Reflections on our summer working retreat
We arrived at the mountain house one by one—toting easels, cameras, and big bottles of wine. There were hugs, laughter, and ecstatic greetings thrown around the room with each new car that pulled into the driveway, all of us celebrating like the Father of the Prodigal Son.
Lisle, Lauren, Hannah and I have communicated almost every single day for the last nine months. Their names fill my inbox and pop up on my text screen with even more frequency than texts from my mom, which is saying something. However, prior to July, all four of us had never stood in the same room.
Thus, our July retreat was not just a strategy meeting, or a work trip, it was a coming home of sorts.
It was each of us figuring out who we are in this group, what we can give, and how we can support one another. It was realizing that you can deeply love someone before you meet them in person, and just how limited relationships existing solely through technology are. However, maybe more than anything, it was discernment: each of us discovering a new layer of our call, through late nights of creative brainstorming, tables covered in sketch books, and honest conversations.
We found ourselves at home, finally standing in the same room, in a tiny house, in a tiny mountain town; and for a moment, it was perfect. For a moment, it was exactly where I was supposed to be. For a moment, we were all at the table, and my heart could not help but dance.
That first night we stayed up for hours reading through the Advent lectionary texts, highlighting phrases that inspired us, imagining and re-imagining how we could best support churches interested in creative worship. We planned out Advent resources, daydreamed about the future, and grappled with our authority to create. We got sidetracked by stories of fear, lost in intricate details, and swept up—time and time again—with the ancient scriptures laid out before us. It was some of the best moments of the retreat, and I could tell, in my bones, that the Spirit was there.
However, like any human story, those moments where you could swear the Spirit of God has settled on the mountain top in a cloud and is calling out to you, are moments of rare clarity. Those are the moments where your heart dances, but those moments are fast and fleeting.
For us, that fleeting moment of joy and clarity came to an end when we began working collaboratively on a single project. As a team, we always brainstorm and vision together. However, we typically create individually. Thus, working collaboratively was a change, and y’all, I have to tell you, it was not easy.
I would love to say that the entire trip was filled with nothing but spiritual highs, good wine, and infectious joy, but that would not make this a story about humans. In reality, amidst those late-night creative highs, meaningful conversations, and bible studies, our work retreat was also full of stressful moments, incredible exhaustion, and weary tension.
We hiked a mountain at 5 am, in cold rain, and nearly froze to death for the sake of the art. The introverted among us needed breaks. The organized among us needed a plan, and the late among us, well, ran late. We worked through meals, neglected sleep and every ounce of self care, due to poor communication. We carried our egos too closely to the surface, grappled with disappointment, failed to see the hurt on one another’s faces, and had to find the strength within us to say, “Stop, I need to talk.”
To ask for hard conversation was vulnerable and messy. We risked hurting one another, which was terrifying in our first few days standing in the same room. Yet we also knew that if we could not talk about the conflict at-hand, the only alternative was for the group to become toxic, which would unravel the call we were trying to lean into.
For hours, we unpacked expectations, working styles, and roles in the group. We confessed and apologized for overstepping one another, and for forgetting to see one another. We affirmed the gifts in each other, and clarified how we could support and nurture the needs of the team. We talked about timing, planning, organization, and self care. We read Myers Briggs personality tests and talked about the Enneagram. And when we were done, I could have danced, for I could tell in my bones that the Spirit was there.
I should have known that gathering around the table was the answer. However, I was afraid to gather there with heavy hearts so different from the joy of our first night. I should have known, but I forgot, so I’m telling you now: Gathering together with hearts wide open was the best thing we did that weekend.
Sure, we planned advent resources, and I watched my peers make some truly stunning art. However, I still believe that the best thing we did that weekend was stand at the table with our broken egos on our sleeve, and invite the mess in. For in that moment, God was there.
I will forget that God was there. But I imagine that, when I do forget, one of the three women who took the time to gather around the table with me and confess to the ways in which we had hurt one another will remind me.
Thus, whether you are collaborating in your church home or your family's home, feel free to take a lesson from the heartaches of this novice group that will forever and always be trying to love one another a little better:
Collaboration is messy. Five AM hikes are a bad idea (just in general).
God is there, God has been there, God will be there, and God is calling your name from the mountain top.
And when you risk vulnerability to gather at the table, opening up your heart to one another, not only is God there, but God dances like the prodigal Son came home.
I am telling you, I felt it in my bones.
In the best way, we were home.