This autumn marks the first time that I’ve taken part in planning and preparing for the women’s retreat in my church. In the wake of the retreat, an unexpected struggle has surfaced in my spiritual life.
I was honored to be considered among those women devoted to the retreat’s fruition, even though my role was small. I arrived early to help set up, putting all the name tags on the doors and toting in the magic clipboards that I’d spent hours modge-podging to perfection. These clipboards would be our “favor” to take away from the retreat. I felt proud laying those clipboards at each seat, knowing that my mark was evident, and even though I didn’t like the name tags I’d made for the doors, I could still look at them and know I was part of things. But it was an ugly pride, one that grew as the retreat unfolded.
I took it upon myself to make the coffee and, after the evening message, collected all the empty cups for cleaning. A little pang rose in me that wondered, why aren’t you cleaning your own cup, Christian woman? My hand darted up when volunteers were requested to help in the kitchen. I wasn’t picked and recoiled at the thought that another woman’s contribution might outweigh mine, but still, I resented those that didn’t do anything at all. I was only half-conscious of these feelings incubating during the retreat, but in retrospect, I’ve come to understand the nasty sin in me.
Meditating on it, I was transported back to the summer camp where I worked staff last year. I was promoted from the year before and stepped into a position with more responsibility and more influence. But ultimately I was there to serve; like the job of any camp-worker, my job was to serve those visiting the camp. Very often this took the form of dish washing as the camp lacked a commercial dishwasher and all dishes needed cleaning by hand. When plates looked clear, I made a point to collect the dishes from the table and withdrawn into the kitchen, bubbling up warm water in large tubs. While I liked the quiet and solitude of doing the dishes, that demon kept rearing its head asking, “Don’t you wish they would quit sitting around and help you?” And sometimes it would say other things too: “You are such a good servant, the others are selfish and lazy.”
Fast-forward to this year’s retreat. The same vile beast threatened me.
I confess that I’ve used my service as evidence to exalt myself above the people around me. I’ve believed that I am a “better” Christian than others because of the things I’ve done. But even through the guilt, I don’t actually think in my heart that one Christian can “be better” than another. It’s like jumping to the moon: one person might jump 12 inches and another 23, but the difference is negligible when the goal is 238,900 miles away.
Coupling this self-righteousness has been a tenacious desire for an invitation into the inner circle. Now, most of my intentions for volunteering in the church are pure. Most of the time I serve from love and a beautiful vision of God’s kingdom alive here on earth. But sometimes, there is a little seed festering under all those good intentions that just wants to be popular and accepted. There is nothing wrong with desiring acceptance in and of itself. But as with anger, the sin is in how we respond to it.
I confess that I’ve used my service as a tool to earn respect and therefore admittance into what I recognize as an inner circle in my church community.
And frankly, I will probably do it again. Praise God though, that this sin has swam up from the depths and confronted me in the light. One more baby step on the path of reconciliation.
And to think, if I had not volunteered for the women’s retreat. Where would my heart be?
So in accordance with my last post, I propose SERVICE as another essential element for cultivating a rich retreat experience.
Let your retreat be an opportunity for the women attending to use their God-given gifts. In my last post, I mentioned enlisting speakers within the church rather than bringing in someone from outside. Likewise, do you have a woman who can sing? One who plays piano or guitar? Let these woman lead the group in songs and worship. The simplicity of one or two people leading worship can be a moving experience. It’s uplifting to hear the spectrum of voices lifted up to the Lord, all our diverse humanity coming together as one.
Food presents another opportunity for service. Y’all gotta eat. Let each woman bring a dish to the table. Don’t bother with catering, but take volunteers to organize meals, then the organizer can orchestrate who will bring what. Not only does this allow gifted cooks to make a contribution, but it gives every woman a little piece of responsibility in the retreat. Inevitably, people treat things better when they have a sense of ownership over it. We also do door prizes. This is a preference, but encouraging each woman to make or bring a small gift further develops each individual’s part in the greater retreat.
Other jobs people can sign up for? Greeting, decorating, making announcements, washing dishes, designing flyers… the list goes on. Think of the retreat as a communal event.
Every church and community is different. We all belong to One Body, but if we all shared the same ideas, we wouldn’t need many different buildings. God rejoices in our diversity, and the diversity of your particular community should be reflected in your retreat. However, truth remains:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
It’s not necessarily a good thing for women show up and expect to be served.
Instead, we hope to cultivate servants.
This closes my two part post on planning a women’s retreat. The experience changed my heart.
I hope you are gifted sometime in a similar way.
Any last thoughts or advice from another perspective? Dare I ask about sin!?