Way back in March, when fear of COVID-19 was increasing by the day, everything began shutting down, closing up, and getting cancelled. One of those of those unfortunate cancellations was my youth group’s Luke 18 retreat. We had been planning for this retreat for months and were only a week away from the kickoff. However, we simply couldn’t justify allowing the retreat to take place as complete lockdown and quarantine became inevitable. And so we made the call to cancel, or at least postpone, Luke 18.
As much as I hate to admit it, I wasn’t all that upset it was cancelled. At that moment in time I was resigned to the fact that things were going to be shut down for the foreseeable future. I didn’t want to take any chances and potentially have one of our teens get infected.
Over the next couple months, as things gradually began to open up, there began to be talks of rescheduling Luke 18 for a weekend in the summer. By then I was sick of virtual meetings and looking at people through screens. The thought of having a retreat, in person, would be a breathe of fresh air. Or at least it should have been. The reality is that when we began discussing the possibility of Luke 18 happening in June I wasn’t feeling very invested. My concern was no longer centered around COVID-19, although that was certainly at the forefront of our discussions and planning. No, I just simply did not have that same enthusiasm or anticipation that I typically feel leading into a retreat.
My life has been somewhat tumultuous over the last month or so. In several ways I feel like I have taken some major steps back in life, completely throwing off the flow of my day to day life. On top of that, I was heading into the most stressful time of year in regards to my work. As summer camp neared my stress and anxiety levels rose, especially over the last two weeks. Frankly speaking, the last thing on my mind was a retreat.
Seemingly out of nowhere it was retreat day. Normally when I wake up on retreat days I feel a wave of excitement, eager to skip straight ahead to the retreat. On this day, however, I woke up at 5:00am with a stress headache as I thought about all the work I had ahead of me that day. I had hastily packed the night before, just throwing clothes in without really thinking. I packed so quickly that I forgot my phone charger at home.
Throughout the day I didn’t really allow myself to think about the retreat, as I was more focused on getting work done. It was 6:00pm by the time I finally left work and began my trek to Camp Trinity in New Haven, Missouri. It was only then on my drive that it hit me that I was actually on my way to a retreat. I had been feeling somewhat detached from youth group over the last several weeks. I attribute that primarily to the fact that we’ve been meeting virtually until very recently. Not only that, but as I mentioned, my life has been somewhat chaotic to the point where my priorities have been all over the place. I’ve been striving to find balance but haven’t felt like I’ve even had time to work on that balance. That was about to change.
I was the last to arrive. Most other people had been there for a couple hours at least to get everything set up and go over the weekend. It had dawned on me on my drive that I literally had no clue what to expect this weekend. I knew the gist of it – the theme was still Enough, a number of our teens were going to be giving witnesses, and that at some point people were going to jump in the lake – but that’s about it. This retreat is for 7th and 8th graders to help prepare them for Confirmation. Confirmation, had already taken place. On this retreat there is also what’s called the “Cori Team”, which consists of freshman and sophomores. Their role is to be the behind the scenes and unseen by the Lukers all weekend. Essentially, we have our own little “mini retreat” with the Cori Team. That is usually what I help lead. With the quick turnaround and rescheduling we did away with the usual plan for Cori Team. That meant I didn’t really have a defined role for this particular retreat. So as I said, I had no idea what to expect.
I was exhausted when I arrived, beaten down by the busyness and stress of the week that was. When I met up with the teens and other adult leaders I was immediately greeted with a burst of cheery hellos and enthusiastic waves. Any and all doubts I had about being there immediately vanished. My exhaustion was replaced by exhilaration. I was in my favorite place on Earth surrounded by people I love. I was in the right place.
Before long we were kicking off the retreat. I felt like I was in this weird in-between. As I said, I typically have a very defined role on this retreat. Now I was seemingly without a home or place. But that was perfect. You see, with the way my job is right now I have to always be “on”. By that I mean I’m the one that has to make decisions and ensure that things run smoothly. It’s on me to keep things on schedule, resolve any issues, and be on my game at all times. This weekend, however, I had an opportunity to simply take a backseat and be present. I had a chance to catch up with people I literally hadn’t seen in months and begin building new relationships with people I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to.
Is there a better feeling than knowing when you’re in your element? Like you know you are doing what God has called you to do? That’s what I felt this weekend. All of the disconnect I had been feeling vanished. I didn’t have an ounce of stress throughout the entire weekend. I realized how lucky, blessed, and fortunate I was to be doing what I was doing. I was ashamed to think there was a time I would have been perfectly okay with this retreat not even happening.
In my new undefined role I took advantage of the opportunity to sit back and observe God’s love at work. I witnessed new friendships form and blossom. I observed sincere acts of compassion, caring, and selflessness. I got to listen as teens opened up their hearts as they shared their stories of struggle, perseverance, and overcoming. Little moments I may have missed before were now the highlights of the retreat for me.
One of those little moments was during the Hurting and Making Up talks. Two of our teens were the embodiment of vulnerability as they poured out their hearts and souls and shared their stories of pain and hurt. Given the circumstances in light of COVID-19 we had these talks outside at an outdoor amphitheater, which we wouldn’t have typically done. During their talks it began to rain. Not so much that we had to relocate, but enough that we were well aware. Then, as the talks continued, the rain ceased and gave way to clear skies. You can try and tell me that wasn’t God speaking to us. I won’t believe you. The rain perfectly exemplified the pain and suffering we endure in our lives and the tears that come as a result. But when we are able to forgive and let go of the pain, the rain is replaced by peacefulness and bliss.
The pride I felt for the teens this weekend is indescribable. I’m honestly embarrassed with how easily I stray and fall in my faith, especially when I’m faced with adversity. There are many people in my life that help me get back on track, but these amazing teens never fail to remind of how valued I am and how worthy of God’s love I am. I mentioned earlier that the theme for this retreat was Enough. It couldn’t have been more fitting. Not only have I struggled in the past with not feeling like I’m enough, but that’s especially relevant in recent months. I’ve been constantly questioning whether or not I’m good enough for my job and casting doubts upon myself for my perceived lack of steps forward in life. Beyond all of that, I sometimes find myself questioning if I’m good enough in the eyes of God.
This weekend I was reminded that I am, in fact, enough in the eyes of God. For all my faults and failures, I am immensely and undeniably loved. Though I feel I do an underwhelming job of prioritizing God in my life most of the time, it doesn’t matter to Him. He is always waiting, ready whenever I am to build a relationship.
I know there will be times in the future where I lose sight of my priorities and give in to the stress and chaos of life – I’m not naive to think otherwise. But what I’m hoping to take away from this weekend is that I am surrounded by so many people that are ready and willing to meet me where I am, free from judgement, and still love me as God does. In those moments of hectic uncertainty, sometimes all you need to do is remove yourself so you can truly listen.