Retreat!

“I want honey in my tea. And a lemon slice too! Oh, and can I use great-grandma’s teacup, pretty please? I’ll be super careful. Pinky promise!”, my then five-year-old daughter sweetly begged.

We were enjoying our afternoon mother-daughter ritual while her two baby brothers napped. Each day we pulled out china teacups and saucers from the collection in our old oak china hutch and slowly sipped herbal tea while I read a Laura Ingalls Wilder or Beatrix Potter book out loud to her.

This afternoon, however, she was asking permission to use an heirloom piece that had been passed down through four generations in my mother’s family. While I knew my baby girl was grown up enough to be careful with the antique pink and white china cradled in her chubby little hands, something else made me deny her request. I tried explaining it to her.

“Sweetheart, I know you’ll be careful, but we can’t have hot tea in that cup. It has cracks. See?”

I showed her a few tiny, hairline fractures on the side near the handle. It wasn’t cracked all the way through and could actually still hold water without leaking. However, if hot liquid were to be poured into it, the crack would give way, causing the petite cup to shatter. (Been there. Broke that!) There was just no way for the fractured piece to withstand the stress of a steaming beverage.

Our emotional lives are much the same. When we do not allow time to rest and regroup from the stresses of life, the resulting cracks in our spirit can leave us emotionally and spiritually fragile. We keep going at breakneck speeds, rarely slowing down long enough to be refreshed. And during these hurried and harried times our mouths are much more likely to be our enemy. Instead of forcing our family members to beat a hasty retreat from the onslaught of our verbal slings and arrows,

we need to retreat: back away, slow down, chill out.

Even Jesus found it necessary to get away for a while. The disciple Mark wrote:

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with Me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’. — Mark 6:31

Jesus urged His disciples to get away to a quiet place. Being alone and quiet for a time would restore them and help to keep them whole.

When was the last time you spent time in a quiet place?

No televisions blaring. No computers streaming webcasts. No iPods or MP3s cranking out music. If we never step back from the noise and demands of life, the stress of it all continues to chisel away at our souls, creating tiny cracks that could eventually cause us to shatter under the heat and pressures of everyday life — not to mention hurl harsh words at others in the process.

When we make time to respond to Jesus’ invitation to go away with Him to a quiet place, we can crack-proof our spirits, making them strong and rendering us ready to handle life. Even a few quiet moments spent with Him can help mend cracks, renewing us and making us into vessels strong enough to be used by Him. So are you willing to take time soon to slow down, get away, and rest? To find solitude in a hushed and holy place alone with our Savior, even if only for an hour or two? Here are some ways to do just that.

1. Get Up Early or Stay Up Late

I know it may sound simplistic, but it works. I do know at certain times in my life I needed every minute of sleep I could get: when I struggled with sickness or when I was the nursing mother of a newborn who woke up several times each night. But during the so-called “normal” times of my life, I find that forgoing fifteen to thirty minutes of sleep in order to appear before an audience of One is more than worth it.

2. Swap Spaces

If you want to be alone with the Lord for a longer stretch of time, consider finding a friend who has the same desire. And then? Trade places and spaces. You go to her house when she is not there and spend two or three hours alone in quiet. She will come to your house and do the same. Now, this works well if neither of you has any young children that need to be watched during the day. When I had little ones around my feet, here is what worked instead: I would watch my children — and the children of my friend — at her house while she went to my place for some quiet. The next week, we did the opposite. She corralled all of the kiddos and had a fun day with them at my house, while I went to her home for some quiet reflection. Going to the other person’s house for your time alone is imperative. You are less likely to be distracted. When you try to do this at home, you spy the dirty dishes or know there is laundry to be folded or a junk drawer just screaming at you, “Organize me!” Removing these distractions allows you to clear your mind and center your soul on your time with God.

3. Find a Noisy Coffeehouse

It is a mystery to me but also a truth — somehow the clanking dishes and noisy espresso machines at a coffeehouse morph into white noise while I am sitting there reading and praying. I do not get distracted, and I actually find it fairly easy to focus in a busy coffeehouse. Not so much with one that isn’t very busy. When there are long stretches of quiet and then just one person comes in the door, I get distracted by their conversation with the barista. But busy creates a buzz. The humming of the noise drowns out the distractions, and I am able to focus.

