by Caroline Saunders

Originally posted on WriterCaroline.com in October 2017

I think God tends to do his most profound work in small moments—the regular practice of opening up the Bible and leaving it out on the counter for random snatches of reading, of praying in the car, of keeping an open dialogue of gospel-talk with friends, of choosing to not be offended by a weird email. I think the regular moments matter most, that it’s where our roots grow and stretch deep down into the earth, grounding our faith and making it stronger.

But I also think big events can reinvigorate small-moment living. This is the reason I believe in retreats. (This weekend I'm speaking at a women's retreat, and I’m in the middle of planning a women's retreat in December, so retreats are on my brain. Also, treats are on my brain. That’ll come up later.)

Some other reasons retreats are important:

We see so much in scripture about being set apart and setting things apart. Whether it’s the Sabbath or the tabernacle, there are some times and spaces that should be different from our regular, small-moment living.

We see so much in scripture about togetherness. Emmanuel means God with us, and the promise of Jesus’s second coming means we will be with Him again. Yet even beyond the idea of being with God, we see in Genesis that even though Adam was with God, it was not good for man to be alone. We need togetherness with God and with people. Yet often we interact with our church family on Sundays carrying a spirit of loneliness, feeling like people might sort of see us but not really know us. It’s confusing to know how to deepen the relationships. Small groups certainly help with this, but it takes a while.

Let me talk about treats for a minute (told you I’d work this in): When I was in elementary school, I had an Easy Bake Oven, which, if you did not know, cooks a very tiny cake WITH A LIGHTBULB for four billion years. Upon removing the cake from the oven with your now elderly hands, you will discover that there is no icing because the icing did not come with the kit even though there is an iced cake pictured on the box. A nine-year-old girl who loves treats should not have to wait seventeen decades for a tiny cake and then have no icing because there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. OH THE INJUSTICE! With every tiny light bulb cake that I made, part of my soul died.

I think relationships can be like that. It takes so long for us to cook this thing and make it palatable. Investing in relationships is so hard when you only have a lightbulb to cook with!

Sometimes I think back longingly to high school, when I knew that I could leave for camp with maybe only a few acquaintances yet return with a crew of people that I felt close to and excited about. There’s just something about getting out of your element that tends to spur on relationships. That's how I snagged my best friends in high school, and that’s how I snagged my boyfriend in high school.

True story: when my husband asked me to his homecoming dance in November of my junior year, we had such a blast, and I remember saying to myself, I just need one trip, and then I know we will be dating. He called me the second we got home from Winter Camp and asked me on a date. I wish I had placed money on this because I could have bought a cardigan or something, since I was really into cardigans at that time. (The last part of this sentence is likely the saddest thing a person could say about a sixteen year old.)

Unfortunately, when you’re an adult, you don't get to go to summer camp and winter camp. (SIDE NOTE: WE SHOULD HAVE ADULT CAMP.) Our trips are fewer and farther between, and they typically revolve around our families, which of course is wonderful, but we don’t have opportunity to deepen new relationships. This is why I think we need to take special advantage of retreats when our churches or other organizations offer them.

Because retreats are not an Easy Bake Oven—they’re a relationship microwave. They cook faster. Investing in the retreat experience makes our Sunday mornings more special because we no longer interact with random faces. We interact with people with whom we have experienced special, set apart things. Retreats can be the catalyst that expands our village, launches our discipleship groups, establishes our most edifying friendships.

Sure, sometimes we’re hesitant to sign up for these kinds of things because rooming is awkward, because it costs money, because we don’t have the energy to schedule it and make sure kids are taken care of. It's difficult, and I totally get it. But can I encourage you that this particular kind of difficult is almost always worth it? To know that the money and the time spent are wise investments in your future small-moment living? To know that you're investing in a microwave when before you only had a lightbulb?

There is really only one thing left to say, and I need you to picture me screaming it and then running to hide in a nearby bush because it is terrible joke and I’m better than this: 

RE-TREAT YO’SELF! (I am really so sorry for this terrible joke.)

Story & Soul Weekend - Why Retreats Matter