Reasons I avoided going to a retreat and what I learned when I went

By Sam Doerksen

It was 1988 and I was waiting on the tarmac, wondering what it would be like to fly in a 737. I was nervous. I waited until the passenger in the assigned seat next to me sat down and I started a conversation. I was trying to find a distraction, something that would take my mind off the trip, something that would relax me. It didn’t take long for my new friend to take me up on the conversation. Turns out she had a distraction: it was liquid form in a small bottle. She consumed a few of them and it seemed to work for her. For myself, I had no interest in numbing my reality, but rather doing my best to embrace my first flight on a large aircraft. I had been on a smaller plane once before and all was good. Although the bank turns made me grip my seat to make sure I would not fall out of the aircraft. Funny how it made me feel a little more secure. Knees knocking, hands folded to pray, conversation happening with my neighbour who by now had a hard time keeping quiet – I was just nervous to fly. What would make me muster up the courage to get on this flight if I was nervous and afraid?

Well, I was off to see my dear girlfriend. We had been dating for about six months at that point and had not seen each other for two or three months. We really enjoyed spending time together in conversation, getting to know each other. Letters every day, regular phone calls – so many phone calls that my first phone bill cost more than the flight to Toronto! But knowing that the end result would be spending time with Pauline was worth the risk.

Have you ever been hesitant or afraid to try something new? Even if you were told it would be good for you? Then later you wonder why you didn’t indulge earlier? As a matter of fact, after you accomplish the task you set out to accomplish you realize you quite enjoyed it. This was the case when I considered going to a Kerith Ministry Leaders Retreat 13 years ago. There were a lot of questions that I didn’t have answers for. Yet, after attending, I wondered why it took me so long to embrace the opportunity.

Here are a few of the reasons, or perhaps excuses, that were prominent in my mind for not wanting to try something new in my pastoral ministry.

First, I thought, I don’t need a retreat. What is being said or implied by the suggestion that I need to go on a retreat? Why do I need a rest? I thought taking the time to go to a retreat seemed like a waste of time. There is ministry to be done. With all that I am responsible for, I am too busy to go to a retreat. With what I am responsible for, it is difficult to give up a whole week of my time! Apparently, those around me who encouraged me to go thought I could use the retreat and that it was only one week.

Second, what will happen when I am away? The loss of control (which is hard to admit), whether perceived or otherwise seemed overwhelming. Will everything continue on the way I would like it to if I am not there? I just need to stay and work. What if others try to change some things and now they see the chance to do so? (As if this would happen in a week.)

Third, refusal to self-reflect. This was significant for me. What if I need to change some things about the way I am doing ministry? This would show that I have been doing it wrong! It is difficult to hear things that we need to hear. Deep down I knew that there was much to learn, but what would happen in the meantime? I thought I could help myself – I just needed time.

Fourth, soul care. We are humans and we need to take care of ourselves. Not in a narcissistic way, but in a way that we are healthy to serve God. But at the time I thought taking care of oneself before others was just wrong. I have been asked to serve others – I want to serve others – not have others serve me in this way. I can do it. As the old saying goes, pull up the bootstraps. Interesting that in Acts 20:28, it says: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Doesn’t soul care just come naturally? That way we can keep on serving others without any effort on our part to stop and evaluate where we are at.

Fifth, people will know where I will be going. A retreat centre for pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders must be for those who cannot “handle” the workload. It will feel like I have failed. By the way, isn’t it only for burned out pastors and other leaders? It’s that place! It seemed like a stigma. It’s not the case, but whether perceived or real it went through my mind. And it influenced my decision making.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Sometimes the thing we can do to be most effective is to spend time with the Lord so he can mold our character. We serve out of who we are and so it’s important to have good character.

I can recall when my mother would try to introduce a new food to me and would say, “You don’t know what you’re missing.” I assured her that I knew full well what I was missing. It is strange that a number of years later I am eating those foods that she thought I should try. She was trying to give me something good. Well, when it came to going to a Kerith Retreat in 2010, I realized that my fears, hesitations and concerns were also of the perceived sort. The retreat was excellent! We were given tools for the toolbox as it were. My perspective had changed.

My reasons for not wanting to go to any retreat made sense to me at the time. I realized later that much of my process was through the lens of I’m not sure what to expect. It’s always a little nerve-wracking to go somewhere not knowing who is going to be there or what am I going to have to do when I get there. But I imagine that all of the guests are probably thinking the same thing. I am glad that my wife, Pauline, and I went to a Kerith Retreat when we did. It was good to spend time together, reading Scripture and taking in some wisdom from the directors. The end result was worth the risk. Sometimes you just have to take the first step, and I’m glad I did!


Sam Doerksen and his wife, Pauline, are the program directors at our Manitoba Kerith Retreats location. For more information about our retreats, visit KerithRetreats.ca.

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