Last week I wrote about my experience attending a retreat in 2018 and how that weekend has impacted my life since. When I had the opportunity to attend the same retreat in 2019, I did not hesitate to sign up again. On my journey of faith and personal growth, one important lesson I have learned is that the path is not a straight line. We do not evolve and grow as people in a liner, up and to the right, path. Life is difficult and presents many challenges, and what lights us up on one day can quickly fade into a memory if we do not take responsibility for and seek to keep feeding it.
I know this from personal experience. I have attended workshops with leadership gurus and motivational speakers that left me excited and inspired to change my work life for the better only to find those feelings dull over time and the course resources collecting dust. I once watched a Rocky movie and decided I was going to start a daily running routine at 4:30 am. That habit lasted exactly one run. My motivation for sleep overtook my motivation for early morning exercise.
This is not to slander motivational speakers or those who have had life changing experiences these conferences. What I am describing above probably says more about me than it does about the events themselves, but I suspect many of us can get frustrated with our motivation wanes and we do not see the lasting changes in our lives that we desire.
One truth about my retreat experience is that in the days following it, I felt a concern that this experience might end up being like the others I’d had before. That the impact that I felt, as real as it seemed, might erode leave me back where I started.
Thankfully, this never happened. But that is not to say it could not have, even now. Reflecting on my experience and my life since, the importance of going back to the source and seeking more of what is available has become paramount. There are some key learnings that I picked up and implemented that have helped me stay on the path I desire to walk. Without these, it is likely my life would have returned to its pre-retreat weekend state.
A War for Attention
When I look back at some of the leadership training I was provided early in my career, often it was provided at an offsite location. I was with other motivated leaders early in our careers, and it was exciting. When the two or three days was over, I went back to my office, where there was usually two or three days of emails and work to catch up on. Not to mention nobody else around me had just experienced the training. It is not hard for me to understand how the excitement fizzled out.
Life moves on and carefully curated environments are not real life – when we experience something profound, and then return to a life where everything else is the same as we left it, it can be discouraging when what we experience around us does not match what we are feeling internally.
This does not even consider the relentless attack on our attention. Family, work, and other responsibilities require us to be present. But there is also the endless steam of news, social media, tv, movies, and content that are screaming for our time and attention. If we are not proactive in how we approach our days, they will be consumed by these demands leaving no time for anything else.
Setting Up to Win
I want to make one important point here. The Men’s Retreat is not a TED talk or a motivational seminar. It is centered on relationship with Jesus and addresses the whole person. It speaks to the core of what it means to be a man in pursuit of the narrow way and inspires men to seek a life lived differently from what the world offers.
Is this distinction the reason my experience ‘stuck’ where other courses or seminars did not? I would say it is part of the reason. But at the same time, if I had left the retreat and resumed my approach to life the same way I did three days earlier, it is highly likely that this experience too would have faded into a distant memory.
These are the three key learnings that continue to help me ensure that I stay on the path of sustained life:
1. Seek Counsel: Even as a person who grew up in the Church and in a family that was faith-centered, my experience on retreat left me with a lot of questions. The primary question was, “how do I get more of this in my life?” There were men that I met on my retreat who had been walking on this path for many years, and it was obvious to me that I needed to speak more with them.
Through conversations and sharing my story with them, they were able to help provide context for what I had experienced and encouraged me to keep going. These conversations were not one-time events. Four years later, some of these conversations are still happening, but in many ways they feel like they are just getting started.
2. Go Together: I recently heard an expression: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. On my journey in faith, this has made a significant difference. For most of my life, faith has been an individual event – even when done in community. I did not talk about it or share with others any challenges that I was facing.
Over the last couple of years, I have been blessed to be part of a group of men that connects regularly. Having a group of like-hearted men to journey with has supported me in my faith life, but it has also helped me in my family life, and work. Conversations between men can often start at the weather and end at the score in last night’s game. Unfortunately, life is far more complicated, but having a group of allied friends to take on life’s challenges with can be the difference between winning and defeat.
3. Refill the Tank: Having had the opportunity to attend two retreats, I know the fuel that they add to my life. But I also know that I cannot expect to last the year in between without needing other food for the journey.
It is important to me to plan my days accordingly. When I take time in the morning for prayer and some reading, my day is much better than when I am flying around without any thought. Taking that time for quiet and to foster my relationship with God is a daily practice that makes a noticeable difference in the quality of my days.
Being purposeful about what I consume in terms of media is important in keeping the tank full each day. When I listen to podcasts or music that add value or are life-affirming, this sustains me.
Finally, recognizing that joy is a fuel that lasts is critical. Dedicated quality time with my wife and kids, spending time outside, and reading good books are a few ways that I can add joy to my life each day.
When I take steps to refill what is being depleted in my life, it ensures that I have something left to give to others, and that I am not trying to get through life on fumes.
The Well is Deep
I believe in God’s abundance. Jesus first public miracle was to turn water into wine at a wedding. Depending on the measurements, Jesus made 120 to 180 gallons of wine. This is nearly 1,000 bottles. Nobody would be left without at this wedding.
When I look at the work God has done in my life over the last few years, I am sometimes tempted to think that it is enough or that I am selfish for wanting more. But this presumes that there is a limited amount of God’s blessings to go around, and I am in no position to be limiting what is or is not possible for Him.
In the early days of the pandemic, I would go for walks in the morning around sunrise. One week I had witnessed 5 days’ worth of spectacular sunrises. Each time I was filled with a sense of gratitude and thanked God for those moments. On the sixth day, it was cloudy and as I started my walk, I thought, “It’s ok, God has done enough for me this week.” At my usual turnaround spot, I sat down for a couple of minutes on a bench, and when I got up and turned around, the clouds broke and sunlight spilled, overflowing through them. I could not help but laugh and think to myself, “Ok, I get it. I won’t limit you again.” As if that wasn’t enough, a few minutes later a rainbow appeared in the sky. God has more than enough for me and for each of us.
It is why we need to keep going back to Him. In our daily practices, what we consume, and the time we put aside for fostering growth in that most important relationship. The world will take us in many different directions if we allow it, and most of them do not lead back to the source of all life. But when we turn to that source and start from there, we are set up to withstand all that the world can throw at us. The well is deep. There is plenty to go around.
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