The scenery turned from concrete to cornfields as I reluctantly made my way to a retreat center 30 miles from home. Is this really going to be worth it? I questioned the value of taking a day of personal retreat when my calendar boasted little breathing room and my desk resembled the haystacks I was passing on these lonely country roads.
I was working at a church on the outskirts of Chicago. The senior pastor had recently mandated a series of monthly personal retreats for all staff members. My hungry heart eyed the potential of a few quiet hours. I was acutely aware of the gaps forming in my own spiritual growth, but I was strangely anxious, fearful of my inability to attend to the quiet things of God for that length of time. I let out a fair share of frustrated sighs as I overloaded other days to carve out this day of rest.
Pastor Ficken shared three words of encouragement with me on the morning of my departure.
Twelve years later I cannot recall what specifically happened that day of retreat—except that I wanted to return. And I did, again and again. Nourished from these face-to-face encounters with the Almighty, I have been able to weather the challenges of a growing ministry, the loss of two children, the birth of a child with Spina Bifida, and the long goodbye to my mom, who died of Alzheimer's.
Over time I noticed two specific gifts that regularly emerged from my private encounters with the Lord: stillness and rest. Together, these two gifts can replenish our souls, restore a sense of God's holiness and sovereignty, and strengthen our resolve to serve Him.
The importance of stillness
Stillness offers me the distinct beauty of hearing God whisper my name, as only He can do it. The words quiet, alone, and undistracted do not describe the vast majority of my waking hours. It is in this mixture, however, that God often makes Himself known. God shouts to us through the glories of His creation, but when calling our name, He speaks with a quiet voice.
Living in a world of iPods, cell phones, and CNN, it's hard to turn down the volume. But going away to a quiet place is a routine 21st-century Christians would do well to cultivate. God treasures these intimate hours with us. Alone, Moses heard the Lord call his name through a burning bush. Alone, the young boy Samuel responded to the voice of God. Alone, Mary said yes to the most world-shattering announcement of all time.
While away on a personal retreat I have not experienced dramatic career-changing encounters like that of Moses or Mary. I have, however, been inspired to pursue new ministry adventures—leading a small group Bible study, embracing a season of foster parenting, and mentoring college students—all while meeting with God in the stillness of an unhurried afternoon.