Monday 1 October 2012

Learning to Love the Bride

The baby and I spent the weekend at a Christian women's retreat.

Baby Girl, you spent the weekend at a Christian women's retreat with your mama.

By the time the weekend arrived, I was in complete panic mode. What had I been thinking when I signed up for this? My introverted side wanted to know how I was going to survive a whole weekend surrounded by 50 other women, most of whom I had never even met before. My cynical side wanted to know how I was going to survive a whole weekend at a Christian women's retreat. I mean, come on.

But I'd already registered, back when I was nine months pregnant and a weekend away sounded really appealing. Clearly pregnancy messes with my judgement.

Baby Girl, don't grow up to be like your mama. Don't let bitterness and cynicism
take root in your heart. It's so very hard to get rid of, Baby Girl. I pray that when
you grow up, the idea of a weekend away with sisters in Christ would be a balm to
your soul, not a cause to roll your eyes in judgement before you've even arrived.

Three of us moms with babes were going down together, so we piled into the van and drove for two hours. The three babies were content to sleep most of the way (the first miracle of the weekend). We arrived at the camp and immediately all of my fears about a Christian women's retreat were confirmed.

Two women saw each other, squealed, and then hugged.

I know, right??

I briefly considered demanding the keys to the van so I could drive myself straight back home, but I bravely decided to soldier on. You may all pat me on the back now. I stayed despite the hugging. I'm pretty much amazing.

Baby Girl, keep your soft heart. Don't become hard-hearted like your mama.
Hug others freely and joyfully, allowing them to bless you even as you bless
them with the same.

After signing in, claiming our rooms, and putting our things in order, we headed to the main hall for the first session. It started at 7:30pm and lasted for two hours. 7:30 is when I start checking out for the evening. The dishes are done, the husband is getting the boys ready for bed, and I'm preparing to settle in for a nice long evening of not being touched or talked to at all. Clearly something was wrong with these people. Probably some sort of cult. It's the only explanation for being expected to have any sort of brain left at that time of night.

But again I soldiered on. More pats on the back, please. Thank you.

Baby girl, it was good to spend those two hours with you in my arms.
You are unbelievably precious.

And then came the ice-breakers. I think the people who created the idea of ice-breakers did it for the sole purpose of torturing those who, like me, attempt to turn invisible as soon as the ice-breaker begins. "Alright, ladies! Now find someone you don't know and tell them, 'you look fun, where ya from?!' Stand up now, go on, I'll give you five minutes!" There was precisely zero chance that I was going to say this. I put on my best oh-look-baby-in-my-arms-what-can-I-do face and clutched her like a lifeline.

I breathed a sigh of relief when the session was opened with the assurance that we would not be subjected to any emotional manipulation this weekend. Maybe there was hope for this retreat after all!


Go ahead. Watch it. Grab the tissue box. I'll wait.


That's right. No emotional manipulation my rear end.

I was crying by the time the video was over. I was perhaps rescued from all-out bawling because I've watched it before, so I knew what to expect right from the beginning. A quick glance around the room confirmed that this was not the case for the other women in the room, most of whom were only one sappy Hallmark commercial away from full-out sobbing.

Baby Girl, I pray the stories of God's mercy and love will always touch your heart
and bring tears of gratitude and joy to your eyes.

And yet they also played this song...

...and it was the first thing that resonated with me all evening. Me, the jaded. Me, the bitter. Me, the cynical. Me, the one who grew up in the church and saw all the show and hated it. I have seen too much and my deepest hurts were formed there and my heart has been broken over and over and over and how can I not hate it all?

Baby Girl, I pray that when you think of Christ's beautiful Bride and your time spent 
fellowshipping with her, it is cause for you to smile. Forgive Her imperfections,
for She is only human, broken, just as each of Her members are.

The session ended and we sang songs of worship. My initial reaction was to scoff at the usual praise choruses, each one bringing back memories of summers at Bible camp. Praise choruses. Give me my hymns. Depth, reverence, more than seven words, all that good stuff.

But secretly - very very secretly, and I'll never admit it so don't even ask me - I loved it. The simple choruses, the voices of all those women blending together, the whole thing. I loved it.

Sing, Baby Girl. Sing from your heart, praise your God. Don't scoff at the ways in
which others chose to worship. Join them instead, and be blessed in doing so.

I left the session that night with cheeks sore from smiling. Not happy-smiling, but polite nice-to-meet-you-smiling, yes-she's-a-good-baby-smiling, I'm-from-such-and-such-church-smiling.

