2018 was the year that the trajectory of my life changed. It the year I discovered a path that I never anticipated taking, but one that I am so grateful to have found.
There were a lot of things that happened in late 2017 and 2018 that I can look back at and point to as markers that led my life in a particular direction. But it was in the fall of 2018 that I encountered a fork in the road that I wasn’t looking for. I signed up for a retreat, expecting a nice weekend away and maybe a chance for some reflection time. Instead, I had an experience that changed my life.
The Men’s Retreat.
Despite signing up earlier in the summer, I was somewhat reluctant to attend. Life was busy with small kids, a busy schedule, and a demanding job. There were times I considered cancelling or postponing to the following year. It felt like a luxury I could not afford; that I was being selfish in taking a weekend away.
When I look back at it the decision to finally say yes to going, it might be one of the bravest things I have ever done. Because amidst all the excuses not to go, the primary thing holding me back was the fear of what might happen.
What was I afraid of? At the time I was comfortable in my life. My wife and I were happy, we had three healthy little kids, and I was doing well at work – I was ticking the boxes. Faith-wise, I thought I was doing enough. My family went to church on Sundays and occasionally I prayed. I had a notion of what a more engaged Christian might look like and I was happier to stay where I was. I was afraid that if I went on a retreat, it might push me out of my comfort zone and into something I was afraid to become.
But alongside this hesitation, there was also a deeper, unfulfilled desire for more life. More fulfilment in my relationships and meaning in the days. I would not have used these words then, but I was looking for a mission.
The weekend did change me – God took the crack I had opened simply by going to the retreat and kicked the door down. But the result was not what I expected or feared. Instead, it was an initiation into a life of adventure, purpose, and meaning. It didn’t rob me of the good things in my life, it enhanced them. My encounter that weekend called me out of my pursuit of comfort and challenged me to be a better husband, a better father, a better brother, son, and friend.
A better man.
This fall, after two years of COVID-induced hiatus, The Men’s Retreat is back. I look forward to going back to the well. When I reflect on my first retreat experience, some of the things that happened were deeply personal, but there are also overarching themes. Reasons why giving a courageous yes to these opportunities is so important.
Stepping Out of the Rat Race
Finding any margin these days is tough. If it exists for me, it is usually in the early hours of the morning or late in the evening. It is hard to find 30 minutes to catch up on some reading, never mind the space necessary to consider the big ideas of life and where I fit into them.
Each day, there are hundreds of ‘switches’ my brain makes from task to task with a few distractions mixed in. There is an efficiency cost to all the switches; they prevent us from going deep into tasks, ideas, time with loved ones, and even vacations. Having time to transition helps us to switch between frames of mind more effectively.
The Men’s Retreat takes place at a stunning location just outside Princeton, British Columba, but it takes about four hours to drive there. It’s easy to look at the drive as an obstacle and a reason not to go. But I would argue that the drive is a feature and not a bug. The time provides a buffer to prepare for a weekend that requires presence.
Because to hear the voice of God in our lives, we need space and quiet. Scripture shows the importance of quiet. The Father speaks to Elijah on the mountain, not in the wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the sheer silence that followed (1 Kings 19:11-13). Even Jesus, the Son of God, often retreated to the quiet of the wilderness to pray (Lk 5:16).
In the busyness of life, quiet moments are elusive, as the day can be consumed by tasks or distractions if we allow them to be.
Removing myself from the demands of daily life created space to have a profound experience on retreat. One that would have been much difficult to find in between soccer games and birthday parties. And yes, it is a sacrifice to not be there for one weekend, but the return on investment as a husband and father and as a man is worth it.
One of the things that surprised me most about my experience was the impact of having nearly 300 men all in one place in pursuit of the same thing – deeper life in God. There were men of all ages, from different backgrounds, and different careers, yet we were united in pursuit of something bigger.
Looking back, one of the things that held me back from taking a step into the deeper waters of my faith was a fear that I was alone. Being on retreat showed me that there are many others trying to find the same path. This has been a source of great strength for me since my first experience on retreat.
Life is not meant to be done alone and in times of struggle, having brothers to lean on for support has been a game-changer for me. When I would have struggled in silence earlier in my life, I now have friends who are walking the same road and are there when I am in trouble, as I try to be for them.
Greatness Calls Us
It was not long after the start of my first retreat that I realized I was going to be challenged. The men who gave the talks over the weekend were guys I looked at with admiration. They inspired me, not because they were perfect – many shared their personal trials in faith – but because they all lived an authentic masculinity in pursuit of the greatness that comes through relationship with God. They called us to the same.
Having experienced The Men’s Retreat twice, I know it is not the place to go if you want a pat on the back for being average as a man. Recognizing that we all are coming from different and often broken places, the retreat offers glimpses into the ‘more’ that is available in deeper relationship with God and makes it accessible to us.
When you watch an elite athlete in his prime, you cannot help but respect and admire greatness on display. Seeing the transformation of lives – men who have made the decision to pursue the greatness that exists in life with God – has had the same impact on me. Greatness attracts and inspires greatness, the kind that grows with time and maturity.
The Heart of the Matter
Central to my experience on retreat was opening my heart to the possibility that maybe there was more to life than what I had been experiencing. That it a life in pursuit of deep relationship with God, a more adventurous and purposeful life might be possible. That God wants good for my life and that in Him, all my relationships, my work, even my rest, could be transformed into something greater.
My experience was dependent on my consent and to risk putting everything on the line, even if I did so reluctantly. But the Father was faithful and delivered far more than I expected.
This is not to say I received an easy and worry-free life in return. I face the same trials and challenges as everyone else, but I do so with a different heart than before.
Returning to the Well
The Men’s Retreat has been a true blessing in my life. God willing, it returns this Fall. I have been on the retreat twice now, and both times have been profound in different ways.
Why would I go on the same retreat multiple times? My experience on the first retreat was a first step on a journey that will last the rest of my life. We all need food for the way and retreats offer us the opportunity to recharge and re-engage. For me, retreats also offer the opportunity to take stock of the work that God has done in my life and re-align to His plan for me.
I think on some level, we all know that we were created for more than the daily grind that life offers us. It takes courage to put the status quo on the line but when we don’t know what will happen. But done in faith and in trust that we are called to something greater, we will not be disappointed. Life in God will ask everything of you, but it will give you something even greater in return.
I want to provide a shout out to Life Restoration Ministries, the ministry that organizes and offers The Men’s Retreat, as well as women’s and other life giving events to the Catholic community in Greater Vancouver. Life Restoration’s founders, Jake and Heather Khym, have been a gift to my family and countless others through their events, podcasts, and other resources. You can check them out (and find more information on The Men’s Retreat) here.
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