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?

  • Thank you for sharing your experiences at the retreat and I’m thankful you had the opportunity to go. It’s been a rather hard day trying to take care of things here, so I’m short of words right now. God’s best to you Kevin…always as you travel this journey called life.

    • Dave – Glad to journey with you! Praying that you are able to rest and be refreshed this weekend.

  • You gotta give yourself some grace Kevin. I get those times when you just wanna get outta your own way but ya can’t seem to get free from feeling locked in. Maybe you just had more to say than you could find the words for at the time. We’ve never met but from reading your posts you seem like one of the good guys. God’s blessed you. Who knows where He’ll take you this coming year to equip you for so much more at next year’s retreat.

    • Thanks for the kind words Bluzhawk.
      And post-retreat, I’ve had some good Jesus times and conversations to process. Growth is happening, and it’s not always easy, but definitely good.

  • It was a joy seeing you and reconnecting a couple of weekends ago, albeit briefly. May you find joy in the journey of healing and growth. As someone who is messy myself, I love your vulnerability in sharing some of your recent journeying and messiness here. Thanks for being real!

    • Hooray for messiness! It isn’t always easy, but it is definitely good – especially with Jesus.

  • Kevin – Thanks for sharing your story and experiences at the YOB Retreat! The YOB Retreat unearthed truths of my soul that I need to work on no matter how ugly they are. I struggled being myself and being deep enough with people. Going into a future retreat, I would go into it with more reckless abandon because in vulnerability is where true life is. I am grateful for the brothers that carried my burdens with me that weekend yet I wish I could have carried more of theirs. I resonate with your wrestling. May the community around you continue to grow and deepen!

    • Oh man…. nothing like some good community (and Jesus) to bring tough truths to light. Love that we have this community to be messy and process life and continue to hear other stories of Holy Spirit working in others’ lives.
      Glad you were there, and hope you can continue to journey and be vulnerable with us.

  • ❤️❤️❤️ You are valued, and loved. You have permission to be. You matter, and are important. You have permission to have needs, to feel, to be loved, to love. You matter, and are important (so much it needs to be said again). ❤️❤️❤️

  • I love this. I’ve found myself building up walls around my heart as well lately, just not wanting to let people in, and even not really wanting to let God in at times. Especially during times of worship. Like you, tears have been flowing recently and it has given me some much needed hope. Your words at the end “May we fix our eyes on Jesus, our Source, as we, in our messiness, point others to Him.” really struck me because we are human, we are a mess. Hopefully with our mess we can show others God’s love for us all. God bless you man

    • Chris!
      Let me say, walls come up too easily for me. And even when I realize them, that sometimes makes it even more difficult to engage. But, there is space and reason to knock them down (and power with Jesus). May we both continue to let Truth be spoken against our walls.
      And messiness… I think something that I hope this, and most of my stories, communicate is that I don’t have it figured out, I don’t always feel hope / love / joy. YET there is still the community and still Jesus.

  • Your tears are beautiful, friend. While I don’t wish pain or confusion or sadness upon you, or anyone else for that matter, it’s a necessary thing to feel our feelings. Even though I feel enough for the both of us, I can also stuff/avoid my feelings quite methodically. And crying has personally been such a redemptive release. Almost like we were designed that way…
    In any case. I’m praying for you, Kevin. I’m glad you came along our retreat adventure once again. To the continuing journey…

    • Tears. I have such a strange history with them – but I am slowly learning to accept them as part of a good, healthy process of life.
      And glad that I get to journey with you Tom.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Kevin! I think it’s all to easy to feel guilty about not being emotionally engaged with God or with community, but I don’t think it’s something God wants us to get caught up in. Sometimes we just need to rest and maybe we’re too tired to feel what we’re “supposed” to feel. I’m glad you’ve been able to process some of those feelings.

  • Kevin Zimmerman

    Born and raised in the Midwest, I find my heart bent toward nature and travel. Things that I love? Travelling, cooking, trying new food, hiking trails, exploring other cultures, the arts, stories – told and read – summer camp, and lists (seriously). Personality tests run the risk of putting people into boxes, so I'd rather let you get to know me before sharing what I "test" as. "Sojourner" is a term I'm becoming more comfortable using to describe myself and my lifestyle. Random facts about me: I played the bassoon for eleven years and can speak French. Let's journey together.

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