As we wound down the road toward a new camp, my mind wandered. The past few months have shown me some spiritual gaps as I’ve grown aware of my regrettable distance from the “regulars” of Christian community. What would a weekend retreat with other believers entail for me?
My initial unease dissipated as familiar faces completed some last-minute setup around camp together. When we entered into some prayer over the camp and weekend, I felt a tightening within me. Walking the grounds and praying alone, I felt connected in a strange, yet familiar way to God. Something unexpected, something more was in store for me this weekend.
Arrivals of the attendees brought all the joy and low-level chaos that accompanies forty brothers from across the country uniting for a weekend.
Would I be able to reconnect with brothers I hadn’t spoken to in months? How would I manage all the people I’d be meeting for the first time? What about the guys I found attractive? Would I even have the energy for this weekend?
Despite these fears and my general tendency to disconnect, I found an ease in conversation, and it seemed brothers all around the camp fell into connecting as they arrived as well.
As we split into small groups or “tribes” based on YOB’s seven values, we joke that each person will be assigned to the tribe whose corresponding value he may feel lacking in his life or needs more of. A fellow retreat returnee asked me which tribe I thought I’d get assigned. I narrowed it down to two of our seven values and got placed on one of my guesses — Joy.
As our tribe of five got to know each other, I shared that I could use more joy despite how camp and friends energize me. We discussed our Joy Tribe’s theme verse:
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Psalm 16:11 (ESV)
Someone mentioned the poetic parallelism in the passage: the path of life is full of joy. More joy is available to us now. When we are in God’s presence, the joy abounds!
That evening after some wonderful worship, Tom talked through the seven values: what they mean, why they were chosen, and their accompanying scriptures. We ended with a challenge to think and pray about which values, if any, we found lacking in our lives.
After some time to reflect, we were given invitations to step forward and receive prayer for each value. Hope displayed on the screen, and a few brave men stepped forward, along with a few more to lay hands and pray with them. This continued again with Humility.
When Joy showed, I found myself walking up. Though I very much dislike being in front of people for prayer, I found comfort up front with several other guys.
Then came Vulnerability (the other value I felt lacking in). I remained waiting up front, just trying to be present with God and my need. Then a brother came up to me, praying that my “heart would be open to experience the beauty and pain of vulnerability, knowing my identity fully and securely.”
Not one to cry easily, I rested in the magnitude of what had just been prayed over me. As I returned to my spot in the sound booth, I looked out at brothers — some who’d just met — going forward for Kinship.
Such community. A wave of emotion hit me at the brokenness we were all bringing, at the connection and love before me. Tears fell gently as I saw a sliver of heaven before my eyes.
The next morning, after not getting enough sleep because of anxiety, I got up for early morning prayer. Carrying my anxious thoughts with me, I walked down to the dining hall with one of the older attendees. Without sharing my weights, we talked about the stillness of morning and the faithfulness of God. Being reminded that God is more faithful than we understand or deserve, and then praying over the connections and activities of the day seemed like a good start to our Saturday.
Saturday meant our traditional “speed dating” exercise, the best-worst activity for a social introvert in which we get to speak to every other attendee, at least briefly. But connections happened. I felt less drained than I remembered from retreats past, and a couple brothers even commented on the joy and energy I carried into our conversations.
Could I already be getting a taste of what more joy in my life looked like? And would I remember to pick up certain rapid-fire conversations — those ones that felt especially short — later into the weekend?
Evening worship brought more beautiful harmonies and lyrics:
We will not be burned by the fire.
He is the LORD, our God.
We are not consumed by the flood.
Upheld, protected, gathered up.
That night we both discussed and set aside time to practice Examen. I thought back over the day and considered where God had “showed up.” In our tribes we expanded the past day to the pains and God-moments of the past six months, as well as hopes for the next six months. Throughout our discussion I thought how I could gain more awareness: awareness of how God has moved, awareness of which fruit or values are growing in me and around me, awareness of love and community.
Sunday arrived quicker than it felt it should. We had closing remarks, songs, and affirmations, followed by bags and people loading into cars after more laughs and hugs.
My thoughts lingered on what the whole weekend meant, what would I carry with me.
The thoughts from the previous night’s Examen stuck with me. I wanted to be more aware: of God, of nudges toward growth and learning and community in my life. And also more connection.
I wanted to capture pieces of the connection I’d felt at the retreat and continue connecting afterward. I wanted to continue conversations that felt unfinished from speed dating. I wanted to connect with the larger “Side B” community outside YOB. I wanted to connect with some mentor figure. I wanted to continue to connect and be more aware of God.
It all happened so quickly.
At times, I realize I’m still processing it. Even after the retreat, I still need to finish some of those conversations with brothers. I still want to make some more connections. And I’m still learning how to be aware of God and lean into the “more” of joy and vulnerability.
To those with whom I didn’t get enough of a “bye” at the retreat, and to anybody else who happens to read, I’d like to leave you with one of my favorite benedictions:
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;
may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you through the storm;
may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;
may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.