Those women that I met, Baby Girl? They were some of the nicest, kindest people
I've ever had the pleasure of talking with. Most people are good-hearted if you just
give them a chance.

It was a relief to spend a quiet evening talking with only a few other women, and an even greater relief to have a room of my own to go to afterwards. I sat in the silence and wrote down my thoughts until my eyes demanded that I give in to sleep.

I woke the next morning determined to give this thing a real chance. What can I say? Those women won me over. I wish I could tell you I made it through the day without rolling my eyes - but come on, scrapbooking? Really? And flowers and butterflies and candles and could we possibly be any more girlie?

Embrace the beautiful, Baby Girl. God created the beautiful things and the soft
things and the gentle things just as surely as He created the grand and majestic.

But then I watched, and I saw sincere love. I listened, and I heard gentle truths. These sisters of mine, they were beautiful, and yet I had come determined to hold them at a distance as I preemptively assumed the worst.

I came this weekend expecting fluff and superficiality. I left, humbled, with all the lessons I had learned.

I learned a lot about not judging other women before I'd even talked with them.
I learned that even though I extend grace to many, I still hesitate to do so when it comes to the Bride of Christ.
I learned that when I entered into a covenant with God, I was also entering into a covenant with the Body of Christ.
I learned that when viewed through the lens of cynicism, anything can be cause for scoffing, eye rolling, and accusations of insincerity.
I learned that everyone has a different way of expressing love and joy, and no one way is more valuable or more correct than the others.
I learned that it is best to love freely and to love well.
I learned that I have a voice and I can best use it to bless others and to bring glory to God.

Give others a chance. Assume the best in everyone you meet. Extend grace. Love
freely. Love well. Find your voice and use it to bless others and to bring glory to
God. Embrace all the beautiful ways we can express joy, hope, love, worship,
and all the rest. Love the imperfect Bride of Christ.

And slowly - so painfully slowly - I am learning to let go of bitterness and love the Church.


  1. this may be my favorite entry you've ever written. :)


  2. Thank you for writing this. Just thank you.

  3. You are a beautiful writer.

  4. How very sweet you are. I'm glad you have reached that place in your life where you will even step foot in a christian women's retreat. I'm still not touching one with a 10 foot pole =) Maybe one day i can learn to stop rolling my eyes and learn to do ice breakers and girly crafts with a legitimate smile on my face. I'm happy to know that it's possible to make progress!

  5. Oh wow. If I had an infant and ended up at a retreat, your reactions closely resemble what, I suspect, would be my own...right down to feeling humbled at the end. I feel like an alien from another planet in settings like the one you described... Frankly, I fear those women: I feel so unlike them, weird with my bookish introversion and sarcastic sense of humor. Every moment is perceived by Damaged-Me as a new possibility to be ridiculed and rejected... and so acceptance and embrace seem to come in spite of themselves. Thank you for your vulnerable and moving story. You gifted your Baby Girl with your prayers and us with your lessons. Blessings!

  6. awe... this really resonated with me... because I have the same cynical thoughts at events such as these... partly because I know that my introverted self is ALWAYS on the outside looking in....

    But I'm soooo glad you had a great time....

    And just so you know.. I'm going to SQUEAL BIG TIME and give you the biggest hug of your life, when and if our paths cross again...... just so you know.....

    Trace xx

    1. Trace, for you, squealing and hugs are ALWAYS allowed. I look forward to a time when I get to see you again (it's going to happen, I can feel it!).

  7. Thank you for this.
    I discovered your blog from a friend's re-post of your study on the Rod verses in Proverbs. And I realize it's a bit weird, but I just want to tell you that I love you, like a spiritual soul mate. The Holy Spirit speaks through you down to the darkest, most cynical, sarcastic corner of my heart. So again, thank you for your transparency.

    1. Lacey, that means so much to me to hear. Thank you for taking the time to say that.

  8. Wow, I just found you through Deeper Story, and I'm so glad I have. I went to a women's retreat last year when my little girl was not quite two years old. I left her at home with Daddy and went all but kicking and screaming (not separation anxiety, but fear of estrogen overdose). I don't make bows. I don't scrapbook. I wear a lot of black. I am deep, do you hear me?! Ha. It was a wonderful experience as well. Good for you sticking to the commitment and going. We find healing and depth in the diversity of God's family. And I've found a new blogger to read!

  9. Thank you - I've been there - seems like yesterday. Really relating to your words. God bless you.
    Found you via That Mom.
    Susan T