To retreat: ‘To withdraw from enemy forces as a result of their superior power or after a defeat.’
Retreat has become a dirty word, a word associated with cowards or if you’re the Google dictionary the French! If we are overwhelmed or can’t take any more we retreat, or escape or flee; these are all synonyms offered by the dictionary. I saw a film once where the American army were so keen to not use the word retreat that apparently they ‘advanced hastily to the rear’.
If retreating is the result of failure and is such a sign of weakness, why are we encouraged, as Christians, to do it? Why, for that matter, did I do it?
I think the first issue that needs to be addressed is the concept of weakness and failure. As Christians, we accept and know that we are weak. This is one of the unique things about having a faith. Recognising that we are not the strong, in control people that we might want to be; but that in actual fact there’s a creator God who is our strength and who has a plan for us that sometimes, at first, may not seem to match up to our own plans. We are not always leaders in our faith; first and foremost we are Followers. Secondly failure is, I believe, the wrong term. When I left for the retreat I didn’t feel weak, nor did I feel like a failure. I felt tired. Everyone gets tired, but when we, as followers, are leading other people it’s important that we not let that tiredness seep into our work, resulting either in work that’s less than our best, or work that is our best but ultimately means that when we get home all we have the energy to do is put a pizza in the oven and watch an episode of ‘The Big bang Theory’.
Sometimes the ‘well of energy’ that we draw from starts running dry. I was starting to become too tired to wake up in the morning and read my bible; I was falling asleep whilst praying at night. The retreat didn’t give me any extra sleep (OK, maybe an hour more!) but I came back feeling refreshed, energised and peaceful. It wasn’t until I a period of quiet that I realised just how frantic my head was. I couldn’t stop my brain from buzzing away, thoughts of work next week, or what had happened the week before, my housemates eating all the cereal or of Christmas and who did I need to buy presents for. It was all stopping me from properly connecting with God. I wasn’t tired because I had no physical energy; I was tired because my brain only ever stopped when I was asleep, and even then not for long! That non-stop activity interfered with my prayer life, my worship, my bible reading basically every aspect of my walk with God was being inhibited by this constant movement in my head and it took just one weekend for me to realise that and then allow God the space to, ever so gently, deal with it. By Saturday afternoon I realised that my brain had stopped whirring and had finally settled and it was at that point that God was finally able to deal with some of the other stuff I was struggling with as well.
We talked, on the retreat, about simply ‘being’ and not always ‘doing’, and while I think that actually ‘doing’ is a massive part of our calling as Christians; we have to get the balance right. Otherwise our ‘doing’ will either not be as effective as it could, or will stop altogether. At which point, we will be neither ‘being’ with God nor ‘doing’ anything for God, we’ll simply be sleeping!
Michael is a 'Forgee' and is on the Student team at St Michael le Belfrey. He has spent the past two years working for Riding Lights Theatre Company!