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|Cleaver and Conundrums - Why I Don’t Do Women’s Retreats|
Oh, joy. 'Tis the season for spring women's retreats. These annual events are staples on many calendars. But not mine. Here are some reasons why:
In my experience, women’s retreats (as well as most “women’s ministry”) usually serve up the Christian version of lite beer: half the calories with half the taste. They invariably focus on that infamous, overworked icon, The Proverbs 31 Woman or its kissing cousin, Created to be His Helpmeet. The result: a bland, flavorless brew seasoned with too little (or sloppy) theology, bare-bones Bible, and a douse of June Cleaver that could choke a mule. (Pardon the culinary metaphor. It seemed to fit.)
The average women’s retreat doesn’t engage my mind, which gravitates more toward academic and scholarly pursuits. (Granted, these aren’t everyone’s cup of sunshine, but a few occasional rays would be nice.) I’ve been told that I think more like a man than a woman. I haven’t yet decided whether that’s a compliment or something else. Whatever it is, it rarely puts in an appearance at the retreats I’ve attended.
An over-emphasis on emotions. There’s nothing wrong with emotions, but my emotions aren’t the sum total of who I am in Christ. I crave exegetical accuracy, depth and relevance, careful research, scholarship, razor-sharp hermeneutics and the application of critical thinking and analytical skills in theology, history, science, literature, fine arts, economics, social science, and philosophy. (Is there a place for those elephantine doses of emotional, crying jag, touchy-feely, Kleenex-clutching retreat sessions? I suppose. I just don’t see why we should begin and end there – or why they’re sometimes deemed the sole point of connection between women.)
Weekend themes of “getting them grounded in the Word” and “growing in Jesus” and such. Nothing wrong with that, but implicit in these themes is the assumption that “women of the Word” is the exclusive territory of the retreat planners who will now teach the rest of us what we’re missing.
Retreats billed as “ya’ll come” that focus on young married women with kids. I’m within spitting distance of age 50. I also have an eight-year old. The conundrum: I’m apparently too long in the tooth to qualify as a “young married,” but haven’t sprouted enough gray hair to qualify as a Titus 2 “older woman.” Betwixt and between. Retreats don’t seem to know what to do with women like me.
I understand the need to make the best use of limited time, but I find the jam-packed, frenetic pace of many retreats to be overwhelming and exhausting. As an introvert, I need time to decompress and process between sessions. I also don’t see the point in departing a “retreat” feeling more fatigued and depleted than I did when I arrived!
The atmosphere at some of these shindigs is a Xerox copy of a weekend-long Tupperware party. Nothing against Tupperware per se, but frankly, I have better things to do with my time. I also don’t want to get stuck in a cabin (again) with a bunch of slumber party retros who want to stay up all night and giggle. When I turn in for the night I want to turn in for the night, not regress back to junior high. Boil and bubble, toil and trouble, grump, grump, grump!)
Logistics. Since my husband works weekends, I have to make special arrangements for child care in order to attend a weekend event. This doesn’t always work out. It’s nobody’s fault – just a fact of life.
My husband isn’t invited. This may sound oxy-moronish as in, “Hello? It’s a women’s retreat. No testosterone allowed.” However, as I said, my husband works most weekends and on the rare occasions when he gets a Saturday off, I want to spend the day with him.
Sinking to “the lowest common denominator.” I dislike retreats that revolve around themes such as Healing the Broken-Hearted, Restoring Your Wounded Soul, etc.. IMHO, these areas of one’s life are best kept private unless I choose otherwise. I balk at artificial attempts to put them on public parade.
The last time I was “invited” to a women’s retreat (2006), I gingerly accepted against my better judgment. Mistake! The person who offered to pay my way and watch my kids for the weekend extended the invitation in such a way that I felt trapped into her plans and agenda, bereft of a gracious way to decline without igniting some Hindenburgish fall-out (long, boring story).
Whether I choose to attend a women’s retreat or not – for whatever reason – is my decision. I don’t need to justify it to other women, nor do I need to defend my choice to those who insinuate — sometimes with the subtlety of a freight train – that if I was “as spiritual as they are,” I’d make retreat an annual event, too. (My personal favorite was the woman who suggested I’d be “letting Satan rob you of a blessing” if I don’t attend the next retreat) Now I just smile and say, “No thank you.”
The “women’s ministries/retreat” paradigm that never gets beyond telling me how I can better submit, pray for my husband and children, have a quiet time, or how you, too, can be a better Suzy Homemaker, Betty Crocker and Martha Stewart. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, but do we have to grind that gear forever? Can we move on? These focuses represent only a small fraction of the incredibly intricate, mysterious, and glorious complexities of Christian womanhood that are rarely discussed, explored, or applied.
1. June Cleaver and The Proverbs 31 woman are not synonymous.
2. Trying to manipulate emotions to generate a contrived “catharsis” is usually invasive and often insulting.
3. Trust my best judgment instead of someone else’s – no matter how well-intentioned. “No” is a perfectly valid response. Use it.
4. Bring a book. If nothing on the retreat docket interests me, a good book will.
5. Avoid going to these events solo if at all possible. There’s nothing like showing up at a women’s retreat alone when everyone else is “buddied up.”
6. I am no less a Christian woman because I choose not to attend women’s retreats than are those who do. Neither my faith nor my walk with Christ is validated by doing or not doing something just because “everyone else is doing it.”
Finally, retreat planning isn’t for the fainthearted. It’s not easy planning a retreat “menu” that will nourish a group with such diverse backgrounds, educations, interests, ages, experiences, and perspectives. Kudos to those hardy souls who undertake this Herculean task. Given that, why not spice up the standard “retreat recipe” with some “fresh ingredients”?
Instead of spooning out an anemic, warmed-over stew of Ten Steps to June Cleaverdom, How to Be a Better Wife, Mother, and Haus Frau, or Help-meeting 101, how about a more filling version that starts with a question? (Aw heck, why not several?) Like, “What IS a woman?” Not what does she do, but who is she? Where’s her heart? What’s her design? Why did God create Eve? How has God revealed Himself by creating ishshah, Woman, and what can we learn from Him about How, What, Why, When, Where, and Who we are in Christ?
With a “menu” like that on a retreat calendar, I just may dive in for for another bite!