In a fast-moving world, there’s no question that force is the instrument of choice. How many times have you heard Sun Tzu and ‘The Art of War’ quoted by some pretentious, board-room tough-guy as proof of their prowess? It’s almost de rigueur for a generation whose most active combat is a stiff battle of ‘World of Warcraft’ from their living room couch.
Since time immemorial, and the invention of conflict itself, the dogs of war have been looking for the edge, the ability to handle hostile situations with adroit skill. Youth is a wonderfully simple time when power, skill and strength are the only gods to be worshipped, the only tools to be considered. With accumulated experience though, comes acuity; the ability to maneuver successfully using large-scale strategy in combination with moment-by-moment tactics. Age brings its own advantages; the ability to commandeer more passive techniques and roll with the punches as they unfold. Left-handed strength becomes just as finely honed a weapon as a sword in the right. The mature know that in order to go the distance and win the final victory, a counter-intuitive withdrawal is sometimes strategically necessary.
This last weekend, the women of my church and I enjoyed a lovely change of pace, going away together to a local B & B for what is informally known as ‘a Retreat’. I won’t go into the amount of organizing, creativity, convincing and cajoling it requires to assemble the girls together in the prime of summer vacation time. It’s a bit like herding cats. But, God bless ‘em, they enthusiastically answered the call! Something appealed. There’s always a multiplicity of reasons people come to conferences or retreats, and sometimes, it isn’t even a logical one, but rather visceral, instinctual. We have a deep need to simply ‘come away’ from regular routines and environments, even if it’s only for a scant twenty-four hours. It does us a world of good.
There’s a reason the twenty-third psalm so resonates with our souls. It speaks to our insatiable, abiding requirements for tranquility, intimacy and regeneration. The pace of everyday life mauls us with incessant demands and pressure. We long for the eye of the storm, a refuge against our own success. All too often, we’re running on empty; mentally and physically exhausted. Stress is a modern disease. Retreat is then the most prudent, productive move on the chessboard. The discipled learn to take the Great Shepherd very, very seriously. He seeks to be the calm we walk into every day - not simply a last-ditch selection when there are no other viable options.
Though it seems like weakness, retreat can be the most proactive policy. Good warfare isn’t always a matter of who’s got the biggest stick. Consider the story of Joshua 8. After an initial defeat by the Canaanites of the city of Ai as they tried to take the land, the wind was thoroughly knocked out of Israel's sails. Mercifully, the Lord gave them a strategy to lay in ambush behind the city, while a smaller contingent boldly attacked the city directly. Of course, the men of Ai mounted a counter-attack against Israel, giving chase to the attackers. As they did so, the ambush took the city from behind, setting it alight, so that the pursuers suddenly realized what was going on and turned back. At that point, they were caught between two forces and soundly defeated. It was a brilliant tactic that employed the appearance of weakness for its success.
It’s challenging, even for a moment, to show our vulnerable underbelly, cease beating the drums and let our defenses down. Retreat is not a natural resting mode for ego. It takes deliberate humility to let go and admit our vulnerability. It is neither flaw nor feebleness to acknowledge our limits and respect a time out.
Hear my cry, O God; Attend to my prayer. From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah Psalm 61:1-4 NKJV
As delightful and salubrious as it is to physically escape from it all, sometimes, our retreat is found closer to home. Relationships with others often provide the unexpected safe haven we are desiring. Looking around the table this weekend, I found myself resting on the sanctuary of wonderful women and extraordinary friendships. For a moment, my burden of fatigue reposed safely upon their kind and capable bosoms. Integrity, intelligence and wit abound among them. I think about the gentle steadiness of this one, the liberal spirit and selfless teamwork of another. Over there, my sweet sister is quietly listening to another's distress, lavishing her full attention. Willing handmaidens putter away at homey tasks with placid grace in the background. These are quality women of God. In their humble, unassuming way, they are bringing down heaven to earth, and it is beautiful to behold. Despite the busy-ness of keeping this show on the road, I’ve enjoyed my concentrated time of fellowship, remembering just why I invest the time and passion I do in the Church.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23
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