Recently, a group of 44 men from YOB World met up for a weekend in the woods. It was our second annual YOBBERS retreat — a time to connect with God and brothers from around the world.

A month before the retreat, I was excited. A week before, I knew how much I needed the time with Jesus and my brothers.

The day of the retreat, the anxiety began.

Honestly, that entire Friday felt like a mess. Several small problems during setup. And then some issues with dinner prep. I got placed on the Hope Tribe for small group discussions, and I’m not sure how much hope I had. Then the slides I created for our worship time didn’t match with the guys leading worship.

Something just felt off. So I went to bed right after worship.

Waking up too early Saturday morning, I sat outside in a rocking chair, wondering what was going on.  For morning reflection, we were asked to ponder this question:

Why are you here?

As I went off into the woods, the question wandered in my mind. I came to the YOBBERS retreat this year because … it was good last year. And, really, because I needed a break — a break from work and from stress back home.

I came to get away, even for just a few days.

But shouldn’t it have been about Jesus? Jesus drives and sustains our lives, He drives YOB, so our YOBBERS retreat weekend was about Him. What kept me from understanding or feeling this?

After our solo reflection time, we jumped into “speed dating” — rapid-fire chats with each attendee, giving us the opportunity to meet everybody at the YOBBERS retreat, even briefly. The chats bounced between lighter and deeper conversation, depending who sat across from me and how well we already knew each other.

Each encounter started with at least five seconds of silent, direct eye-contact. In those gazes, we slowly started chipping away at the messages built against my heart.

I’m just not feeling hope right now. I get that Jesus is the source, but I just feel so distant.

I haven’t had regular community lately, and being around brothers who have love and joy to share is difficult. I just don’t feel worthy of love.

And with those words, I finally broke and cried with a dear brother.

This past year has stretched me. Living in a city with other guys from YOB sounded ideal. But working most Sundays meant that finding a church community proved difficult, nearly impossible. And as the year progressed, I witnessed friendships fall apart while trying to maintain some sense of peace.

My desire to keep peace led to almost zero time or energy to process anything for myself. And my lack of church community meant that, without realizing it, I’d become very spiritually empty and had forgotten how to hear Truth.

Being in this YOBBERS retreat community who desired to love and connect and support one another throughout the weekend pushed against some of the walls I’d built over the past year.

As I continued to chat with other brothers, more and more came up. I deserved space to yell, to grieve, to lament. God knows my heart and isn’t afraid of my emotions (even if I am).

People see me and want to know and support me. Community is vital to God’s love manifest in my life.

I struggle to process quickly. My thoughts muddled throughout the afternoon. My inclination to stay busy set in as the lies returned, causing me doubt, fear, and frustration.

That evening, our tribes (small groups) got together to share parts of our stories with each other. My Hope Tribe sat by the campfire and began opening our hearts.

And while my heart went to my brothers as they shared their struggles, joys, and hurts, I found my walls slowly building back up. Their vulnerability was courageous but foreign to my recent stage of life.

When it came around to me, I found myself unable to share much (sorry, Hope Tribe).

I headed into our nightly worship gathering with a heart heavy from the stories heard and my inability to share deeper, and the message felt blurred.

My other brothers sang about a God who hears when we call. But does He? What about the mess of my life — where I haven’t felt like I’ve heard or seen Him?!

Or have I just forgotten how to listen or hear from Him?

After singing, a brother led the entire group in a time of corporate prayer; unsurprisingly, I struggled to be present.

Yes, I trust that God hears us. But when He feels so far off, how can I engage well with prayer?

Yet again, I went to the comfort of my bed right after worship, grateful for space to turn off.

The next morning, I sat outside to journal, trying to retain some of the good conversations from the previous day. Some of the challenges and encouragements I knew I needed to hold onto.

A brother joined me outside — for quiet company, I thought. But he engaged me in conversation, speaking truth to me, urging me to stay connected to God and brothers like himself.

It was a much needed reminder when my default is to assume people don’t have time for me.

Later, two more brothers sat down with me. As we spoke, another crack broke in my hard heart, and tears flowed yet again as I let my heart be broken before God and brothers.

As that final morning sped by, I found myself wishing I had been more present that weekend. So many conversations left unfinished. So many brothers to share life with that will be left to our online community.

I don’t cry easily or often. Yet tears flowed multiple times during our YOBBERS retreat weekend. And now a few more times since.

Thank you to the brothers who pushed me at the YOBBERS retreat. Thank you to those who have supported me in the past and to those who continue to share life, even digitally, with me.

My heart still has much to heal and grow. But it is a process. And there is space for joys and pains and mundane activities in that process.

So, my fellow sojourners, may we all continue to support one another. May we learn to be okay with messiness — knowing that lamenting is as much a part of worship as praising. May we lift each other up.

May we fix our eyes on Jesus, our Source, as we, in our messiness, point others to Him.

Do you struggle to cry or feel your emotions — or feel hope? When have you experienced emotional or spiritual breakthrough? If you also went to the YOBBERS retreat, did the weekend trigger any messiness in you?

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