At the beginning of every year, I slip away to a quiet place for my annual study break. For many years I traveled north, to Trout Lake Camps, to settle into an amazing retreat center for several days. There were always a number of other pastors there, who were taking advantage of the same opportunity to pull away from the demands of ministry and recharge. Three years ago, my schedule did not line up with the scheduled study break at Trout Lake. So I headed south to Pine Lake Camp for the Iowa version of pastors’ study break. When I arrived, I discovered that I was the only one who showed up. What felt like an embarrassment to the camp staff turned into a blessing for me. I am now enjoying my third study break in the solitude of Pine Lake Camp’s retreat cabin.
The holiday season is a mixed bag of experiences for me. I look forward to the special services and events that surround the season. I also look forward to having all of our children home again. This year we stretched Christmas over a longer period of time due to the varied availability of our children. Our daughter was the first to arrive and stayed the longest; just over three weeks. She was followed by our son from California, who managed to carve out two weeks to spend with us. Our oldest son and his wife arrived, after some frustrating travel delays, to round out the family for about five days. Our informally adopted son arrived just two days before the others had to leave. He stayed several days after the rest of the clan departed. Finally, upon his departure, the house was empty and quiet again. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed the time we had with our family, but we were both ready for a break when the dust all settled.
So here I am at study break, reflecting upon the year that has past and looking forward to what comes next. As a classic introvert, I relish this time to recharge my batteries in solitude. There is so little solitude in the normal routine of ministry. There is always something to prepare for, someone to meet with, some crisis to be handled, some meeting to attend. It is important for me to disengage periodically. That is a big part of my experience at study break.
I am not alone in my need for time to pause, reflect and recharge. Jesus was anything but an introvert, yet he needed regular times away from the crowd. Time to be alone with His Father. Time to sort through the demands of ministry. Time to catch His breath. Mark records one of those times early in Jesus’ public ministry.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mark 1:35
This was Jesus’ common practice. Before He chose the twelve disciples, He spent time alone in prayer. After He had fed the 5000, He retreated to a solitary place to recharge. Jesus routinely pulled away so that He could be more fully engaged when He was with the people.
Most people today have a hard time with solitude. They fill their lives with people, activities and noise, so that they never have to be alone. I saw a cartoon the other day that made exactly that point. The cartoon is called Zits and it features a family with a teenage boy. You see the boy and his girlfriend maneuvering their way through several frames of amorphous swirls, calling out to one another. In the final frame they lay exhausted on the floor holding their smart phones. “We hit a WiFi dead zone and were alone with our thoughts.”
We all need times of solitude where we are alone with our thoughts and with God. When we fill our lives with noise, it is hard to hear God speaking to us.
"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."