I love hearing Ruth Haley Barton’s voice when I read her books. I have been on nine retreats led by Ruth over approximately a two year period. When I go to read her books, I can’t help but hear the inflections in her voice and her deep care for ministry leaders (for me!) as she teaches during retreat and as she types the words of the book.
It’s been too long since I finished my Transforming Community retreats and it’s been too long since I read one of Ruth’s books. My stated goal (rule of life) at the end of my retreat cohort was to continue in certain rhythms that would allow me to live an unhurried life where I was able to enjoy God. I have not kept my rhythms, my life continues to feel over-busy, over-stressed, and over-hurried, and as a result, I’m not enjoying God in those deep moments like I did on my TC retreats. Those deep moments that I still long for, but feel impossible to attain in my regular life and ministry.
Then I picked up Ruth’s newest book, Invitation to Retreat. What I love most about Ruth’s writing and teaching is it reminds me I’m not crazy to desire rest. She of course uses more eloquent words than this, but you get my idea. In the world of life and ministry, you are made to feel out-of-place, lazy, and slacking off if you aren’t cramming your life full of tasks, accomplishments, and striving. Nor does it helped that I am hard-wired for this sort of achievement-based life.
I tell people about my 9 retreats and about Ruth’s ministry and I often can read their minds: oh yeah, one of those crazy people who is always going off on retreat. See ya, I’ve got things to get done. It’s easy to start to think they are right. Whereas when I began reading Invitation to Retreat, Ruth’s voice immediately brought me back to the true reality that we are meant to rest in the Lord. Not a lazy “rest” of watching TV all day, but a deep soul rest where we enjoy God, knowing we are loved and experiencing that love, and laying down all our attempts to earn our belovedness. Attempts of striving, being busy, and having more. To get away from it all in order to be with him, just as I am. Invitation to Retreat brought me back to the reality that we are human beings created with limitations and that we must honor those limitations, lest suffer the consequences of overwork which I am all too familiar with. Ruth’s voice in the book reminded me it’s the culture out there that has got it upside-down, and the true, healthy, reality is that of a God of Sabbath rest and an incarnate Savior who would pray the Jewish prayer hours and go up alone onto mountainsides to rest.
What I love about the whole concept of retreat is the way Ruth puts it as an invitation from God. She uses illustrations I can relate to all too well, like getting cut from a sports team, being in middle school and longing for the popular crowd to accept me, or for the girl I had a crush on to reciprocate. These are feelings where I wasn’t invited in, and it stings. Yet here God is, the Creator of the universe and the Lover of our souls, inviting me to stop everything else and spent time with him, and I reject him so often! But the invitation is still there, and that invitation truly is exciting!
There were so many great reminders peppered throughout Invitation to Retreat. There are real battle wounds from doing ministry. We hurt people and get hurt by people. We must remove ourselves from the battle for a time in order to retreat and rest, and in this quiet away from the storm, realign what needs to be realigned. There is no way these realignments can take place when we’re in the midst of the battle.
The biggest thing that keeps me from retreat is me thinking of how much I’m needed by God (so how could I ever take a break?), which is so ironic because it is in retreat when I realize God doesn’t need me at all, but I desperately need him.
Invitation to Retreat reminded me I have a choice. I don’t have to walk through life exhausted.
Trying to earn approval from people is exhausting and unattainable. In retreat, I find I already have this approval from God and am able to give up the chase of trying to earn it from others. My unquenchable thirst is fully satisfied on retreat.
On a personal note, I love Ruth’s vulnerability in this book. She is the master of rest in many of our minds, yet pulls back the curtain on how she is just as desperate for these truths as we are. As someone who struggles to admit I have limits, it’s refreshing to hear from Ruth that she also struggles with this, and to know that God will be with me when I go to him, just as he has been with Ruth. And that I’m not alone in having to disappoint people when I arrange my life to be one of limits, as facing this disappointment is such a tremendous challenge.
At the end of the day, something’s got to give. It’s only when we become so desperate, so beat up by the hecticness of it all, so empty from always looking to people to fill us up, so raw, literally at the end of our rope, when we say yes to God’s invitation. If you don’t know where to find that invitation or you need to be reminded of it, read Invitation to Retreat.