We have mentioned in several blogs the importance of retreat – to get away from it all, recharge the batteries, and seek God in prayer. This is an important part of maintaining our emotional and spiritual health – to withdraw for a while from the busyness of our lives and responsibilities and to stand and stare:
What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare?
W H Davies’ whimsical poem Leisure cuts straight to the heart of our busy responsibility-laden lives: – if we don’t create time to re-connect with God, the natural world around us, our own emotions and the natural rhythms of our lives, can we really said to be living? How come the very people Jesus has given abundant life to are running around like headless chickens offering abundant life to others but somehow failing to enjoy it themselves?
Saint Aidan and his seventh century co-workers (see our blog from July 2010) set up their monastery on a remote island, whose only access was via a causeway which was submerged at high tide. Accordingly they developed a rhythm to life which was governed by the tides: time on the island which they spent in prayer and contemplation, and time on the mainland when they engaged in mission. Many contemporary mission workers have forgotten the importance of this rhythm, and enthusiastically do mission work without making time to restore their spiritual resources. Small wonder that they struggle with exhaustion and burnout!
We recommend that as part of a strategy for maintaining spiritual health, missionary longevity, and human wellbeing, every mission worker should develop a personal rhythm involving daily, weekly, monthly and yearly times of retreat, contemplation, prayer and reflection. To help with this we have provided a page listing some good places (mostly in the UK) where retreats can be organised. These can vary from space to find individual times of prayer to fully-led times of retreat. They can be done silently or not, in groups (better for the extraverts!) or in solitude.
We realise that regular retreat may imply five days away once or twice a year, and for many people, particularly those with families, this is not always practical. However it is possible for one partner to give another a free day once a month to spend time with God, or even for busy parents to grab five minutes of peace and quiet in the bathroom to read a psalm and say a quick prayer. It is not the quantity of retreat that is important, so much as the regularity.
Whichever way of doing retreat works best for you, we strongly recommend that everyone makes sure that in their busyness they don’t squeeze out of their lives the God who longs to have more of our attention. It was Mary who was commended by Jesus, not Martha.