Noelle Kirchner, M.Div., is a Presbyterian minister and mother of two boys. As they wrestle on the floor, she enjoys wrestling with her manuscripts. She writes for Huff Post Parents, the TODAY Show Parenting Team, and has been a repeat guest author at in(courage). You can find her on her blog, where she writes about faith and parenting, and on Twitter and Facebook.
This year I decided to go on our church’s women’s retreat after some not so subtle prompting from the Holy Spirit. I had never been on a women’s retreat before. In fact, I had only been away from my family for two nights one other time since the birth of our first child five years ago. I was convicted when I signed up with a couple of girlfriends that it was the right decision. But as the date approached, I started to doubt.
All of us can keep busy schedules. Those of you with little children may sometimes feel engulfed by yours. It was one of those times for me. I had just hosted family for several days for Easter the weekend before. The visit was great, but in its wake our house was a mess and our kids were exhausted. I felt the need to relax, but instead I was supposed to pack and travel the next weekend too. I wondered, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?”
Despite my doubts about going, I kept my commitment and followed through. I knew God would bless the weekend – but he did so in a way that surprised me. These are some of the retreat blessings I anticipated: The opportunity to hear a fabulous speaker, make new friends, divorce my cellphone for a weekend, and take a long nap. (I was particularly excited about the latter. Seriously, moms, when is the last time you took a long, uninterrupted nap completely guilt-free?) Well, God did deliver on all of those things, but they weren't the best part. The best part was experiencing the unique power of collective feminine witness, which manifested itself in three ways.
First, I experienced connection. When I mention connection, I am not talking about making new friends. I am talking about the power of female community. I live in a house with four males – my husband, two sons, and a male cat. As wonderfully sensitive and loving as they are, they are not females. I was amazed by the vulnerability and desire to share stories on the retreat. It was prevalent and effortless. It was women communicating in the way God designed us to need.
When I think about my weekly schedule with little children, maybe I sneak in a quick conversation with a friend during a playdate. Maybe I meet a friend for coffee and have a quick heart-to-heart before dashing to pick my children up from preschool. Maybe I arrange to have a dinner out with a friend once in a while. I might feel fueled by each of these outlets, but they are not the same as a collection of women coming together to communicate for an entire weekend. I saw lives not just touched, but transformed.
Second, I experienced communal wisdom. If you think about it, each of us has a limited sphere of connection. Despite the fact that I am a pastor and rather outgoing, my immediate circle of friends is small and fairly homogeneous. The friends whom I regularly see live near me, are of similar age, and engage in some of the same activities. I know their stories, and they know mine. Imagine the power, however, of hearing new stories from women of varying ages and backgrounds. Imagine the communal truth that can emerge.
Just like wars have been fought for similar reasons throughout history, I’m learning marriages end for similar reasons. Friendships collapse for similar reasons. Children go down the wrong path for similar reasons. Sharing communal wisdom is essential for the protection and growth of what we value most. We all know live, personal testimonies are far more effective than anything we can read in a book, but we need to take advantage of the opportunity to hear them. If you are a young woman, perhaps you have been hesitant to go on a retreat because yours is largely attended by older women; consider the fact that their stories might be just what God wants you to hear.
Finally, I experienced continued growth in perspective. In one weekend, there were stories of divorce, imprisonment, assault and battery, and mental illness, among others, and that’s from a healthy, suburban church. Creation is still groaning. If you think you must suffer alone and in silence, if you believe no one can possibly understand your pain, if you think there is no place to express your anger toward God in Christian community, you are listening to the Deceiver. Sometimes the greatest gift God can give us are hands to hold from women who understand, and together we can resurrect from the ashes through faith.
So in answer to my question, “Will my weekend away really be worth all of this hassle?”, my answer undoubtedly is YES. God blessed my time on the retreat abundantly. And in fact, I have come to see the hassle beforehand differently too. The responsibilities that seemed onerous to arrange before I left are for a family that I now appreciate even more. For amidst a recognition of life’s trials, we can better celebrate every good gift.
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