The Discipline of Retreat

Every day on my way to work I drive past the same shops and restaurants. The first day, I mused that one shop had a funny name and noted that a few restaurants looked like places to try in the future. After a few weeks of seeing this same scenery, however, I’ve made no new observations.

My psychology textbooks in college called this “sensory adaptation” — the process of experiencing reduced sensitivity to an experience due to repeated encounters with that experience.

The same thing happens to my spiritual life if I don’t take a retreat about once a season (could be more or less often for other people, but I choose once a season).

Why a retreat and not just a break, nap, etc.?

Because retreat entails “specific and regular times apart” — perhaps at a retreat center or outdoors — “for quietly listening to God and delighting in his company.” If a mere “break” in my daily commute could reverse my sensory adaptation process, then I would become acutely aware of my surroundings every time I headed off for work. But that isn’t the case. If a nap could do the trick, then I would wake up each morning noticing the sound of the alarm clock, the softness of the carpet underfoot, the smell of coffee downstairs. But, again, that isn’t the case.

We need retreat to notice new things about ourselves, our relationships, and our God.

A particularly good time for retreat is toward the beginning of something (e.g. beginning of a new job) or toward the end of something (e.g. end of a school year).

I recently ended college, moved halfway across the country, and began a new job. So, today, I took a retreat.

What made it a retreat? Well, I went to a place (a lake to be exact) where I rarely go and where I would be relatively undisturbed. I had few expectations of how the afternoon was going to go; God could say anything He wanted. So, I looked out over the water, asked God a question or two, opened my journal, and tried to let Him do just that.

It wasn’t mystical or anything, but reflecting on where God’s brought me and where He’s taking me was like letting an optometrist adjust my glasses prescription. I could see again — see past my accumulated sensory adaptation and see God at work.

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