Sometimes the best way forward is the way back. Sometimes advancing later means retreating now.
Over the years, I have enjoyed running and lifting weights. Both have been a release for me. But in each case, there is always a temptation to overdo it, to put in one more workout, to slap on one more weight, to run a little bit faster than I should, to run a little bit farther than I should.
Somedays, maxing out like this is warranted. It’s good to push it and see where you’re at, but to constantly train at full throttle is foolishness. Physical injuries rise out of overtraining. Mental burnout comes from too much intensity. That’s why every decent exercise book will tell you your day of rest IS a training day. It’s just training of a different sort.
We need this alternative training. We need recuperation. We need healing. We need stops and starts. We need mental breaks and emotional breaks. In these things, we find greater strength. In marathon training, this kind of strategic pause is called tapering. The final weeks of marathon training always call for less runs, shorter runs, and even walks. Why? So that you can run your best race. Tapering does not diminish results. It enhances them.
Our spiritual training is no different. We must stress and strain ourselves for others. We must take risks and seek adventure, but we must always balance this with the call to retreat, to step back and breathe. These periods of retreat do not weaken our witness; they strengthen it. Retreat thickens our souls and deepens our roots.
In our busy world, retreat sometimes looks like a waste of time. Or because of all our busyness, we fear we cannot afford the time to retreat. But to skip retreat is to rob Peter to pay Paul. The time gained by skipping retreat will quickly be gobbled by injury time, whatever that may look like in your personal life.
Not long from now, I will be heading to a student retreat my church is hosting. It is like a lone mountain rising out of a sea of fall busyness. And I am swimming for it! This will be an important weekend away. I hope I will live deeply in it.
So how about you? Do you need to retreat? I know you may say you don’t have the time and money for that. But when will you find the time, if you can’t find it now? And you don’t need money to retreat. It need not be complicated or fancy. It could just be a rainy weekend of cancellations, family, and no television. So when and where will you retreat this year? Let’s talk about some good ideas for simple retreats in the comments section below.