I think the best retreats are the ones that aren’t anticipated or intended to be retreats at all. Case in point: This last weekend. Cross Training had a retreat two months ago and was introduced to a guy named Darrin Ratcliff, pastor of Gold Valley Fellowship in Gold Hill. Shortly after the retreat, he asked us to return the favor by coming down to his church to lead worship and give a message. It was exciting for me because it was the second time I’ve ever been a part of the worship team for a church service, which means it was the second time I’ve played in front of more than 20 or 30 people. It was a little nerve-wracking, but exciting as well.
While I was playing, though, I didn’t think of the number of people out there. I thought of something that John Mark McMillan said in a small documentary about his song, “How He Loves.” He said worship isn’t about putting on a good show; it’s about the experience and the relationship the worship leaders have with each other, the rest of the congregation, and God. When I remembered that, I got excited to play.
After the service was over, several of us were taken out to a pizzeria called Kaleidoscope. The people taking us out where members of Gold Valley Fellowship and were doing so mostly because Darrin “encouraged” them to, but also because God moved them to. Although I forget their names (we met so many people and shook so many hands that unless you had a tape-recorder in your pocket, you were not remembering anyone), they were fun and encouraging to hang out with. When I was sitting there with them, I wasn’t worrying about how much money I need to make it through this month; I wasn’t worrying about what kind of job I’m going to have in the future; and I wasn’t worried about whether or not I’ll ever be married. Spending the weekend in a different place with a different fellowship and experiencing worship was my unexpected and unintentional retreat.
And I don’t think it could have come at a better time.
As I’ve already said above, I’ve been worrying about several little things. The big one has been the short term finances. Living off of financial aid gets you by, but not comfortably, especially in between disbursement dates. I’ve been used to eating cheap food for a while, but most of the time I can afford the occasional night out at a restaurant. These last few weeks, though, I haven’t been able to and it’s really gripped my heart with worry. Praying leads to pleading for a job, spending time with friends gets limited by how I can’t go to the same places they do merely because of money, and then playing through all the “what-ifs” late at night sends you to bed with a terrified and faithless heart.
A big “what-if” is not only the short term job, but the long-term one. I thought I had everything figured out in regards to what I wanted to do and what I wanted to pursue in life. And I knew that everyone was confident about what they wanted to do, but eventually everyone changes their major several times because a different idea pops up and takes them a different direction. But I thought I wasn’t going to change my career path. I thought that I was going to pursue writing and eventually become a published author, which is still an option, but not as soon as I once thought. When I was seriously considering law school several months ago, I thought that was the next step and I thought that I was going to become a lawyer. But when I got my LSAT score back, I realized that was no longer an option, at least not right now. Mixing with the pressure that four years of college brings, I’ve been a little stressed and worried about what I’m going to do after graduation. I know these things tend to work out on their own, but I get uneasy without a plan.
Another one of those “what-ifs” is the likelihood of finding a wife. It could be just me, but when I think about dating a girl, I think about finding a job or some source of income first. I could be old-fashioned, but I want to be the guy who pays for dinners, movies, coffee or whatever else we might do for date nights. And when I barely have enough for myself to make it through the month, I really doubt that I’ll ever be able to date a girl and consequentially find a wife. I know it’s silly, but it’s what my mind and heart go through. And when I can’t find the strength to trust God and His timing, I get sad and lonely.
What this unexpected retreat taught me was that God does not provide distractions from our worries; He provides comfort in the midst of them. It’s really easy to dull the pain of losing a friend, the worries that life brings or the loneliness we’ve all experienced. All one has to do is merely hop online and browse the millions of websites that are out there. If that doesn’t suit you, then there’s always the TV or your job or your hobbies or your memory of the “glory days.” Distractions are easy and everywhere, but coming to God oftentimes takes a little work and a lot of faith. The beauty of it all, though, is that He doesn’t give us something to hide behind like a mere item of distraction does; He gives us Himself.
Whenever we sing “How He Loves,” the song by John Mark McMillan, I always tend to tear up. Thinking of why he wrote that song and what kind of emotional state he was in reminds me of the depth of – the ocean that is – God’s love. “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinkin’,” as his song goes. But when we played it after Tony’s message yesterday morning, I suddenly felt the experience of it all; the people, the fellowship, the music, the lyrics, Jesus, His cross, God, His love, His Spirit, which is our strong tower, our fortress, our hiding place from the cares of this world.
Riding back with Boyd Jon Cooper Teague Jr. (another member of Cross Training and a beast on any kind of drum) brought about a long time of reflection. Money, a job, a wife all are still things I want or need, but above them all, I need the experience of God. This is where the religion of Christianity falls short; instead of providing the reality of God, it provides just another worldly thing to hide behind – even from God. And what I – and hopefully others – experienced yesterday was anything but religious Christianity. It was His Spirit dwelling within us and moving through us without the restraint of dogmas, doctrines, or any other distractions. It was Jesus uncut, God unpolluted. In those moments of true experience, “God’s comfort” is no longer an idea or Christian idiom that gets repeated in order to comfort our minds. In those moments, God’s comfort becomes real; it becomes a verb, something in motion, something unstoppable, and something entirely unexpected.
“The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” – Philippians 4:5b-7.