A few weeks ago, roughly 80 women from City Church participated in our annual women’s retreat. Even though we were away for just over 24 hours, our time together was rich and refreshing. This year, we had the privilege of hearing from Kim Greene who is a long time friend of City Church and currently serves as a counselor with the Barnabas Center (http://www.barnabasrva.org/) and works with women’s ministry at West End Presbyterian (http://www.wepc.org/).
Kim invited us to consider that Jesus is truly the God who comes to us, the God who knows our struggles, and the God who remains faithful and steadfast. Some of the most profound take-aways from the retreat were the reminder and invitation that God cares for me as I am, where I am, whatever the state of my mind, my body, my heart, or my life. I found new beauty and freedom in familiar passages of the Bible and was given new courage to approach Jesus Christ as my loving rescuer. The theme for our weekend was: Come, Draw Near, and Abide and these simple phrases were expanded and deepened in my heart.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28)
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:9)
Kim’s talks reminded me of things that I know but can easily forget. These simple truths words that we all need to come back to again and again and so I wanted to share some of the insights and resources from the Women’s Retreat with all of you in the hopes that you might be encouraged and remember again our God is always with us and for us.
SESSION 1 | COME
“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world…While we distinguish between pious and godless, good and evil, noble and base, God loves real people without distinction. God has no patience with our dividing the world and humanity according to our standards and imposing ourselves as judges over them... God stands beside the real human beings and the real world against all their accusers.” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Take courage and confess your sin, says Luther, do not try to run away from it, but believe more boldly still. You are a sinner, so be a sinner, and don't try to become what you are not. Yes, and become a sinner again and again every day, and be bold about it. But to whom can such words be addressed, except to those who from the bottom of their hearts make a daily renunciation of sin and of every barrier which hinders them from following Christ, but who nevertheless are troubled by their daily faithlessness and sin?” — Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“She was less inclined to pray than she had been once. In her childhood, when her father, a tall man then and graceful, had stepped in to the pulpit and bowed his head, silence came over the people. He prayed before the commencement of prayer. May the meditations of our hearts be acceptable. It seemed to her that her own prayers never attained to that level of seriousness. They had been desperate from time to time, which was a different thing altogether. Her father told his children to pray for patience, for courage, for kindness, for clarity, for trust, for gratitude. Those prayers will be answered, he said. Others may not be. The Lord knows your needs...
So she prayed, Lord, give me patience. She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord, my brother treats me like a hostile stranger, my father seems to have put me aside, I feel I have no place here in what I thought would be my refuge, I am miserable and bitter at heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse…
But it cost her tears to think her situation might actually be that desolate, so she prayed again for patience, for tact, for understanding—for every virtue that might keep her safe from conflicts that would be sure to leave her wounded, every virtue that might at least help her preserve an appearance of dignity, for heaven’s sake.” — Marilynne Robinson, Home
“See how Jesus puts it:—’Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ He does not first say, ‘Take my yoke upon you;’ but first ‘Come unto me.’ He first gives us rest, and then afterwards we find it; but we begin with coming to him. First Christ, and then his yoke. First Christ, and then rest. Do not ask for rest first, and then say, ‘I will come to Christ afterwards.’ This is an impossible order. Do not even say, ‘I must get a broken heart, and then come to Christ.’ No, come to Christ for a broken heart. I preach…to you a Savior who wants nothing of you, but who is ready to begin with you at the beginning, just where you are, in all your unworthiness and ill desert—in all your depravity and vileness. He is ready to take you up from the mire of the pit wherein you lie, and to look on you with love in all the pollution with which you are disgraced. Come ye, then, and begin with Jesus. It is the necessary order of your coming: first to Christ, and then to his yoke, and to his peace. Let your faith exercise itself, not so much on what you ought to be, or on what you hope to be, as on what Christ is, and on his ability to make you all that your heart pines after.” — Charles Spurgeon
SESSION 2 | DRAW NEAR
“The life of grace is not an effort on our part to achieve a goal we set ourselves. It is a continually renewed attempt simply to believe that Someone else has done all the achieving that is needed and to live in relationship with that Person, whether we achieve or not.” — Robert Farrar Capon
