A time to unplug – the discipline of Retreat-taking

The other day my wife introduced me to a new word; Nomophobia.  Nomophobia is the fear of being away from one’s mobile phone.  It is that sense of internal restlessness felt when you find yourself ‘with nothing to do’ and without the comfort of online communication.  I wonder if you have experienced the almost visceral compulsion to pull your phone out of your pocket the second you sit on the couch, or at the dinner table.  Sadly, I have.  This goes far beyond the desire to connect, or record important events of life.  Nomophobia speaks to the way we mediate the matters of life, self, and identity via the small screen we carry in our pockets.

This isn’t just about our schedules, or the call to constant availability/connectivity. We may tell ourselves that we need to be continually within arm’s reach of our phone, because this helps us navigate the contours of our busy lives as expediently as possible, but this doesn’t explain the almost visceral need to pull our phone’s the moment we sit down upon the couch.   Expertly navigating the busyness of our life does not explain the need to live-stream on Facebook or Instagram our dinner plates.  These things speak to something much deeper; a force of distraction from perpetually keeps us away from our true self and our true life.  After all, expertly navigating the connections of life may make us feel more efficient with our time, schedules and relationships, but it still leaves us perpetually busy and distracted.  A filled vessel is still a filled vessel no matter how we arrange those things that fill it.

What can be done about this?  How can we recalibrate our spiritual center, and find ourselves able to withstand the apparent horror of turning our phone’s off?  Well one discipline that cuts against the grain of modern life is that discipline of Retreat-taking.  Retreat-taking demands that we put down all the complexity, connectivity, and inherent busyness that fills up our modern lives.  Everything that defines ‘regular’ life is put aside, so that we can become reminded about the ‘life that truly is life’.

If we wish to remind ourselves of our God-given identity, then we must put down all that clutters both our internal and outer spaces so that we may be open to the Spirit of God in our midst.  Taking a time of retreat, by which we remove ourselves from the regular stuff of life is a powerful way to re-connect with God’s presence around us. Yet to do this we must leave things behind.  We must leave our electronics unplugged, our schedules at home, and our cell-phones off.  Undoubtedly some, even in reading this, will experience a quickness of breath or a wave of anxiety.  Yet does not this speak to your fundamental need to engage in this discipline?  Taking a retreat necessitates that we resist the desire to fill up our time with the trappings of worldly life.  These but tie us to all that clutters our lives. In retreat our time belongs to God alone. We submit to God’s directions and initiatives.

There are many ways to be ‘on retreat.’  One can go on retreat for a month, a week, or a few days.  The length of time will differ based on the retreat you feel God leading you into.  Retreats can be guided by a director, or can be personally administered; they can be done individually, or as a member of a group. Periods of silence often play and important part in taking a retreat.  The discipline of taking a retreat, however, is not dependent on mountain chalet’s and weekends of solitude. One can take ‘mini’ retreats as you go through our daily tasks.  What would it look like end our day by sitting in silence for 5 minutes?  What if we refused to answer any email after dinner?  When our schedule contains a block of time unoccupied, what if we saw this as an opportunity to sit in a nearby park and, as Jesus encourages us, ‘observe the lilies of the field.’

The basis of taking a retreat is hearing the loving invitation of Jesus to ‘come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest.’  Retreats lead us into a time of re-creation.  By turning off the noise of the world around us we give ourselves the opportunity to re-hear God’s messages of love and grace.  It is important, then, to have no expectations about our times of retreat.  Demands regarding ‘how it should be done’, and ‘what we should get out of it’, even ‘how we should feel at the end’ are unhelpful to us; they are undue pressures that remove our soul from the sanctity of our moments away.   To fill up our retreat with preoccupations about the ‘right actions’ the ‘right response’ or the ‘right feeling’ do nothing but diminish our attentiveness to the voice of the Spirit and the presence of Jesus. In the end, after having a time ‘unplugged’, you may not actually feel like things have changed for you.  But that is a lesson itself, for in that feeling we learn that we can step away from the demands of life. The burden of being life’s master does not reside with ourselves; we can put our lives into bigger hands.
Taking a Retreat is a powerful discipline for it forces us to physically live out our internal desire for spiritual vitality.  We physically remove ourselves from the demands and complexities of our lives to enter an intensive and focused time with God.  In this we create the internal space needed to receive nothing but God’s presence and voice in our lives. A retreat calls us to spend our time doing less, even though the world continually bombards us with messages demanding that we do ‘more’.  Retreats call us to stop, even though the world tells us we must always be on the go.  Retreats call us to listen to God’s voice instead of the multiplicity of noises that can too easily fill up our lives.  The Apostle John says ‘there is no fear in love.’  May we all put aside those fears that keep us tethered to busyness of life around us, so that we can be filled with the love and grace of God anew.


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