About a year ago, I was interviewing the director of Crieff Hills Community Retreat and Conference Centre, and mentioned that I’d love to attend a retreat for moms with young children at Crieff. His reply? “Well, start planning one!”
And so I did.
“Rest, Renew and Relax” took place on Jan. 14 and 15 at Crieff Hills, a beautiful retreat centre just south of Guelph, owned by the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The expansive property was donated years ago by Col. J.B. Maclean (being the good Presbyterian that he was) of Macleans magazine, and is now used by all sorts of groups, both church and non-church.
“Crieff Hills wants to offer opportunities for people at all stages of their lives to take some time apart in a natural setting,” said Fiona van Wissen, program coordinator, who helped plan the event. “For moms of young children, I see it as a chance to set aside the constant busyness for a short time, to connect with their spiritual life and share experiences with others who understand.”
A small group of women gathered at Crieff and were led by Rev. Kristine O’Brien, minister at Trafalgar Presbyterian Church in Oakville, Ont. Herself the mother of four children, O’Brien blogs at bloomingreverend.com, where she writes about her gardening adventures and on learning to stop and smell the roses.
She was the perfect choice to help us rest and reflect, and to remember that God loves us fully. O’Brien invited us to find our breath; to be in the moment; to take time for God; to realize that we, as mothers especially, need to take time for self-care. She shared the story of Jesus healing the woman who was bleeding (Mark 5), using it as a metaphor for a mom’s life. “It was a wonderful event of healing,” she told us. “It was life-changing for that woman and her family. But something else happened. Jesus felt energy leave him. He loved and he healed, but it cost him something.”
Such is the love and life of a mother. As mothers, particularly in the midst of the craziness of life with young children, we sometimes forget that all the giving we do for other people is, yes, wonderful, but it costs us something in return.
“I have four children who are now teenagers but I remember vividly how much I longed for rest when they were very young,” O’Brien told me. “I knew this retreat would offer women the opportunity to be quiet and listen for God’s voice, give and receive encouragement from one another, and maybe a good night’s sleep!”
O’Brien also reminded us of Ecclesiastes 3 – where there is a time for everything in life, including rest. She had us share with each other why we are so tired; and then spoke to us about keeping Sabbath in a way that fits into our lives. “Sabbath can be observed in all kinds of ways,” she told us. “It could be a half day, an hour, a moment. To observe Sabbath is to have time set aside . . . to intentionally do nothing except inhale.”
She said we have to notice when our lives are out of balance; when we are only exhaling (or expending energy) and not inhaling (resting).
The value of renewal
“I wanted to come to the retreat because I have a toddler and a pre-schooler at home and I needed a break for the sake of my sanity,” said Allie Hyndman, a member of Paris Presbyterian Church in Paris, Ont. “The topic of rest was especially appealing to me.”
“The busy world creates very high standards for mothers,” said O’Brien – and, I would argue, for all of us – “and places little value on replenishment and renewal.”
Wayne Muller’s book Sabbath: Finding rest, renewal and delight in our busy lives was a fitting reference for our weekend, though his message applies to anyone whose life seems hectic and out of balance. “Jesus, for whom anything was possible, did not offer ‘seven secret coping strategies’ to get work done faster, or ‘nine spiritual stress management techniques’ to enhance our effectiveness,” read O’Brien. “Instead, he offered the simple practice of rest as a natural, nourishing and essential companion to our work.”
To help us find this rest, we practiced breathing and praying; we walked the stone labyrinth in the dark; we made finger labyrinths and then sat on our own and slowly traced the lines we had drawn, breathing deeply or repeating a word or phrase or question in our head. We also had time for yoga – led by Amy Donais, a registered yoga teacher trained in the practice of Christian yoga. We enjoyed a movie night, and quiet walks along the trails at Crieff. We also wrote our own morning blessing – something that had meaning to each of us, and could be read each day before leaping into work mode.
“Every parent needs to remember that they themselves are a beloved child of God,” said van Wissen, a message O’Brien reminded us of during worship.
Crieff Hills is planning a similar event in February 2018.
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