“You probably came with an agenda. Why don’t you write God a letter listing what’s on your mind, place it on the altar in the room, and let God set the agenda.”
That’s what the woman said who graciously greeted me when I arrived at Pacem in Terris recently. And she was right about me having an agenda! I had so much on my mind. I thought I would take a personal retreat to do some long-range planning. I have taken many retreats in my life before, but this was my first silent retreat. My head and heart were full.
I took the advice. I wrote a letter to God upon entering the hermitage where I rested in God for a few days.
Be Still and Know that God is God!
I’ve preached at Christian camps and got to stay in nice cabins while I worked there, but that’s not really camping, according to my friends who are serious campers. As a kid I went camping a couple times during my two years as a Boy Scout. I wheezed in the woods and didn’t find out until much later that I have asthma. I don’t have fond memories of camping, and no real experience doing it. In fact, I’ve teased people who go camping, pretending to be homeless for days at a time. As a city kid who is now a city man, vacations typically involve places with pillows and amenities that I don’t have at home.
But it was my turn to be teased by a dear friend who enjoys camping. After listening to one of my sermon podcasts, she noted how hypocritical I sounded discussing my time at Pacem in Terris. I stayed in a small cabin—a hermitage, they called it. There was no talking, no running water, and no electricity. However, there was an outhouse, a simple gas burner only to be used for heating a teakettle, and plenty of mosquitoes! I was a hermit for a few days. As an introvert, I got a taste of heaven (if heaven means we get our own separate quarters and don’t have to deal with other people for days at a time! I think that would be hell for some extroverts I know).
After I wrote my letter to God and placed it on the altar, Psalm 46:10 came to mind:
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
Pacem has that verse on its website, and I recited that verse to myself several times during my days in the hermitage. My goal was simply to be still. It wasn’t easy, but I tried. I wrote in my journal when I felt prompted to do so. I decided not to live with a “have to” attitude, as I tend to live so much of my life, but instead simply be alone with God. It was wonderful because it was freeing.
Casting My Cares Onto God
I won’t get into all that I received from my personal retreat, but there is one I thing I want to share that I hope is helpful. It relates to letting God set our agendas.
I took my hermitage at a time when I was close to turning in the draft of a manuscript. I had been working on a commentary on the New Testament letter called 1 Peter for the Story of God Bible Commentary series. Right near the end of the letter, the apostle Peter writes “Cast all your anxiety on him [God], because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7). Those are powerful words, especially for Peter’s original readers, who were harassed, slandered, and in many ways marginalized from the broader society. Those early Christians lived a stressed-out existence. When Peter writes of “casting,” he uses a word that typically described tossing a load onto a beast of burden. Peter says, in essence, that God can carry our loads.
In the spirit of letting God set the agenda, I started a practice that I hope can continue. I try to write down, at the start of the day, the things that I am concerned about. And there are many! I have battled insomnia because of what weighs on me. Some of you never have that problem; you are not worriers. But others of you may be able to relate to my experience with sleeplessness. I now begin the day by casting my cares onto God, not in theory, but by actually listing my concerns. This is one concrete step I’ve taken toward reducing stress and truly trusting God. I needed to feel the care that Peter wrote about.
Earlier in life I had been writing down my blessings, because grateful people are healthier people. But even though I was expressing gratitude for past blessings and current good things, I still found myself worrying about the future. Listing my anxieties and my worries releases them to God’s care. That’s where they should be: on him, not on me.
Take a Time Out
There’s always just so much happening!
It’s presidential election season! I grow weary of the political process, with all the posturing, speeches, and analyses. Sometimes I need to turn that stuff off.
And then there’s the violence: The mass killings, the brutality committed by as well as against police officers, and the innumerable other acts that fill the newspapers and airways. I need a break.
There is also the culture war stuff: Society argues about sex, abortion, gun control, health care, climate change…you know what I mean. And we Christians wind up lobbing theological grenades at each other, as if we really don’t love one another!
Simultaneously, the icons of pop culture show up like jesters in the king’s court. They remind us that all the world is a stage.
Additionally, we are bombarded by all sorts of information, including info that purports to help us be better at just about everything!
With all that is going on in the world and in our personal lives, as well as the onslaught of information we face, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. Consequently, it is good to take a time out. To stop. To take a deep breath. To give God our worries. To let God set our agendas.
And the goal of taking the time out isn’t primarily to increase productivity. It is simply to remind ourselves that being with God is more important than trying to do for God (you can explore that idea more by checking out Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pete Scazzero). Resting in God may feel like a challenge at first, but it is a genuine delight.
May God bless you on your journey.