I will admit that I was a bit skeptical going into the Mennonite Women’s retreat this past Friday evening. In my experience, women’s retreats are kind of like that little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead. You remember the rhyme? When she was good, she was very very good; but when she was bad, she was horrid.
I am happy to report that this retreat, put on by Laurelville and Mennonite Women USA, was far from horrid. There was passionate preaching by Meghan Good. Authentic worship leading by Tonya Keim Bartel. So many women shared their gifts to create this retreat. I thank each of them.
Our focus for the weekend was the book of Hosea. We were told over and over again that God loves us passionately. That God pursues us. That we are God’s beloved and that God longs to be our beloved. This is a good, holy, important message. I expect to carry it with me. I expect it to give me hope and strength and renewed passion for life and ministry.
Yet even beyond this message, what I rejoiced in this weekend was the company of women. The company of faithful, gifted, prayerful women.
Our supposedly enlightened culture constantly pushes women to see ourselves as being in competition with other women. From beauty pageants and dating games to “Good Housekeeping” and super mom blogs. We’re supposed to be the most beautiful. Or the best mom. Or the most organized. Or at least the funniest. I read recently that most teenage girls start to feel depressed and inferior within about three minutes of reading a “beauty” magazine. I imagine it’s the same for grown women.
What a privilege to be in a group of women for an entire weekend and not feel that I was in competition with anyone for anything. We all sang. We all danced. We all shared wisdom around the table. Most of us made art of one sort or another. And I just kept hearing the word “beautiful.” The singing was beautiful. The dancing was beautiful. The words were beautiful. The art was beautiful. Not because we were a bunch of American Idol contestants or professional artists, but because we knew each other. We knew the inner beauty from which the music, dancing, words, and art flowed.
Throughout the entire weekend, the only comment I even heard about physical appearance was from a lovely older woman with stunning white hair. “I love your auburn hair,” she told me. “My hair used to be that color when I was young.”
Within about 20 minutes of getting home this afternoon, I found myself alone in the house. Everyone has run off in different directions. The dog is not even barking. This quiet house is a gift from God as I transition from “retreat” mode back into “real life” mode. (You retreat-lovers know what I mean.)
In this quiet, God is revealing to me the truth that, while I will not have a retreat setting every weekend, I will have the friendship and prayers of many wonderful women as I continue on the path. And I can choose to surround myself with women (and men, I really like men too) of faith and prayer and love. I can refuse to compete as a writer or mother or preacher. (Beauty competitions have never been my thing anyway.)
I pray that you have a space in your life where you can rest in your belovedness. A space where you are not in competition. A space where you are not expected to be someone besides who God created you to be. If there is a person in your life who lets you be in that space, consider scheduling a lunch date with her (or him).
And may the peace of Christ be with you.