When retreating looks like the best way forward

Hope this week finds you well, my friend.

Sadly, I’m feeling dog-tired. Reading feels like too much effort, let alone writing.

Words blur, eyes see double and hands cramp stiff.

The last few days have been a huge effort just to wake up and keep going with a body that only cries out for rest and sleep, yet is refreshed by neither.

As I’ve struggled, fought and wrought to find words to fix on a page – and come up empty – it has reminded me afresh how much I need Holy Spirit inspiration and enabling to do this at all (Okay, to do Everything). 

Ideas were there. But the execution of them was sticky as treacle, stodgy and heavy with a mind like porridge. 

I’ve thought, prayed and thought some more. The praying yielded better results as always. I sensed God saying, “Just write about how it is and I’ll supply the words”. 

At least He didn’t say, “Do nothing”. Much of life with M.E consists of saying “No” to some good things in order to say “Yes” to the better thing – which is usually more rest.

So here goes…let’s start again. Lord, please show me what to say..

********

Six months ago I experienced burn-out and drain-out. I was totally depleted in mind, body and spirit.

Having struggled for a few years to keep going with the Women’s Fellowship Group I was leading, it was obvious I was floundering, fatigued, and very near collapse, despite the clear supernatural anointing, enabling and equipping that had made it possible at all.

It was the only church-related act of service I had done in years. Attendance at anything else (including Sunday worship itself) was extremely unreliable at best.

So I took time out. Committed to rest. Committed to finding out what God might be asking me to do in the future.

Only I didn’t completely rest. I was already fully engaged with social media and blogging by then. Soon, it became my main outlet, source of friendship, fellowship, church, and interest – and it still is. I rushed into everything like a child let loose in a sweet shop who runs eagerly up and down every aisle trying to grab at all the goodies on offer.

God-sized dream? Yay, why not? Living Wonderstruck challenge? Oh, yes, count me in. Join an on-line writing course? Just the ticket. Take up a 30 day Uni-tasking challenge? Great idea. Just what I need. Join lots of Facebook groups? Why not? I love to belong, connect, be a part of what’s happening…

And these are all good things. Great ideas. Lovely ways to connect and learn. I’ve benefited hugely from being involved. Though enthusiasm will only carry us so far if there is insufficient energy to see things through.

But are they God’s best for me? There are so many voices speaking into my life, clamouring for attention,  that I’m in danger of failing to heed the One Voice who has been seeking my attention all along.

I felt desperation to stay connected to the world as mine shrunk to four walls,  a deep desire and need for friendship with fellow M.E/chronic illness sufferers in particular, a real enjoyment of sharing thoughts and ideas with writers and bloggers.

But I have run into a problem: more burn-out, very little recovery to speak of, and confusion over what I’m really supposed to be giving my very depleted energy and limited ‘active’ time to. Sometimes we can spread ourselves so thin we’re at risk of tearing into tiny, fragile pieces that are incapable of bringing substance to anything.

How do I decide the best way to move forward? God is showing me that it is only achieved by first stepping back, retreating a little, if you like.


Crashing and burning is an all too common phenomenon for M.E sufferers. The temptation to over-do things is irresistible when precious energy is available, but it leads to an urgent need for more rest, pacing, scaling back of activities and prioritising. That’s where I’m at right now.

I don’t often write about my life with M.E. (you can click on the link to see the main symptoms). It sits hovering in the background like an inconvenient truth I’d prefer to ignore, even if profound daily symptoms are an ever-present reminder. 

When they become as intrusive as they are now (I suffer from over 80% of the listed symptoms), they shout for attention and completely take over everything. Any semblance of the ‘normal’ life I crave is then impossible to hang on to.

Just recently I wrote a poetic lament about how unjustly those with M.E (and, indeed, other chronic physical and mental illnesses) are often perceived. Today, I am sharing my struggles in a different way.

I’ve not given up on anything yet (just dis-engaged and slowed down considerably), though I will have to soon to avoid further relapse.

What I am doing now is actively seeking to be quiet for a spell. And to facilitate this I am going on a retreat for a few days. They have no wi-fi, so it also means going ‘cold-turkey’ with social media…gulp!! My phone may not get a signal either…more gulping.


