Change Makers, Life

Rest, Retreat And Reflection: Discovering Value In Spiritual Formation

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Our culture is not naturally given to the activities of rest, retreat and reflection. To intentionally practice any one of these, let alone all three is to choose a counter cultural approach to our lives.

We value productivity, we exult in being widely networked and we are encouraged to fill our lives with activities, including “spiritual” ones that supposedly add meaning and purpose to our existence. However, it may be that for us to enjoy a robust and meaningful relationship with Jesus practicing the disciplines of rest, retreat and reflection are crucial to that goal.

Jesus himself practiced these disciplines (Mk 1:35, Lk 6:12). Further, we know that they have played a role in spiritual formation throughout church history.

This is not to deny that Christian spirituality is an activist spirituality. Christian faith is a faith that calls its adherents to live lives that are engaged with this world and the needs that are present in it. However, if we fail to take time to reflect on our lives and find God’s presence in them we run the risk of living lives that are not guided by God but by the demands that are continually placed on us. As author and educator Parker Palmer has written, “When our activity is dictated by factors external to our souls, we do not live active lives but reactive ones.”[1]

In order to live a life that is not simply reacting to external factors but is instead living in response to God’s Spirit at work in the world; the practices of rest, retreat and reflection are essential. They become life disciplines that enable us to connect with God and get his perspective on things.

This approach takes seriously Jesus’ teaching in the Gospel of John where he calls his disciples his “friends” (15:15) and promises them inner presence of his Spirit to live within them (Jn 14:16-17), and assures them that the Spirit will reveal things to them (14:26, 16:13). These promises of the Spirit’s ministry should encourage us to embrace his activity in our lives and seek to cultivate his presence.

Taking time to intentionally practice rest, retreat, and reflection are some of the key ways that we do this so that we may know him better and be led by him more fully to be agents of grace in this world.


[1] Parker Palmer, The Active Life, 39.

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Lee Beach is Assistant Professor of Christian Ministry, Garbutt F. Smith Chair of Ministry Formation, Director of Ministry Formation at  McMaster Divinty School in Hamilton, Canada.

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