How to Retreat With Purpose

Retreat

A few weeks ago, I went on a writing retreat. At first I felt guilty for going away by myself and leaving my family to fend for themselves. Funny, since the retreat was my husband’s idea, and I followed through with it only at his encouragement and insistence.

As I thought about the idea of a retreat, and as I realized the deeper meaning of the concept beyond its obvious military application, I began to understand the value behind a focused retreat.

Retreat 2The planning as well as the actual retreat itslef convinced me of the value of making time to retreat. Below are the revelations coming from the planning and execution of my first personal retreat.

  1. Have a very specific purpose. The specific purpose of my retreat was to reach 50,000 words in a rough draft of a book I am writing. I already had 10,000 written but struggled dedicating time to the project. My retreat had no other purpose beyond this.
  2. Set specific goals. While my ultimate goal was 50,000 words, I quickly discovered the need to set smaller goals during the retreat. In the 48 hours I was gone, I set smaller word count goals and rewarded myself (coffee, snack, Big Bang Theory, etc.) when I reached a goal.
  3. Keep it simple. I went to a hotel about 1 1/2 hours from home. No glamourous location. Just a simple location where I could focus with minimal distraction.
  4. Focus. I refused to think much beyond my goal. All I thought about, except during break times, involved reaching 50,000 words.
  5. Plan some variety. While I spent most of the time in my hotel room, I found variety by visiting a Starbucks (good coffee = good writing) nearby for a couple of hours each day. This change-up helped me physically and mentally.
  6. Create a plan of action. Before going on the writing retreat, I developed a project outline. I also brought notes to read through to help generate additional ideas.
  7. Minimize distractions. I brought much of my own food, which saved a lot of time. I turned off the volume on my phone and did not log on to the hotel’s wifi except during break times. I did not bring any books to read either (that’s a big deal for me, btw).
  8. Plan ahead. I made sure I did not have any unrelated tasks hanging over my head to distract me while I focused on my goal.
  9. Work ahead. To prevent coming back to overload, I got as much work as I could done ahead of time. This takes a big of extra work on the front end, but it made a huge difference for keeping me focused during my retreat.
  10. Get enough sleep. One mistake I made was not sticking to my normal sleep routine. I was exhausted the second night just from writing so much, and the lack of sleep the first night caused me struggle a bit toward the end of the second day.

I plan to take regular retreats, perhaps one every quarter or at least twice a year, since this one was so productive. Specific purposes I am considering for these retreats include reading/researching, editing, and generating ideas. I want these retreats to be fulfilling and meaningful to me, which is why I choose to focus on writing.

DISCUSSION: What could you focus on if you took a personal retreat? What are your suggestions for planning and executing a successful personal retreat? Anyone going to do something like this in the near future?

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

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Struggle to Victory with Technology

A Love/Hate Relationship1071936_89886661

I’m addicted to technology. I waste time with it, and I’m easily distracted by it. Sometimes, I actually use it to keep from having to acknowledge and interact with others. I hate that it’s so natural for my kids, even part of the way they think and view life and can’t imagine life without it. And I especially hate how it interrupts and prevents face-to-face conversations.

At the same time, technology gives me a place and audience for writing that I would not otherwise have. It allows for friendships, encouragement, knowledge and support that would not otherwise happen because of geography. It provides ease of research and in fact helped me tremendously in my journey to healing.

Then, there’s GPS… as much a necessity as gas in my car. Technology helps my husband and I connect when he travels since his trips allow for little free time even for phone calls. And, technology provides a way to connect with my boys that fits how they think and operate.

Some days I want to quit technology. Usually, though, those are the days it’s not working right or as I think it should work. But then I remember the days of waiting for my dial-up connection and having the phone unavailable while on the Internet, and I realize how far technology has come in such a short period of time.

I truly hate technology when I’m talking to a friend and she stops mid-conversation to answer a text. After the frustration subsides, I realize the problem is my friend’s inability to focus on what’s in front of her more than it is about the technology.

Technology exists as a necessity in my life that I love for so many reasons and that I hate for as many reasons. With that, I am conflicted over how I want technology to live and breathe as I live and breathe.

1126743_41600248Finding Balance with Technology

How we used technology 10 years ago differs greatly from how we use it today. As those developing technology continue showing us what we didn’t know we needed and wanted, how we use technology will continue evolving. The ever-changing nature of technology is a fixed reality.

The ever-changing nature of technology also adds frustration through the impossibility of keeping up with the flow of information as well as with the latest and greatest. With this comes a choice of either continually struggling to keep up or finding balance, something that exists as uniquely as our fingerprints.

My own journey to find balance in my use of technology involves considering…

  • Is technology my tool or am I its slave?
  • Do I always assume new technology is always better?
  • Do I consider that my kids watch and imitate how I use technology?
  • Do I understand the relevance of technology not just in my life but in the future for my kids?
  • Can I find a healthy balance and/or rhythm by controlling my habits?
  • Are there boundaries in place in my life where technology is concerned or is it an uncontrolled addiction?
  • Does technology exist as a distraction and a way to avoid being uncomfortable?
  • What does God think about how we should live with and use technology?

These are the dominate thoughts on my mind as I consider how technology currently exists and how I want it to exist in my life. And these thoughts provide the basis for getting into the details of technology over the next month.