“At the center of the universe, self-giving love is the dynamic currency of the Trinitarian life of God.” — Alvin Plantinga
“Continuous, full, perfect was the love that knit the Father to the Son, and continuous, full, and perfect was the consciousness of abiding in that love, which lay like light upon the spirit of Him that said ‘I delight to do Thy will.’ ‘The Father hath not left Me alone.’… And all that love Christ gives to us as deep, as continuous, as unreserved. Our consciousness of God’s love is meant by Christ to be like His own.” — Alexander Maclaren
“I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” — Luke 12:50
SESSION 3 | ABIDE
“Surrender to God flows out of the experience of love that will never let me go.” — David Benner
“Our fearful, angry and wounded parts of self can never be healed unless they are exposed to divine love. This is why we meet God’s love in our vulnerability and brokenness, not simply in our strength and togetherness….Transformation demands that we meet God in the vulnerability of our sin and shame, rather than retreating to try to get on with our self-improvement projects.” — David Benner
“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…” — Hebrews 5:7-9
“And all the while, it grew colder. One night during evening roll call a platoon somewhere far down the Lagerstrasse began a rhythmic stamping. The sound grew as others picked it up. The guards did not stop us and at last the entire street was marching in place, pounding tattered shoes against the frozen ground, driving circulation back into numb feet and legs. From now on this was the sound of roll call, the stamping of thousands of feet on the long dark street.
And as the cold increased, so did the special temptation of concentration-camp life; the temptation to think only of oneself. It took a thousand cunning forms. I quickly discovered that when I maneuvered our way toward the middle of the roll-call formation we had a little protection from the wind.
I knew this was self-centered: when Betsie and I stood in the center, someone else had to stand on the edge. How easy it was to give it other names! I was acting only for Betsie’s sake. We were in an important ministry and must keep well. It was colder in Poland than in Holland; these Polish women probably were not feeling the chill the way we were.
Selfishness had a life of its own. As I watched Mien’s bag of yeast-compound disappear I began taking it from beneath the straw only after light-out when others would not see and ask for some. Wasn’t Betsie’s health more important? (You see, God, she can do so much for them!...)
And even if it wasn’t right—it wasn’t so very wrong, was it? Not wrong like sadism and murder and the other monstrous evils we saw in Ravensbruck every day. Oh, this was the great ploy of Satan in that kingdom of his: to display such blatant evil that one could almost believe one’s own secret sins didn’t matter.
The cancer spread. The second week in December, every occupant of Barracks 28 was issued an extra blanket. The next day a large group of evacuees arrived from Czechoslovakia. One of them assigned to our platform had no blanket at all and Betsie insisted that we give her one of ours.
So that evening I “lent” her a blanket. But I didn’t “give” it to her. In my heart I held onto the right to that blanket.
Was it a coincidence that joy and power imperceptibly drained from my ministry? My prayers took on a mechanical ring. Even bible reading was dull and lifeless. Betsie tried to take over for me, but her cough made reading aloud impossible.
And so I struggled on with worship and teaching that had ceased to be real. Until one drizzly raw afternoon when just enough light came through the window to read by, I came to Paul’s account of his "thorn in the flesh.” Three times, he said, he had begged God to take away his weakness, whatever it was. And each time God had said, Rely on Me. At last Paul concluded- the words seemed to leap from the page- that his very weakness was something to give thanks for. Because now Paul knew that none of the wonders and miracles which followed his ministry could be due to his own virtues. It was all Christ’s strength, never Paul’s.
And there it was.
The truth blazed like sunlight in the shadows of Barracks 28. The real sin I had been committing was not that of inching toward the center of a platoon because I was cold. The real sin lay in thinking that any power to help and transform came from me. Of course it was not my wholeness, but Christ’s that made the difference.
The short winter day was fading; I could no longer separate the words on the page. And so I closed the Bible and to that group of women clustering close I told the truth about myself- my self-centeredness, my stinginess, my lack of love. That night real joy returned to my worship.” — Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place
BOOKS MENTIONED BY KIM GREENE
The Anatomy of the Soul and The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson
Humility by Andrew Murray
We Would See Jesus by Roy & Revel Hession
The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Ruthless Trust by Brennan Manning
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom