My Favorite “Failed” Retreat: A Holy Week Meditation

“… Nevertheless (and that is a good resurrection word), the strong love of God always has the final word. Nothing can hold it back from working out its purposes. Not only does the Holy One experience our suffering as though it were his own, he is also relentlessly seeking to bring light and life where there seems to be only darkness and death. When this happens for us, even in a small way, we experience a “little Easter.”… Just about any time we are surprised with new possibilities for life and healing in the midst of brokenness and decay, there is a “little Easter” that gives us a glimpse of the resurrection power of God’s love made manifest in the crucified and risen Jesus.”  

This year during Holy Week, we wanted to share these words from South African pastor Trevor Hudson. A few Rooted writers will share some “little Easters” of their own. We hope these “glimpses of the resurrection power of God’s love” will enlighten the eyes of your faith as you look toward the Cross and to the empty tomb.

Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed.

When the sixth student dropped out, I was ready to call it. No way a weekend retreat would be worth it with just three students. Whether it was a guilty conscience, encouragement from my boss, or the security deposit that kept me from canceling the whole weekend, I don’t remember. Nonetheless, I headed to the Virginia mountains for the weekend with three girls, two other chaperones, a trunk full of junk food and a grumpy attitude.

At one point in the planning process, I was actually looking forward to this retreat. It was my first year in ministry, so the thought of getting to take high school girls away for some good old-fashioned Christian fellowship sounded fun to me. Plus, it was fall in Virginia and we had a great house booked in the Shenandoah Mountains. How could the weekend be anything less than magical?

Momentum for the retreat was slow-going at first, but I finally got a solid group of girls to commit. I felt great not only about the number of girls I recruited, but also about the fact that all the “cool” girls in youth group had signed up. Go me! I had exactly the quantity and quality of students I had envisioned for the weekend. This was going to be awesome.

You know where this is going… the week leading up to the retreat, one girl got a better invite elsewhere. One got cold feet. The other decided that she did not in fact want to miss her Saturday basketball game. By Thursday, our group had shrunk to half of its original size. The remaining three were the girls who had nothing better to do with their weekends and/or their moms made them go. To be honest, I didn’t blame them for needing to be coerced.

I was totally crushed. I was angry. I was hurt by the girls who chose basketball games and slumber parties over this retreat. I felt like a total failure. I decided that my job was just to “get through” the weekend. As far as I was concerned, this retreat was as good as dead.

Of course, God knew better. Where I had deemed this weekend D.O.A, God saw an opportunity for resurrection, as he so often does.

I wish I had a specific story of a dramatic conversation on the top of a mountain, or of a student finally opening up to me over coffee on the porch, but to tell the truth, the whole weekend was just a blur of fun. Our rag-tag band of three students, two chaperones, and myself had the best time together, despite my hard-headed assumption that there was no way that could happen.

We had dance parties while making breakfast at 10:30am. We sat around for longer than planned and talked about stories in the Bible. We went on a “hike” in 30-degree weather. We laughed. We made inside jokes that lasted well beyond the weekend. We enjoyed the slower pace of a weekend free from phones and basketball games. We talked about boys. We prayed together.

What I thought was surely dead, God resurrected. He humbled me to see that he works best with misfits and dead-end streets. He brought death to my idea of a “successful” retreat and revealed that life and joy are found when I surrender my agenda to his. He turned a weekend I was dreading into a weekend I was sad to see end.

 

Please see also our featured podcast, “Little Easters” with Robert Row.

Rebecca serves as the Associate Director of Young Adult Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, as well as the Ministry Development Coordinator for Rooted. She is a graduate of Furman University and recently completed her Master’s in Theology at Beeson Divinity School. As a former youth minister, she is passionate about teens knowing and loving Jesus. She is happiest on a porch swing, in a boat, or on the dance floor.

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