This time last year, I had just completed my first week-long writing retreat. It was nothing short of heavenly. One week in the North Carolina mountains in autumn, surrounded by other women writers with a spiritual bent and led by a gifted teacher with the uncanny ability to inspire “Fearless Writing” (Peggy Tabor Millin, www.clarityworksonline.com).
But I had to plan long and hard to save up for the retreat and arrange to be away from home for a whole week.
First I scoured my calendar to make sure no other commitments interfered with the retreat dates–neither mine nor my minister-husband’s, nor the children’s, nor the church’s. It worked! A minor miracle, no doubt.
Then the real work began.
I carefully calculated the deposit and final installment for the retreat and balanced it with the checkbook. I tallied my anticipated income for the next few months and found it would just work out. Check!
I called my parents far in advance to see if they could come help my husband with the boys that week. I marked on my calendar intervals at which to remind them of said commitment. Check and check!
I worked upcoming deadlines and coaching calls around the carved-out week and planned accordingly. As the date grew closer, I paid bills online so everything would be up to date before I left. I found a substitute for Kindergarten Sunday School and Zumba, with help from friends. Check, check and check!
I prepared things at home: mounds of laundry done so plenty of long pants and shorts would be available for the capricious fall weather on NC’s coast; several meals made ahead and frozen so my mom wouldn’t have to cook every night; house cleaned, my parents’ room readied with fresh sheets and flowers; boys’ schedule arranged and outlined for ease. Check, check, check and check!
Lastly, I prepared myself: writing projects gathered and prepped for work at the retreat; packing for mountain weather; and lots of snuggles and hugs savored and stored for time apart from the family.
It was a lot of work. And it was all completely, assuredly, absolutely worth it.
I came back from the retreat refreshed, renewed and inspired. I am a better, more grounded mother when I have time away. I am better, more grounded minister when I have time away. And I am simply a better, more grounded me when I have time away.
My family and the people I serve in ministry benefit from a better, more grounded me. So do other drivers, people in the grocery store, at the bank, at church . . . but I digress.
As a minister married to a minister and mom of three active boys, I have discovered that in order to get away, I must be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” (Matt 10:16). I have to make it a priority and plan relentlessly and with great determination. I have to assure and reassure myself and my children.
I have to resist the voices, without and within, that suggest that I am “selfish” for taking this time or that I am neglecting my family when I am away. Several voices I hear like to couch the need for time away as a weakness, sort of that “I never had/have time away so I don’t know why you should get it,” approach. I’ve secretly wanted to reply, “Well, at least I’m not going away for forty days and nights like Jesus,” but haven’t yet.
My kind-hearted husband gets lots of credit and affirmation from others for “letting me have” this time away. Little do they know that my mother coddles him and the boys far more than I do. She keeps the cookie level high and the stress level low. She serves them gravy regularly: on biscuits, on potatoes, with fried chicken, cubed steak and pot roast.
In similar fashion, my father tells family stories that keep the boys and my husband in stitches. He listens attentively to the boys describe their favorite basketball players’ pros and cons, likes and dislikes. He fixes broken window blinds and drawer pulls.
My little brood is not left comfortless when I go away. Far from it.
I need time away. We need time away. This kind of self-care is not indulgent or selfish. It is essential and it is biblical.
Today I am marking next fall’s retreat on the 2015 calendar. Tomorrow, I’ll start planning for that time away. Gratefully.
Alicia Davis Porterfield is a ministry-mom living in Wilmington, NC. A writer, Life Coach and Board Certified chaplain, she is the mom of three boys, ages 9, 11 and 13. In her spare time, she likes to sleep.