Because I grew up in a Christian home and attended church all my life, I’ve gone on countless “retreats.” In a military sense, of course, to retreat means to back away from the enemy. This is often done to prevent defeat and capture—with the ultimate aim to strengthen and reequip your own forces so you can once again go on the offensive and hopefully be victorious. Churches, missions, and ministries sometimes use spiritual retreats for a similar purpose—to provide temporary escape from opposing physical and spiritual forces. Perhaps taking their cue from withdrawals into the wilderness mentioned in the Bible, some Christian ministries bring their people to attractive and remote natural areas for a retreat.
The wisdom of this is evident when we consider what we’re less likely to face in such places:
• Too many voices to attend to
• Too many people to relate to
• An overload of news (information)
• An overabundance of technologies
• Extraneous noise
• The need to talk incessantly
• Constant time pressure
Most of us could benefit from lessening these manmade distractions by going on a “civilization fast.” But while there are some obvious physical benefits from this sort of retreat, this list of negatives relates primarily to the spiritual. When we’re surrounded by the many positive evidences of God’s eternal power and divine nature and are at the same time relieved of these many negatives, our souls have an opportunity to rest and to remain open to the voice and calling of God’s Holy Spirit.
While we tend to think of wilderness retreats as being important for adults, we often forget that children need them as well. I would propose, in fact, that children today need these experiences more than ever.
When our own children were young, my wife Marge was a homemaker, and her activities with the kids were mostly domestic. When the three boys became restless with toys, television, and household tedium, sibling strife frequently broke out. By the weekend, Marge was ready to turn them over to me so she could get out of the house and go somewhere to regain her sanity. So the boys and I would go fishing, or we would take a trip to the ocean tide pools, the wooded hills, or the desert. “Were the boys okay for you?” she’d sometimes ask when we returned. They always were. Eventually she stopped asking because she came to realize that there is enchantment in the wilderness that can alter the behavior of children. Books have even been written about that kind of magic.
Rustic camps and lodges can be an important alternative to comfortable resorts where seemingly endless activities distract from the spiritual benefits of the wilderness. Outdoor education offered in these places can help young and old alike to gain knowledge that will increase their sense of wonder in God’s creation. The solitude and quietness offered there provide opportunities for people to more thoroughly contemplate their Creator’s words in the light of His works. In so doing, they may gain wisdom similar to that attained by King Solomon:
He spoke of trees, from the cedar tree of Lebanon even to the hyssop that springs out of the wall; he spoke also of animals, of birds, of creeping things, and of fish. And men of all nations, from all the kings of the earth who had heard of his wisdom, came to hear the wisdom of Solomon (1 Ki. 4:33-34).
When we neglect the chances we have to observe characteristics of God’s eternal power and divine nature that can be discovered in the wild places, we are denying ourselves of knowledge that is critical to our spiritual growth and witness. Collectively, we buy thousands of books to read about knowing God. What we often miss, however, is the opportunity to enter the wild places that showcase the wonder of God’s nature.