In the way with God-incidences, this was planned a few weeks ago when the only pressing need was a soothing, helpful environment to house and take care of me for a few days while my beloved (husband, carer and personal slave) goes to visit our youngest son. It was clear even then that I couldn’t cope with the necessary 5+ hour (including stops) car journey there and back, the noise and disruption of planned DIY, nor the social interaction.

So this retreat is literally a god-send for all concerned. It involves taking a step back to evaluate where I am now and what may need changing, for we can get so caught up in comparing or competing with the ways, words, or works of others, that we fail to see what God is asking us to be, say/write, or do.

This side of it I have no idea what a retreat will look like, what I will do or achieve.

I hope to:sleep, rest, relax, switch off, unwind, listen to God, pray, read, write, drink in the peace and quiet, receive some spiritual mentoring. At this point it looks like sleep may be my main activity.

I am wary of even temporarily leaving the world of social media and the blogosphere that has been such a lifeline. The friendships and support gained there are invaluable to me as a housebound person who longs for connection, and the flexibility to dip in and out at a time of my choosing.

Even so, I recognise that my soul and body currently crave peace; stimulation of any kind is exhausting and silence is beginning to look like a very attractive option indeed.

The company of like-minded souls (and Anglican nuns) also sounds very appealing.

Knowing that I am one who devoured books about convent life and loved ‘The Song of Bernadette’ film as a child, my husband feels a bit worried that I may not want to return home again at the end of my stay!

Entering the novitiate may be tempting. Hmm…

But I love life, even one limited and constrained by chronic sickness. I love my family, friends, people, social interaction, chatting and being part of things too much to want to lose contact completely.

And I know too much silence may just drive me crazy

Balance is what it’s all about.

Meanwhile, I know I will benefit from the break, but I’m also going to miss you all dreadfully.

And I need your help:
Please would you pray for me to make the best of this opportunity, to hear from God concerning my present and future calling, and to be able to discern the right way forward when I return? Thank you so much.

It has taken me a long, painfully slow, grinding week to write this in tiny snatches and if you have made it to the end of this rather long, meandering post, I congratulate you! 

There will be better days. I will write more eloquently. I will feel less sick and incapacitated. And I hope to record the retreat experience on a blog post near you very soon – God willing – if this is a temporary blip rather than a more serious setback.

So take good care of yourselves, my friends. I really look forward to catching up with you in a week or so.

May God greatly bless and keep you all in His tender loving care until we meet again.

PS:I love reading and replying to your comments. Please feel free to leave one below and I’ll do my best to catch up with them when I return and (hopefully) normal service of sorts resumes. Thank you.

25 Comments

  1. "Great ideas…But are they God's best for me?" Oh, friend…I get caught up in this too. Then, I have to hand all back over to Him. He's got the perfect path planned out for each of us. Praying you feel better.

    1. You are so right, Eileen. Yet we struggle to make sense of it all at times as we take on things God hasn't anointed us to do. Your prayers are very much appreciated. Thank you!

    1. Resting and listening have become the new hallmarks of my life. And God has rewarded both with nuggets of wisdom I may never have heard otherwise. Thank you, Anne, for this insight and encouragement.

  2. Joy, we will miss you, but as Anne said, we'll be here for you when you return. I totally relate to being without social media. Last summer, my husband and I took a cruise to Alaska. We didn't want to pay the high price for internet while on the ship and part of the time we were in international waters. So, except for three (partial) days when we were in Alaskan ports, we had no phones, no internet, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

    And guess what? It was wonderful! I came home from that trip more relaxed and refreshed than I had been in a while. I pray the same for you on your retreat.

    Blessings,
    Joan

    1. Ah, Joan, you may have hit on a secret here! Retreating from our busy lives (or even just resting from social media) seems to bear fruit beyond our expectations. Thanks very much for sharing your experiences! Your kind thoughts and prayers are greatly appreciated.

  3. "And I need your help:
    Please would you pray for me to make the best of this opportunity, to hear from God concerning my present and future calling, and to be able to discern the right way forward when I return? Thank you so much."….

    You can count on it my friend, your in my thoughts daily and I sincerely hope that this is just a temporary blip and nothing more serious!
    God bless you
    Kimmie x

    1. Oh, Kimmie, how I have needed and valued your prayers, my faithful friend! My time away was rich in opportunity, though my health is still fragile. I am needing to ease myself back slowly!

