorrow.
Let the adventure begin!
(I love you, Emily!)