By Dana Bowman
It was supposed to be so simple. I would grab the keys, get in the car, and go to the church to pick up my husband, who had spent the weekend away at a men’s retreat. I would not even have to go inside the church. That’s what children are for. Both my boys would seek him out after running haphazardly around the church three or four times, and then they would bring him out to the car.
Thus, I was in pajama bottoms, a huge sweatshirt accessorized with cookie batter, my hair was snarled up in a twisty mess, and, of course, there was no bra. The no-bra thing is kind of too much information for a church blog, I guess, but I am keeping it real for you.
Because, it got very, very real for me as soon as I pulled up to the church.
Because as a part of the husband’s experience, once the men return, the wives and kids were all supposed to be at the church to welcome them home. We were supposed to gather and give them a grand standing ovation as they walked into the sanctuary, all unshaven and shyly smiling.
It was kind of a hokey “Glad you survived!” moment. I did not know about any of this.
My husband’s friend waved at me as I found a parking spot. I waved back.
He waved again.
I waved back, again.
That’s when I realized, he was waving for me to come in.
Really? It’s a great idea, if YOU ARE FULLY CLOTHED.
Granted, I was mostly clothed, and the wonderful cozy sweatshirt I had worn for the entire weekend was not going to tell a soul. It would take my lack of undergarments secret to the grave. But still. I was grumpy and disheveled. I was in no mood to clap Brian in. So of course I did the most logical thing. I put my kid on my lap and held him in front of me for a good part of the clapping and emoting.
Brian loved his time away, and it has done him good. I can see it. His prayers are tenacious and joyful. His reach around us is stronger yet gentle. He is lifted. So I am a big fan of this retreat.
But. I am not a fan of retreats—for me.
I am just not.
I wore my pajamas for nearly all of day two. I received compliments on them as they were purple with poodles all over them and who wouldn’t love that?
The last time a friend asked me if I wanted to go to a women’s retreat I might have visibly shuddered. I mumbled something about a sudden onset of laryngitis and slunk off.
I resist because I have an unwavering desire for a perfect grade. I should walk out of that conference. all floaty and filled the Holy Spirit and 40 pages of notes clutched to my chest. I expect to be completely transformed the next day. Instead, I find myself dropping all those notes on the corner of my desk, thinking, “I need to go through this soon and install it into my life.” Before I know it—it’s 2019.
My conference attendance means I must pass with honors, like God is sitting behind his big desk watching me after each seminar, with a grade book and his great big red pen.
I do realize the irony here. I speak at women’s retreats. And as I look at all the women talking and enjoying the heck out of each other from my podium, I wonder what in the world is wrong with me.
People go to spiritual retreats for a variety of reasons. Some need time to refocus their vision and their faith. A lot of women’s faith retreats use phrases like “Renew! Refresh! Rejoice!” Kind of like an Aveda spa with Jesus.
Others attend retreats for the community and relationship and talking, the weirdos. Some go because it’s like boot camp for the soul. My husband and I attended a marriage workshop a few years back and we worked. A lot. There was writing of lists, and thinking, and talking, and vulnerability all over the place, and I swear at one point there was all of us, crying. We were so exhausted from all the working on ourselves that we stole away during one session for vanilla shakes at Chick-fil-A. Afterward, the drive home was very quiet. It seems we had done all our talking for that year and a bit into the next one, and so we just stared at the scenery. It was a sort of peaceful quiet, though, because we really had a good experience. We just weren’t going to do it again for at least another twenty years.
Some people go to retreats because it sounded like a good idea when they signed up three months ago. But now, the morning of they are questioning it all. “What if people ask us to stand up and say our names in front of everyone?” they fret. “What if all the speakers are really boring? Or, worse yet, what if we all cry? And what if all we get to eat are Subway sandwiches and packaged chips? I hate packaged chips.”
We retreat when we need to huddle up and find some help. We retreat when we need to hear wisdom after having run all out of our own. A lot of times I think we retreat because we just like to know that we are not alone, that a whole lot of other people signed up along with us, and they too might be as much at a loss about this life as we are.
We might not learn anything new or life-altering, not even listen that much to the speakers or take many notes, but still, we are helped by the company. As we sit next to other women with their notebooks and purple pajamas, we feel embraced.
The last retreat I did attend as a retreater was marvelous. It really was. There were walking paths and a large sunny conference room where we would all meet and talk and share. There were vats of coffee and real cream. I wore my pajamas for nearly all of day two. I received compliments on them as they were purple with poodles all over them and who wouldn’t love that?
I think there were crafts, which I avoided as I am craft-challenged, but there were donuts. And, as I remember, it I came home feeling lifted and tucked, my very own weekend of elective surgery for my soul. That was more than eight years ago.
Today I think the Holy Spirit just might have tricked me into writing this post since I’m beginning to think it would be a good idea to get away to a retreat very soon. I still have the purple pajamas, so I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.
And maybe my husband and kids will greet me at the church cheering.