By Yuna Youn
If there is a retreat that could challenge notions of what a retreat should be, it would be the Center for Faith and Work's "Work and Rest Retreat." Instead of an exotic travel destination, spa, or wellness center that typically serves the role of providing rest, attendees gathered during the last weekend in January for a journey that was simultaneously inward and communal, relaxing, and activating. As our leaders David H. Kim, Amilee Watkins, and Esther Schissler spoke and prayed, they led us through a slowing down and recharging that was, much as Sabbath is, preparation for the work of life, specifically life as a Christian.
From the very start of the retreat at the beautiful Princeton Theological Seminary, we were greeted by dozens of neat rows of goodie bags affixed with our name tags. Each one was carefully packed with handouts, treats, and a booklet thoughtfully outlining the weekend. The retreat schedule was itself a retreat. I would discover over the next two days that we were retreating, in a way, to older practices when there was a ceasing and call to prayer. Morning, noon, and night, together and alone, our only "to do" was to reflect on rest and practice ceasing--stopping everything to consider the One who holds everything together.
We convened in the morning and later in the evening to discuss the readings and devotionals tucked into our bags. In between, we were sent out, commissioned in a way, to seek rest. We were encouraged to prayerfully fill this time and reflect on what rest means. The assignment seemed counterintuitive. The act of seeking is its own work, and seeking the Lord and His rest is our life’s work as Christians. Would this be a restful exercise? Could it be?
We were given the freedom to find out. There was no one class to go to, no one place to be. We were free to take on structured activities like art making, a museum tour, or a worship hour. We could run a trail or take a yoga class. Or we could journal or practice stillness. It was up to us. The only directive our leaders gave was to establish an intentional rhythm, seeking rest that was both active and restorative, rather than instantly gratifying.
I found rest in a completely empty, tall, pristine chapel. I stumbled on it on a walk through the Seminary’s tight cloister of residence halls, stone and glass buildings, and the trees pointing with brittle winter limbs at the sky. In the sacred silence inside the sanctuary, I reflected on the cross. I found a Bible in a pew and opened it to find Job’s painful surrender: "Blessed be the name of the Lord. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
The words were not overtly revelatory, just as the retreat did not, in and of itself, provide the existential rest I was seeking. Rather, the provision of this space, this time, and those words equipped my heart and mind to take in the comfort and strength I found in that moment. I thought of my workplace and all the changes happening. Indeed, the Lord gives and takes away. Blessed be His name.
In a different yet ultimately similar fashion, I found myself in the silence of the Princeton Art Museum and entered His rest through the stillness that comes from marveling at beauty, losing myself in a work and its maker's vision. Creation has a way of making me consider the infinite, and inspires me to create.
Without practicing rest in this way, I don't know if my perception of rest or my capacity to rest would have deepened in the way it did. I wrote the first draft of this article shortly after my experience at the retreat, and since then my approach to work and ability to be present while at work and play has grown. It is still work, just as it was work to make time to attend this retreat, and is work to have faith and perhaps some courage, but it is all that much more special doing so within a community of believers.
It reminds me of Ephesians 6:10-11 where it is written: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God..." It signifies to me, in the fallenness of this world, the importance of not only the battle, but God’s protection. So much of that protection is in the ability to enter His rest.
I left the retreat carrying the experience of those hours with me. When I need to seek rest, I refer to my time there and recall the teachings. In attending this retreat, I became prepared to integrate faith and work in a way that is generative and revitalizing.