I had been eyeballing it for a year and a half: the Empty Nest was approaching, and it was coming fast. Our job had been to prepare our three kids with the character and tools necessary to step out on their own…and all things considered we were thrilled with the results. Still, I found that as that last high school graduation drew close, I felt strangely unsettled. As it turned out, for good reason.
Just weeks into the newfound house-of-two, Kellie and I were on each other’s last nerve. Seemed like we couldn’t turn around but for creating some new tension. What the heck is going on? I wondered. We have had a solid relationship, intentionally cultivated and protected over many years…but now I was actually a little scared.
My discomfort was not eased when Kellie plopped down one day and said, “What would you think about taking an extended retreat? Like for a month. By yourself.” I tensed as resistance rose up hard and fast. She continued in a conciliatory tone, “You could do the writing you’ve been wanting to do. And I think it might be good for us to both have some alone time with God.” Wow, things must be worse than I thought. She can’t wait to get rid of me!
A couple days later, though, my perspective had changed. I actually began to think it might be a good idea. Sabbaticals have always been transformational experiences for me…and I felt due for a significant encounter. Plus I really was eager to find space to write again; that fire in my belly had lit anew. So I agreed: if a retreat cottage were available, I would go.
It was available.
So I spent the better part of September alone in a small cabin in the mountains of Tennessee, nestled into a cozy valley outside of Roan Mountain. Basically, you can’t do something like this without being changed in profound ways…and I’ve been sharing with you some of those ways in these posts. So here’s another transformational outcome of personal retreats: new capacity for relational connection.
After almost 25 years of marriage, Kellie and I are entering into a new season of life, and my prayer on retreat was that God would give us a quality of love and affection and enjoyment for this leg of the journey that felt brand new! In short, that prayer has been answered. Already.
When Kellie came out to join me for that last week in Tennessee, we saw each other with fresh eyes. And in the weeks since we have continued to actively notice and affirm all that is good and beautiful in one another. We’re not perfect at it, of course, but without question it is fundamentally different and awesome…and the path to this transformation was, surprise, solitude.
Ready for fresh connection in your own vital relationships? I hope so. It’s a little counterintuitive to build a relationship by getting alone—but our hearts get crusty and distracted over time, and it usually takes great love or great suffering to soften us up again. Solitude is your chance to reengage The Great Love and let it have its redemptive work inside. Where? When? How long? You decide…but if you’re looking for relational renewal, here’s your chance!