I know I am not technically alone — at least not physically — but somehow I am all alone in my thoughts. I feel able to concentrate. I not only can read the Bible, I can study it carefully. I can write prayers in a journal or spend time memorizing Bible verses. Yes, smack-dab in the center of the coffeehouse commotion!

4. Pretend It Is 1992

Or 1981. Or whatever year works for you. Just go back to a time when there weren’t as many electronic distractions. I teasingly threaten my son and his friends that one day this summer I am going to declare it 1981 day at our house. No cell phones. If they want to communicate with someone they can use my landline. No cable TV. They may only watch the three major networks just like I did in 1981. No video games or iPod. I still have a trusty cassette tape player they may use, and they can always turn on the radio. (I’ll give them three stations to listen to, like I had then.) And there was no such thing as a computer or laptop or iPad. Just beloved books. If they are arguing about Michael Jordan’s basketball statistics, they can’t “Google it” on one of their phones to prove each other wrong. (But I do have a nice set of encyclopedias they may use for research if they’d like.)

We need to time travel sometimes too. Unplug and unwind. Declare a fast from these modern electronic conveniences. Shut them down. Don’t let them bleep or buzz. Just enjoy a day or a few hours in blissful, gadget-free quiet.

5. Check Out Local Retreat Centers

Just ten minutes from my home is a fabulous retreat center, owned by a particular denomination but open to anyone. It isn’t anything fancy — just a large, brick-and-cinder-block building that looks much like a college dormitory from the 1960s. However, its lovely grounds are full of grape arbors, rolling hills and meadows, apple and peach orchards, and breathtaking perennial gardens. Benches and picnic tables are scattered about, inviting all who visit to sit and just be still. Inside the building are primitive yet pristine rooms for rent at $25 per night. Or if you just want to spend a day on the property, either outside or inside the building in one of the beautiful lounge areas, the library, or cafeteria, you may come from sunup till sundown for free. This retreat center has been a lifesaver for me that does not break our budget.

6. Split a Hotel Room with a Friend

What does it mean to split a hotel room with a friend? You arrange for an early check-in and late check-out. You will use the room from 1:00 p.m. when you check in until 9:00 that evening. Then your friend will join you for a sleepover. You’ll enjoy some snacks and visit or catch some TV before turning in for the night. The next morning, you will get up at 6:00 a.m. and share breakfast in the hotel. Then you take off. Your friend now has the room until late checkout at 3:00 p.m. This way, you can each get an eight-hour span of time to be alone.

7. Go Outside to a Secret Spot

Sometimes it isn’t always possible to get away for a whole or even a half day. Maybe all you have is a few minutes. If this is the case and weather permits, consider going outside. Create your own special or secret spot in your yard. At the back of our property we have a line of pine trees. Last summer I purchased a lovely stone bench and a freestanding, folding hammock at an end-of-season clearance sale. The stone bench sits in front of the line of pine trees, a serene place to sit and contemplate for a moment. Or I might take my Bible out with me to read a passage or two amidst the chirping birds and sounds of neighborhood children playing. The collapsible hammock is tucked away inside the patch of pines. Sometimes, during the day I will steal away for just ten or fifteen minutes and go lie on the hammock in the shade of the branches and pour my heart out to God. Just getting out in nature for a snapshot of time refreshes my spirit.

Excerpted with permission from Keep It Shut by Karen Ehman, copyright Karen Ehman.

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Your Turn

Are you fully refreshed right now with the wind at your back and lots of energy to tackle your day and everything God has planned for you? If not, maybe it’s time to back off the front lines of your life and retreat. I’m planning my retreat right now! How about you? Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full

Karen Ehman

Karen Ehman is a New York Times bestselling author, a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker, and a writer for Encouragement for Today, an online devotional that reaches over four million women daily. She has written eleven books including KEEP IT SHUT: What to Say, How to Say It; When to Say Nothing at All, and Listen, Love, Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World. Karen has been featured on numerous media outlets including FoxNews.com, Focus on the Family, Redbook.com, Crosswalk.com, and Home Life Magazine. Married to her college sweetheart, Todd, and the mother of three, she enjoys herb gardening, collecting vintage kitchenware, cheering for the Detroit Tigers, and feeding the many teens and young adults who gather around her kitchen island for a taste of Mama Karen's cooking.

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