When I caught a glimpse of her within the sea of sweaty kids I knew she was different. I could see it at a glance. On drop off day she was tired, anxious, and afraid. This wasn't her first time here, she was in familiar territory, but still she was hesitant. The last year had been difficult for her in many ways and this life had beaten her up a bit. And even though she's only twelve years old I could see it when I left her standing there on the cabin steps, she was soul empty.
But not now.
Now she was full to overflowing. Her eyes sparkled and shone with an energy and excitement that new shoes or a date night with mom won't buy. As I listened to the crowd of kids and counselors unite in song I was struck by the raw emotion that enveloped me as they worshiped their God.
And I knew what had happened here.
Jesus did it. David did it. Why do we assume that our kids don't need it too? Why do we think that they don't have that soul longing parchment that we as adults experience on a regular basis? Why do we think that God just fills them up every night as they sleep with that insane energy we envy? The truth is really this:
Kids need retreat. They desperately need to be with God in more ways than just Sunday morning and vacation bible school can provide. They need to encounter a few burning bushes of their own and on their own. Here's why:
-They need to learn to breathe. Our children are so over scheduled they cannot even take a deep cleansing breath much less learn how to be at ease in the presence of the Savior. They cannot learn to listen to the sound of their own spirit or the voice of God if we do not teach them how to create that sacred space where they meet with God. They must be taught to cultivate breathing room in order to fully experience walking with the Savior. Retreat allows them to quiet the dissonance of their lives and enter the space where He is waiting. It teaches them that it is not selfish to quarantine your time with God, it is necessary.
-They need to learn to rest. I recently had a mother tell me that her boys had only had three weekends at home this past year because of their traveling tournament sports teams. I have to tell you, I wasn't impressed. I was deeply saddened to think that these boys had to be exhausted, not to mention their parents. We must teach our children that it's a good thing to recognize when you are weary both in body and in spirit. It is even more imperative to teach them that there is rest in the arms of the Savior and that they can find comfort there. God provides this to us because he loves us, he wants us to seek him when we need rest. Jesus himself preached, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28) Retreat allows kids to fully embrace resting in the Savior. They don't have homework, practice, recitals, or essays due. They just get to kick back with the King while he lightens their load.
-They need to learn to walk alone with God. In the age of helicopter parents who use Pinterest as some sort of parenting icon this may sound cold and strange but hear me out. When we follow our children around paving every step they take we are insulating them to the point of danger. They become unable to solve problems or complete tasks because they have no faith in themselves as the daring creatures God designed them to be. They need to learn to look at themselves, the problem and say, "I CAN DO THIS. God has equipped me to withstand anything. Retreat allows them to stand on their own two feet without the incessant interrupting of a well meaning parent. It teaches them that they are capable and strong both in body and spirit.
-They need to prepare to face the world. Our children are called to be different, to be a light to this world. But this world can beat them into unrecognizable forms and it can do it with brutal efficiency. Christ knew this and prayed for them in John 17. Retreat can reinforce their identity in Christ and solidify their purpose to themselves and those around them. It allows God to tend to their wounds privately and give them strength. Retreat can make our kids brave.
-They need to choose faith for themselves. We are losing our children from the church for many, many reasons but I believe the greatest reason is that they never take on their own faith. Our kids can spend the first eighteen years of their life piggybacking off their parents' faith and shucking it like an over sized winter coat when they enter the real world and discover it can get uncomfortable. And who can blame them? They have no real vested interest, they have no roots. If we want the church Jesus planted to grow and thrive we need to help our kids find their own faith in who he was and who he is. We can give them straw, mortar, and bricks but they have to build their own foundation if we want them to become strong. Retreat allows them to meet with others their age and exchange ideas about this faith thing. It gives them the freedom to ask questions they may otherwise be afraid to ask in their normal lives. It lets them begin to form their own identity within the body of Christ. This is invaluable for keeping them within the body of Christ.
We spent all afternoon hearing stories of her week long adventure. She revealed a need for a new bible that she could read and study on her own without stumbling through unfamiliar language (we happily obliged). She made new friends and expanded her community of people in faith that are her age. She got sunburned shoulders and her freckles stuck out.
But more than anything she came home wanting to know Him more and be in His presence more.
Amen to retreat.
*Thank you to Staff at Brookhill Ranch in Hot Spring, AR. Please note I was not reimbursed by them in any way. These are my thought and opinions.