Spiritual retreats have significantly impacted my life. During a retreat, something shifts in my heart, like a ratchet rotates it one way and it won’t twist back. In a concentrated time of prayer and reflection, I connect with God again, and I see the world with a new set of eyes.
I like attending retreats, but I also like offering retreats. I want the same experience for others.
Five years ago, my wife and I decided to pursue purchasing a retreat lodge. We spent nine months updating our old country home and another eighteen months staging and selling our house. Once we sold it, we began a year-long search for a retreat center.
A year and a half ago, we moved into a house that seemed perfect. It had a living quarters for the two of us, and it had another living area for eighteen guests that included a meeting room, six bedrooms, five bathrooms, and a kitchen.
In 2019, we hosted eight retreats. It was everything we dreamed.
At a meeting the Sunday before Christmas, our HOA neighbors demanded that we stop hosting retreats. My wife and I were stunned and speechless. It felt like everything we had worked toward for the last five years had been turned upside-down. Our dreams had been thwarted.
What Would You Do?
My first response (after catching my breath from that astonishing punch to my solar-plexus) was to pursue a battleplan with ferocity: my wife and I deliberated, I spent hours mulling this over with my closest friends, I had multiple discussions with a lawyer, and I prayed.
When people face major obstacles, Scripture shows two kinds of response: Fight or Flight.
- When Abram and Sarai’s dream of a child is thwarted by old age, they scheme and act. Ishmael is born; a child, yes, but not the son of the promise.
- When the children of Israel spy out the Promised Land, their dream is thwarted by giants in the land, so they conspire together, and run.
Which is wiser? To push ahead or to sit? Action or inaction? Confidence or humility? Sometimes God is simply correcting our character: Jacob’s impulsive aggressivity needed to be put out of joint, and Gideon’s fearful passivity needed a trumpet blast and a fiery torch.
But God is not formulaic. Moses was rebuked for his action (when he murdered a man) as well as for his inaction at the Red Sea (when God said, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward.”)
[I understand that many readers are facing far more shocking news than I am, like illness, loss of a loved one, or financial ruin. I’m simply sharing what God is saying to me in my minor shock.]
This Time I Tried to Do It Right
When I moved into my neighborhood, I had obviously miscalculated. This time around I was determined to do it right. I sought wise counsel (legal and spiritual) and I took time to weigh all the options. Then in my prayer time this morning I remembered the title of an old Poem: Young Man, Your Arm Is Too Short to Box with God.
I realized: if God wants to purify something in my heart, he will do it whether my plans are perfect or faulty. And if God wants to use this house for a retreat, Pharaoh’s armies won’t stand in the way. If God is really Lord, my call is to look to him, not to the giants in the land, and certainly not to my faintest idea of what might be called a good plan, be it action or waiting.
God calls us to prayerfully seek him and map out a strategy, yes; but then to commit our plans to him and watch him “direct our paths.” If I was a fool to trust my defective plans when I bought this house, I would be a bigger fool to trust my perfect plans for fixing it.
I’ll design a plan but not trust it. I might be boxing God, and my arms don’t have the reach.