For My Friends Who Hate Women's Retreats
I know you hate women’s retreats. You hate the thought of sharing a bed or bathroom with someone else. You hate that your snoring (or their snoring) will interrupt sleep. You're creeped out just thinking about that many women in one place. And you hate picturing all those women being so emotional or worse, crying.
You hate women’s retreats. I get it. I really, really do.
“I can’t be gone for a whole weekend. Who will take the kids to their games?”
“My husband hates it when I’m gone. It’s not worth the hassle.”
“It’s out of my comfort zone, and honestly, it's just a little too scary.”
We have a hundred reasons why we shouldn’t go. Some years the voices win out and we stay home. Later, when we hear the glowing reports from our friends about how wonderful it was, we feel a pang of regret, but it doesn’t last long. “Oh well,” we say, “maybe next year.” Other times we make the extra effort, and even after the retreat has ended, we're unsure if the time (and money spent) was worth it.
Ladies, your sentiments and feelings are very real. However, I think it’s important to fight the feelings. You know exactly which feelings I’m talking about: exhaustion, anxiety, insecurity, awkwardness, criticism, comparison, and the big one – rejection. And I agree with you - women can be pretty rough. But instead, I try focus on what a women’s retreat would do to help me spiritually grow. Do you have a genuine desire to work on YOU? Have you been praying to hear God’s voice or for God to open new doors in your life?
We live in a world where it’s okay to make decisions about retreats at the last second, but is that what God is really calling us to do? Does He call us to sit on the sidelines and “wait” to see what happens? Do we ask God to show us “signs” that we should or shouldn’t go? Have you been praying for another woman who’s hurting or just needs a break? Would inviting someone to a retreat be an opportunity for you to witness/minister to someone else? Alternatively, could you benefit from a weekend of someone listening to your worries?
I think these are good questions to ask ourselves before simply dismissing the idea of going to a women’s retreat. I believe God wants us to stop and think for a minute here. Maybe He wants us to invite that friend who is struggling or that co-worker or neighbor who’s in a funk. And if that isn’t persuasion enough, here’s a few more reasons (based on scripture) why I hope you’ll consider the investment:
1. Women Need Women
I get that all women are different. Not all women are emotional or chatty or given to large gatherings. But there's something unique about women walking out life with other women. When it’s round six of infertility – we need each other. When the loneliness of singleness is so deep we can’t seem to crawl out of the fear and pain – we need each other. When the hidden addictions become way too heavy – we need each other. When we celebrate a birth, a graduation, a wedding, a promotion and a personal triumph – we need each other. Retreats are a unique environment to form new friendships and deepen existing ones. There's something about being together and spending the night in a beautiful space that affords us time for deeper conversations and endless laughter.
Faith is contagious. Just like a virulent virus, it passes from person to person through close contact. Today’s busy world allows little time for women to share faith stories, pray together, and hear biblical messages written with women in mind. As we consider and apply God’s Word together, we learn from each other’s varied backgrounds, experiences, and insights. The better we understand God, the stronger our faith becomes. Then, we can strengthen others. Hearing other women’s testimonies about God’s faithfulness helps me realize that God will also take care of me. Hebrews 10:25 spotlights the value of mutual encouragement and warns us not to neglect corporate worship: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another.”
2. Women Need Time and Space
Whether it’s our 60-hour work week or tiny littles that never nap (or both), we all need a break. We need to get out of our routines and let someone else prepare the breakfast. We need a place where we’re not on duty, a place to sit in one spot and not even think. We need time to take a read, to pray without interruption, and to stay up late laughing with new friends (or pop in the ear plugs and go to bed early). This is the beauty of a retreat: time and space.
Why? Because it’s hard to hear God’s voice above the noise of everyday life. When is the last time you sat before God without a "To Do" list hanging over you, a pile of laundry in the background, or family members pressing in on all sides? If you can’t remember, you may need to attend a retreat! “To retreat” means to leave our normally occupied positions and go to a place of safety, quiet, and seclusion. By going to a retreat, we physically remove ourselves from life’s distractions, the call of chores, and the demands of people in order to make space for God. If you think you’re less spiritual because you struggle to hear from God in the cacophony of your daily life, be encouraged. Even Jesus recognized the value and need to get away. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus retreated.
3. Women Need the Church
I believe in the Church and love watching churches unite for these larger retreat events. And even with all their warts and disappointments, retreats are places where our normal, everyday, mundane faith is lived out with other normal, everyday, mundane people like me and you. Events like these draw attention to God and give the Church fresh opportunities to do outreach. Further, I believe its important to make time to fellowship with other women of faith – with people we wouldn't hang with if it weren’t for Jesus: older people, younger people, people like you and people nothing like you. It’s just good for the soul.
Standing side by side with our sisters in Christ and worshipping, praying, and learning about our precious Savior makes us all stronger. When I join a group of women singing praise songs to God, I experience a taste of what Heaven’s going to be like when we’re gathered around his throne. When I sit with my sisters and open God’s Word, the insights I gain as we study together add weight and credence to its truth. When I pray for others (and they pray for me) I know I’m not alone - no matter how heavy my burden is. Some years their faith strengthens me and other years, my faith strengthens them. Together we bear each other’s burdens.
For these and many other reasons, I place a high priority on attending women’s retreats. I attended many retreats over the years that were life changing. Why? Because God showed me that I needed to stop focusing on all the people - and all the friendships - and all the insecurities - and instead, just focus on MYSELF (my problems, my hang-ups, my habits, my junk...)
But just to be real… I always fight the feelings of NOT wanting to go on retreat (for all the reasons above). There were years that I left retreats feeling disappointed because of my own expectations, only to later realize God was working on me even in those moments - revealing new aspects in my character. Some years were financially challenging for me which caused my friends and I to be more creative in finding a way to finance the getaway. I’d save my birthday money, squirrel away coupon savings, or apply for the scholarship. Other years, I’ve struggled spiritually pushing myself to go even though I didn’t feel like it. In those cases, I’d invite a friend to join me so I couldn’t back out or would commit to carpooling with friends. On every occasion, I returned refreshed, strengthened, inspired, and closer to the Lord and my sisters in Christ. I was always glad that I fought against the feelings of not wanting to go.
Bottom Line: I’ve never regretted attending a retreat, but I’ve often regretted not attending. If you’ve never attended a retreat (or you haven’t in a while) why not make plans to attend one? And better yet, make your decision today and stick to it!
Use a retreat as an opportunity to get excited about something with a girlfriend. And most importantly, pray that God helps you manage your expectations while at retreat. Who knows? Maybe God will reveal you’re supposed to get your own room with a Jacuzzi tub. Or, maybe He’s telling you to invite your whole MOPS group. Whichever the case, if you seek God (and appropriately manage your expectations) you’ll be so glad you made the investment.
by Jess Olivito, The Sozo Group