The Oxford dictionary defines “retreat” in two different ways.
As a verb, it means “to withdraw from enemy forces as a result of the superior power or after a defeat.”
As a noun, it signifies “the act of moving back or withdrawing.”
I've always loved retreats, especially in high school when I would join groups of friends and young adults overnight. Dealing with the noisy frogs of southern Maryland didn’t feel like such an annoyance as we all stepped away from normal life. It felt especially refreshing to take a step back when feeling overwhelmed, underappreciated, discouraged, or lost. Retreats appeared to happen for me exactly when I needed them.
For those who have never had such an experience, these discussions usually focus on what we need to hear, what we need to understand, or what feelings we need to process. I spent this past weekend in a cabin in the Poconos with 18 college students whose backgrounds covered the religion spectrum. These young people focused on discipleship and the process necessary for growth as disciples.
How do we use our call for discipleship to grow into the best disciple possible? When we take time to retreat, to relax, to pull away . . . we see that Christ did that when He relaxed at a table, or when He retreated into the boat after so many people surrounded Him because they wanted to hear Him. It may surprise you to hear that even He felt overwhelmed and shocked at times, including the one instance where He wept over the death of a friend.
Being a disciple is not always easy. Jesus didn't promise us an easy life, but he promised us that there would be people around us to make the tough times easier. I realized this weekend how much I had missed retreats, especially the sense of fellowship with pulling away and just being. I had missed having nowhere to be and having a loose schedule, and that sense of freedom really brought to light my needs as a disciple of Christ.
Retreating into the inner sanctum or temple of ourselves is echoed when David writes in Psalm 91, “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’ For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.” The United States Council of Catholic Bishops states that the psalm is “a prayer of someone who has taken refuge in the Lord, possibly within the Temple (Ps 91:1–2). The psalmist is confident that God’s presence will protect the people in every dangerous situation (Ps 91:3–13). The final verses are an oracle of salvation promising salvation to those who trust in God.”
Perhaps we should take in account a thought from Finnish writer Erno Paasilinna: “It is also a victory to know when to retreat.” Knowing when to pull back, relax, and take time for yourself is a skill. A skill that takes practice, and a really good sense of self. We have to know ourselves well enough to take that break so we are not forced to pick up pieces that could have been prevented from breaking.
When you retreat from this perspective, you hope to come home refreshed and ready to make changes to your life. The gratitude you feel when coming home from such a retreat equates to reaching the top of a mountain. Bring yourself to the mountain and see stepping away as understanding the great value of what you see in the reflection. Take the time to breathe and focus on the inward changes resulting from the opportunity you’ve had to bring the chaos to a stop.
I understand that some young Catholics find all of their joy in Mass and others find all of it in retreat. For this section of the population, it's very focused: one or the other. However you find the time to take time and reflect on your faith and relationship with God, make sure you take it.