While I’ve spent some time describing what a retreat looks like, where you unplug from your normal schedule and refocus, I must tell you that flourishing demands more than just quick breaks trout-fishing on the river. If you desire to flourish, you must adopt a flourishing lifestyle, of which rest is simply a part. I think it’s possible to operate and achieve at a high level in this world—whether it’s your job, your schooling or you home life—and yet keep from running into the ground.
The idea of “seasons” comes up often when I talk to leaders and friends. “I’m just in a really busy season, that’s all. It will end soon, and then I’ll get some R-and-R.” I’ve said this before, and I’m sure you have as well. But it’s possible to let the cycle of busy “seasons” define how we live. Here’s what I mean.
A friend of mine once told me about his boss, who also happens to be a very successful businessman. This boss ran the “season-life.” He sprinted from one season to the next. He’d bury himself in work, keep insane hours, make heaps of money, and crash. It wasn’t long, however, until the next season arrived, and off he went.
I call this kind of living Sprint Living. It is not healthy. It isn’t sustainable. It does not promote flourishing.
First of all, life is not a sprint. It’s a marathon…maybe even an ultra-marathon. It demands pace, constant nourishment and refreshment . It demands training and focus. Like any marathon, life will invariably have a few hills to climb and stretches of challenging train. And if you’re hydrated and well trained, you’ll struggle a bit, but you’ll make it through. On the other hand, if you’re not ready, and you’ve been burning all your energy in a sprint, you could cramp up, you could black out, you could fall.
My friend’s boss developed diabetes, and struggles to keep his weight in a healthy place. He’ll take off for a week, and then he’s right back at it. I believe we’re all different—each of us wired differently. But everyone, at some point, needs rest. Everyone needs to remain healthy.
The Sprint Life is a way of life that focuses on the wrong things, and because of that even though it focuses on good things – effectiveness, ROI, achievement – it approaches them from the wrong perspective. The flourishing person goes about it differently, attacking life from the inside out.
So, though quiet times are essential to your overall flourishing, the great need is what I call the Silent Life. I don’t mean you and I walk around as monks. One of my favorite writers, the Apostle Paul, wrote a letter to the church in first century Thessalonica, where he addressed this matter. In it he reminded the people to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with you hands.” Paul encourages people to work and to work hard, but to always remain mindful of the way you approach and go about that work.
I think we can learn something about flourishing from Paul. The Silent Life looks like you and me going hard after our individual calling in life, be they leadership in a company, a school teacher, a pastor, or a student. Whatever work we find worthy of our time, we should do it, and work hard at it. But working hard does not mean we work stupid. We don’t sprint from season to season.
Instead, we take the principles of our silent retreats – those times when we go extreme and unplug from everything all at once— and work them into the everyday rhythms of our life. Put another way, we build rest and reflection into how we live life. We don’t just take breaks when we’re so burnt out that we collapse, we proactively build a life infused with rest and avoid those extremes all together. Maybe this means you ‘rest’ from work each evening by turning off your email notifications after 6pm. Try leaving your phone in the kitchen when you go to bed. Or, perhaps you commit to being present with your family during dinner – no phones, computers or TVs. Perhaps you get up 30 minutes early every morning to sit in the quiet of a sleeping house and reflect upon scripture or pray. There is no right or wrong way to do it, the point is that you have to do it. I’ve often heard pastors preach spiritual discipline by reminding that no one ‘stumbles into holiness.’ Guess what, you aren’t going to magically fall into a healthy rhythm of life. You’ve got to make it happen and keep it as a priority. If you do this over time, I promise you’ll notice a change for the better.
Remember what my friend Tim said, after a few weeks of doing things differently, the anxiety ceased and he entered into a new era for he and his family, a quiet time, a refreshing time, a time that he wants to keep. I believe we’d all benefit from a time of quiet evaluation. What rules our days, our weeks, our years? How fast are we really living? Maybe we don’t even realize how fast we’re going. And that’s exactly why we should seek the silence for a while. In that silence, in our caves, I believe we’ll find our true selves. We’ll remember how precious a walk can be, what the wind sounds like coming over the hills, what the sunrise feels like when viewed from the quiet corners of our cave. And as those things happen we find ourselves in the path of flourishing.
The righteous thrive like a palm tree
and grow like a cedar tree in Lebanon.
Planted in the house of the Lord, they thrive in the courts of our God.
They will still bear fruit in old age, healthy and green.