Last weekend my church had its annual All Church Family Retreat at Doubling Gap Center in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. It is not a retreat for “families” but for the “church family” (although many go as families). One of its attractions is the camp/retreat center itself. Away from the hustle and bustle of the city and everyday life. It is an oasis of beauty designed by our Creator. But the main attraction is the schedule. There is very little of it. A couple of speakers, a morning devotional and a Sunday morning worship are about it. Except to get to meals on time, you are free to do nothing – by yourself, with your family, with your friends – whatever you need. The scene above is often repeated for hours on end.
I am the Lead Pastor of my congregation – a position of high visibility and often high intensity – some of it the joy of leading, some of it the requirements of leading. The church encourages me by contract and support to limit my work time to 50-55 hours per week. I sometimes log that by Thursday. I learned a long time ago, primarily by two bouts with burnout, that I have to detach and get away from it all if I am going to survive it all. Even if that getaway is only for part of a day – just down the road a few miles with my cell phone turned off – I must get away and (quoting Eugene Peterson) “do nothing that is necessary.”
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, his ambassador, in fact. It has always struck me as important that Jesus could regularly abandon the crowds clamoring for his help to go away to a lonely place and be by himself. Sometimes in those places he found testing and temptation – neither of which were on his agenda, but clearly a time of sharpening his commitment to his heavenly Father. Most of the time, when he got away it was precisely to connect again uninterrupted and undistracted with his Father, so he could reflect on his mission, examine his relationship, and receive the strength from being an one with his Father.
If it’s good enough for Jesus – it’s good enough for me.
If it was necessary for Jesus when he was in human form, it is even more essential for me. I am not Jesus. I have to maintain my connection with the Father so that I can be refreshed and renewed by a fresh indwelling of His love, His wisdom, and His power. When I am in the midst of my everyday work and relationships, it is easy to give and give until my tanks are running on fumes. Unless I refuel spiritually, physically, emotionally fumes finally are consumed and I am running on empty. When you’re really empty, you stop.