This past week, I spent four days on a Spiritual Retreat. That might sound super lofty, but it was really just four days alone at a Christian retreat centre. I’m blessed to have a job that gives me spiritual retreat days every year, but this is the first time I’ve used them.
I had one main goal when in going: to reconnect with Jesus. God spoke to me back in March, informing me that I neither loved Him nor understood His love for me. Wow. That was a shocker. Like, hit-you-between-the-eyes shocker. Jesus can be a no-holds-barred kinda guy at times. So my hope was to rekindle that divine romance (and avoid a few more punches).
And also to hear from God. There’s two matters that I need some discernment on right now, and one is fairly major, so I was hoping to hear something that would give me direction on these.
I intentionally left both my laptop and my cell phone at home. All I brought was my Bible, a journal, and a book on marriage I was reading (oh, and my guitar, because no Bible-college grad can survive without one). I even didn’t bring any food, planning to fast for those four days as well (because I’m super-spiritual like that). Just four days of me, Jesus, and the Bible. It was going to be a spiritual honeymoon, of sorts. Again, super-spiritual. God was going to speak, I was going to cry, revelations would be made, and my life would see a major upgrade to the next level of super-spiritualism.
I arrived early, to make the most of my time with Jesus. No running on Pentecostal time. I prayed, opened my Bible, and then went on a long prayer walk, excited and expectant to hear clearly from Holy Spirit. This was it. God was going to speak.
By the end of day one, I’d walked all the trails already and made a trip to the grocery store (because why fast when you have nothing to do, and eating could still be spiritual, right?).
But God never spoke.
By the end of day two, I’d read three whole books of the New Testament, half a book from the Old (because that’s hard-core), walked the trails again (several kilometres of them), had a nap, and even wrote a worship song (I’m super-spiritual, remember?). Still nothing.
By day three, I was getting frustrated. And so I scoured the gospels, finished reading my marriage book (about 100 pages still), walked the nine-circuit prayer labyrinth five times, napped twice, and spent half an hour on my knees in the prayer shelter, trying to quiet my mind (at this point, I also hadn’t talked to anyone in two days), and even started a 1000 piece puzzle I’d found in the Commons room (I’m not a puzzle guy, but my restlessness, boredom, and addiction to production couldn’t be held at bay any longer; also, I couldn’t help but wonder if this happens on peoples’ honeymoons). Surely, by now, God would speak to me and give me direction. Still nothing.
It seemed like my reheated pizza was more Spirit-filled than I was (after all, what does make that crust rise?).
Day Four: I woke up at 6:30, determined that if nothing else came from this time, I’d begin a habit of carving out more time with God in the mornings. I told Jesus that I was frustrated that He hadn’t spoke to me. I read my two chapters of Nehemiah, had breakfast and a shower, and then went for a final walk before starting to pack and clean. And then a thought occurred to me: maybe I’m trying to cram into four days the kind of closeness it takes years to build.
I looked back at my journal and remembered why I’d come: to first of all invest in my relationship with Jesus. If that was my only goal, then I was successful; I’d spent more time in Scripture, prayer, and worship in those four days then I usually do in a month. So maybe it wasn’t a waste of time. I opened my Bible reading note-book, thinking maybe there was something else I’d missed, and skimmed my notes from my reading through John 13-17, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. And this is what I saw:
LOVE, OBEY, ABIDE. LOVE, OBEY, ABIDE.
ABIDE, ABIDE, ABIDE, ABIDE, ABIDE.
Though I came to this retreat trying to hear the still, small voice of God, I was still looking for it in the miraculous, the flashy, and the grand.
And then another thought occurred to me:
Maybe John was ‘the apostle whom Jesus loved’ because he simply liked to be with Jesus. Maybe it wasn’t the miracles or the power to heal or the theological insights for which John was drawn to Jesus. If they were friends, maybe they liked being together because they liked each other.
After all, if you truly love someone, then you like them just because.
Whoa. Deep, right?
And the only way to get there is to spend time together. Love, obey, abide. Love, obey, abide. Abide, abide, abide. John’s refrain kept ringing in my mind.
Sometimes, the most basic things are the hardest to do because they aren’t miraculous, flashy, or grand. So here’s to basic. Here’s to the simple. Here’s to friendship, just because.
(Dang it, my iced tea is empty. So much for the toast.)