A few years ago, I recieved an invitation to preach for a women’s retreat. I love ministering to women. I love the church. And I appreciate any and every opportunity I get to gather with sisters and “get away.” But there was something about this invitation that just really turned my stomach.
Maybe it was because the invitation came to me about 6 weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.
Maybe it was because I just couldn’t get the pictures of those children, our children, so incredibly abandoned by the richest country in the world out of my head.
Maybe it was because I knew that the very paper the invitation was printed on cost so much more than what many are willing to give to make a difference in our communities.
I don’t know. That invitation sickened me like none other. And then it hit me: one of the things that structural evil depends on is for women of faith to be preparing for retreats, spa days, getaways and the like. While we are “retreating” our children are being incredibly abandoned. Our retreats don’t even have to be like the much criticized “mega-fest” conferences of which hopefully, many people are sick and tired and done with.
We retreat in little ways every day.
- Refusing to speak up when a child is being mistreated because “that’s not my child” and “I’m tired.”
- Refusing to speak up when resources for after school programs, child care, pre-K are scare in our communities.
- Refusing to speak up and hold our own community institutions accountable for quality and thoughtfulness, not just just cultural competence.
- Refusing to step in when a young woman is obviously over-tired and overwhelmed and dangerously on the edge of abusing her child.
We have retreated, gone off to focus on “our own.”
Don’t get me wrong. I believe in the power of the retreat. Jesus retreated often. He took a day here, a morning there to get away from the press of the crowd. But his getting away was not about forgetting. He retreated to commune with God and came back with power for the people. When many of us come back from these retreats and conferences, we come back with empty wallets and purses, disembodied praise DVD’s — and no power to do anything that will make the difference for people who are still hungry for a word from God.
So, I did something with that invitation to preach at that women’s retreat that I rarely do if I can help it: I declined. I did my own hair and nails and bought a new pair of pantyhose. And then I spent the weekend just being “present” with the children in my church — affirming those who needed encouragement, buying new toiletries to give to growing young women, providing an ear and a shoulder and transportation home for a grandmother who is raising her children’s children. I also started doing research about how the children and families in my church’s neighborhood experienced life in that neighborhood.
You can’t change what you don’t know…and I want to know.
A Voice in Ramah…not bought; not satisfied and not consoled until all of God’s children, Rachel’s children (Matthew 2:18), my children see abundant, God-filled life.