I had reached that critical moment when it was absolutely imperative that I get away. You know the feeling. It’s that moment when various elements of your personal and professional lives collide in a perfect storm of chaos, and at the end of each day you collapse on the bed only to wake in a panic and jump right back in it again. It is typically in these seasons that we neglect the very things that would make us feel more energized and healthy. Our own mental, physical and spiritual health is shoved to the backburner so as to make more time to do.
This was me a few months ago. I decided I could indeed do all the things while ignoring all the feels. I was operating at an unhealthy level of busy, and when I did finally have free time, it was wasted scrolling through Facebook, silently screaming at every post. My mental and emotional health had flown out the window quite some time ago. It wasn’t until my body began succumbing to every illness in existence that I realized my physical being was literally revolting against my lack of self-care.
Finally I admitted that I seriously needed a DIY retreat. I found some blank space in my calendar after Christmas and booked a room at a quiet winter beach. Then, I set off on a Pinterest journey to find every possible self-care activity in order to create the perfect retreat. I would come back rejuvenated, refreshed, recharged, relaxed—basically all the “re-“ words would apply to me as I zenfully returned to Northern Virginia, and I would be healed. I couldn’t wait.
The time came. After checking into my hotel, I did the thing everyone tells you to do but no one actually does: I turned off my phone and deleted social media apps from my iPad. Cold turkey. The first day was hard. With no distractions, I had to face myself, and there was a lot of ugly crying. However, after I got over the initial hump, I settled into a routine of praying, eating, journaling, practicing yoga, running and watching sunrises and sunsets. I drank tea, lit candles and sat in silence for hours. I studied the Bible and read devotions. I even meditated with a new app and wasn’t completely terrible at it. Basically, I spent time being instead of doing. And it worked.
God and I had some seriously cool moments. We laughed (dude’s got jokes) and talked, and God even spoke some hard truths. I realized how lonely it had been without God during those months when I’d shut him out. Sadly I even had to admit that maybe I’d been intentionally staying busy because I didn’t want to hear what God had to say. It was terrible. It was wonderful. The retreat was working.
Then the snow reports came. This typically snow-proof coastal town was expecting 6-9 inches on my Saturday travel day, and I couldn’t risk missing worship the next day. It was quite jarring to end my retreat early, but I begrudgingly packed up and convinced myself I could build my spiritual oasis at home. As I drove to Virginia, I was excited to re-enter my world as a new “re-“ woman, refreshed and ready to tackle life.
Then reality set in. Part of my journey included I-495, which meant traffic was at a standstill. I felt my pulse quicken. I turned my phone back on. Dozens of emails popped up. I’ve only been gone three days. How? Twenty-five Facebook notifications and Snapchats popped up on my screen. I caught a glimpse of the news. My anxiety rose as I realized the real world was simply not conducive to my new retreat lifestyle.
How am I supposed to hold onto the good feels I’d found on the retreat when life is still happening? There will always be traffic, emails will always flood my inbox, work will always need to be done, family will always need to be tended to and stress will always be readily available.
I decided to revisit this notion of “self-care” that I’d been reading about. This is a term that is thrown around so often now that I tend to roll my eyes when I hear it. At first, I assumed this was merely justification for endless “treat yo’self” days. However, the more I read, the more I realized that self-care is not simply self-indulgence. It is about taking inventory of your life and intentionally spending time to nurture your whole self, to include your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual needs. As a codependent, this feels incredibly unnatural, but I think it might just be the key to my salvation.
In order to maintain my retreat mindset, I took inventory of which activities helped restore my soul. What did I do while away that I could incorporate into my daily routine, and where would I find the time? I quickly realized that morning might be the best option, which is ironic considering I’m not exactly a ball of sunshine at that time of day. Typically I roll around hitting the snooze button and scrolling Facebook before standing bleary-eyed in the shower for way too long. Why not restructure my morning?
My phone has been a major source of toxic procrastination, so I moved it and my alarm across the room. I’m now rising early enough to sip a cup of tea while the world awakens, which is magical. Devotions, meditations and prayer are becoming a part of my daily routine, and physical exercise is being prioritized in my schedule. I’m lighting candles and looking into ways I can include outdoor time. Each day I’m making the conscious decision to nurture my relationship with God and myself.
So here we are, after the retreat, when I am supposed to be fully restored. Did it work? Not entirely. But that’s why God didn’t tell us to take a Sabbath once or twice a year. We are meant to incorporate rest and quiet moments with God into our lives every week. Have there been days when I grumbled nasty things at my alarm clock? Sure. However, I can definitely say that my overall mental and spiritual health is improving, which means that consequently every aspect of my life is improving. Honor the Sabbath. Hmm…maybe, just maybe God knows what he’s talking about after all.