DISCUSSION: What struggles and victories do you have or see with technology?

5 Ways to Be Strong for the Stressed

Strength for stressedLife fluctuates. Sometimes we live in more struggle than victory. But sometimes, we get to bask in the mountaintop sunshine. Most of the time, though, we seem to live with a mixture of both struggle and victory.

Fortunately, for the most part, we each fluctuate at different levels and paces. For example, sometimes my exercise partner encourages me out the door. Other times, I’m forcing her to meet for a run. Sometimes my husband provides stability and help in my busyness; other times, he leans on me.

What relationships in your life reflect this same exchange of encouragement?

I remember a time when I did all of the leaning and needed all of the encouraging. I felt so buried in struggle I had no strength to lend to others. What others did for me during that time taught and prepared me for how to be strong for others later.

The following 5 ways to be strong for the stressed stand out as tremendous helps during my own season of needing to draw strength from my others:

  1. Encourage. While what encourages differs from one person to the next, finding small ways to encourage others helps them put one foot in front of another.  A “praying for you” text or even just a smile from across the room go a long way in encouraging someone when they are struggling.
  2. Listen. Simply listening to a person talk about struggles helps tremendously. Whether it just allows that person to vent or helps them find solutions, authentic listening truly relieves the intensity of stress.
  3. Create space. Find ways to help unload the person’s schedule. Take a friend’s kids for the evening or clean her house while she’s at work. Giving the gift of margin creates breathing room that might be just enough to encourage hope for more permanent relief.
  4. Pray. Often, someone who is overloaded got that way because they refused to allow others to help them. No matter what you can pray for them, and you can let them know you are praying for them. So many times, I could sense extra strength coming through the prayers of those who loved me.
  5. Create comfort. When stressed out, comfort seems absent and quite distant. Bring a friend coffee or make him a favorite meal or treat. Find out what brings comfort, even if only for a moment.

Strength for OthersFor the first time in 20 years, I’m less stressed than my husband, kids and most of my friends. A new experience, to be sure. Perhaps a better way to put it is that I am just balanced and in rhythm right now, and they are all going through times of intense struggle and less balance. I know this will probably change, that I’ll need their strength more and they mine less at some point. But for now, I can take what others did for me and pay it forward.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can you suggest to be strong for others who are stressed and overloaded?

How to… Be Encouraging Just By Being You

Encouragement does not come naturally for me. Not something I’m proud to admit. Whether because of nature or nurture, personality or temperament, being encouraging to myself or to others comes with great effort, if it comes at all. Yet, the Bible says to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).

Encouraging others is a desire of God’s heart. After this realization, my fix-it personality set to work figuring out how to be more encouraging. First, I set a goal of encouraging a certain number of people each week. That didn’t work. Honestly, I just kept forgetting to be encouraging. Then, I enlisted my boys’ help and asked them to remind me to be encouraging. But I think they were too used to me being me, and they forgot to remind me. So what did I do next? Well, I gave up for a while, not out of frustration but more out of knowing the timing wasn’t right. The Holy Spirit needed to do some work within me.

I knew I needed a heart change. I needed to see something differently or something new that I just wasn’t seeing. Since motivation wasn’t my issue, I started to see that the focus of my motivation was wrong. Instead of encouraging to make me look good, or at least not look like I didn’t care about others, I needed to encourage because I wanted to and because I believed in who and what I was encouraging. I needed to stop encouraging just to be encouraging and because it pleased God.

The following 4 realizations have helped me to at least start to be a more encouraging person.

  1. The Golden Rule is a great starting point. Not just a cliché saying, the Golden Rule actually comes from scripture (Matthew 7:12). To apply this rule to encouragement, consider the ways you are most encouraged and then encourage others in those same ways. For example, I enjoy being complimented on what I say, so I try to encourage others when they say something that encourages me.
  2. I gotta be me! A new Dr. Pepper commercial has a great song that says, “I gotta be me.” Being anyone else means bucking up against the “one of a kind” person God made me to be. What does this have to do with encouragement? When I am who God created me to be, I am better able to be encouraging. If I try to be my sanguine friends, I feel constantly sick to my stomach and worn out. But, if I encourage in my introverted way, I am being who God made me to be, which helps me be a better friend, wife, mother and servant.
  3. Apply Paul’s formula for life. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul gives a simple formula for living life: Live quietly, mind your own business and work with your hands. How does this encouraging others? Verse 12 says that living this type of life shows “proper behavior” that earns the respect of others. For me, having respect for someone is encouraging because they hold qualities that motivate me to be a better person. And, in keeping with the above two points, if respect for how someone lives their life encourages me, then perhaps how I live my life can encourage others.
  4. Balance listening and talking. As an introvert, I don’t say much when I’m in a group of people I don’t know well or if I am uncomfortable for some reason. But when I’m around people I know, I definitely talk more, often too much. Being too quiet makes people uncomfortable, and talking too much makes them feel unimportant. At least, that’s what it does to me. So, as I work to become more encouraging, I need to balance how much I talk with how much I don’t.

Encouraging others means accepting who God made them to be and appreciating the gifts, abilities and viewpoints He gave them. When we support others in a way that pushes them to be the best they can be, encouragement results.

DISCUSSION: What do 1 Thessalonians 4:18 and 5:11 add to this topic of encouragement?

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