When my children were growing up and my days were full with caring for them along with ministry concerns, I would go away by myself on a personal retreat on a regular basis. There I could not only rest and pray or journal, but also step outside the roles of my daily life – wife, mother, daughter, group leader… Most of the time I went north to Monroe, Michigan to stay in a little retreat house set back among woods and fields. I usually spent the first few hours napping, reading, or journaling. I especially loved it when there was no one else in the house so I could wander around the public areas. I loved having the routine of fixing a meal, making a mug of hot tea and eating that meal staring out the glass French doors right outside the kitchen. In the early morning, or at sunset I would sit there and let my eyes take in the broad view of the woods and fields. Often, I had come on retreat because I was troubled by something, or worn out by my responsibilities. If I were to paint a picture of the life I needed a break from, I would paint a picture of someone whose head was perpetually bowed down, eyes cast down, furrowed brow, closed in on myself like a turtle who doesn’t want to come out of his shell!
It wasn’t long when I realized the depth of my need to look up and out of the daily grind! As I looked out the windows – my eyes rested on the woods which were about 200 yards or so away from the house, and I would see the fields surrounding the house in whatever season we were in – snow, or wheat, or grass… bare woods, green pines or snow covered branches. There was something so healing about gazing at the horizon or at anything beyond what was typically right in front of me! And my anxiety over whatever need I had brought on retreat turned into gratitude! I was filled with thanksgiving that there was more to life and me than what was right in front of me.
A very wise man, a CS Lewis scholar at Wheaton college put together a list of resolutions for his students. And one of those resolutions went like this: “At least once a day, I shall open my eyes and ears, and will stare at a tree, a child, a flower or a cloud. I will not try and figure out what they are, but I will be glad that they are.” (my paraphrase!) Many many years ago I prayed with a woman who had struggled with mental and emotional illness most of her life. Her childhood was horrific, and her need for God great. But she couldn’t get out of the funk of always looking inward or downward. She came from Cleveland to see me, and I remember so clearly what happened on one of her visits. We were sitting on my front steps, basking in the warmth of the day, and she told me something tremendous had happened to her since her last visit. She was walking in the park (details fuzzy…) and she saw a bird fly by and rest on a tree branch. She looked up and marveled at the intricacy of its feathers, and beak, and wings… And seeing the “birdness” of that bird actually made a difference in her typical depressive introspection! Now, I’m not saying she no longer struggled or suffered in her pursuit of mental and emotional health. But I am saying that looking up and looking out and actually seeing a part of God’s creation and thanking Him for that lifted her spirit and her mood!
Gratitude makes a difference! This would be a great week to stop in the midst of your daily responsibilities, or anxiety or burn out. And look at, I mean really see, the face of a child, or the squirrel which just leaped for joy outside your window! Gaze at God’s creation for just a few minutes a day, and be grateful for that creation – and I bet it will make a difference in your life!