  4. Bless you, Joy! Will continue holding you in my heart and prayers. Just bathe in His healing presence and drink in that perfect peace. Love and hugs XXX

    1. Thank you so much for sending me off with that lovely prayerful blessing, Joyce! The presence of God was strong there, as was the peace. I seek to retain something of it now I am home again. Love and blessings of health and strength to you too 🙂 xxx

  5. Joy, I have had friends and husband with ME. All were super-conscientious people who put themselves under stress, and had done thaty to themselves for many years. . I hestitate to have you take me wrong,l but I supect your embracing social media has really tired you out. For me to blog it tires me, and I don't have ME! THese relationships with people out there on the web are actually quite demanding & intense. I also suspect that looking for what God wants you to do may be something you do far too earnestly. Just try to 'be' at the convent. And please do not give in to dreams of becoming a novice: it'd be unlikely, since the life is hard and demanding! I so hope you find healing. You may well be taking life very much too seriously, and if only you can relax, treat God not as a demanding parent but as a person who loves you as you are (I mean character-wise, not as unwell) and take each day as it comes, reading not to improve yourself but to entertain yourself, (if youcan read), healing may come easier. I truly hope so.

    1. You hit the button with so many of your insights here. Yes, I am a super-conscientious person who drives herself hard, frequently takes life more seriously than she ought, and often forgets how to relax! As it turned out, I was able to rest well in God's healing presence, let go the need for answers, and just allow Him to speak and minister to me as He wanted to. The quip about entering the novitiate was meant to be humorous, as I think I qualified underneath it! It would indeed be a hard and demanding life, even if I were single and free to engage with it.
      The retreat was really good. God even led me to the books He specifically wanted me to read. Many I took with me remained untouched as I found others there. I don't actually see God as a demanding parent though. Sorry if I gave that impression. To me, He is the Lord of all Love, Light and Grace and nothing like my real parents – each of whom were demanding in their own way. Thank you for your honesty here. I value an open dialogue as I value and appreciate your insights and kind hopes.

  6. I think you wrote and expressed yourself eloquently.You don't have to wait until you're all better. Many others will relate to your writing in the midst of your brokenness and journey toward wholeness better than if you appear to have it all together.

    Definitely rest, relax, hear from God and when you return, continue to share your journey with us finding light, hope and wisdom in the midst of your struggles.

    Keep up the good writing!

    1. Thank you so much, Sharon! I really appreciate your kindness and encouragement. Rest was very much on the agenda and God blessed me tremendously too with the words He spoke into my life. You have given me hope here that sharing my journey as a broken, wounded person is a worthwhile thing to do. And I will carry on doing so as God gives me strength and inspiration.

  7. Praying you have a blessed time. When I had endometriosis I felt guilty for being tired, but I needn't have done. God knew me and loved me. He knew my limitations. For me I find I gain more freedom when I look only to God for no reason other than to spend time with Him. I sought freedom for years. But it was in seeking God alone, and putting aside the search for freedom that I actually found it. Ironic really!

    1. That's such a helpful insight, Lynda. To know God loves and values us as we are, limitations and all, is really valuable in accepting the path we are on. And to seek His face just because He is worthy and we love Him, is an experience that God values tremendously as it's also His own heart's desire. Thanks very much for sharing the things that have helped you find peace and freedom! Liberation doesn't always look like we imagine it will.

  8. Joy take the time to recharge and do as God asks of you. We will all be here when you feel you have more energy and await your return with prayers for you, so that you find strength to move forward and feel vibrant once more.

    1. Thank you, Kath. I know you're not all suddenly going to disappear and these words help me realise that as a fact! I really appreciate your encouragement and prayers. Strength and vibrancy are slow in returning but I am more at peace than before.

    1. Oh, indeed, Jedidja! I think it will take more than a week away for me to grasp it. More like a lifetime. A hard lesson but a very necessary one, particularly for those whose lives are constrained by chronic illness.

  9. Beautiful Joy, I'm missing your presence around the internet and I'm missing reading your beautiful words. Yet still,, in your exhaustion and brain fog, you manage to create such absolute beauty. I understand your need to retreat and be refreshed and refilled, we all need it and some more than most, when the smallest of tasks drain you empty. I understand how social interaction can leave you feeling run down (or even run over!). I am praying for you and selfishly, I pray that you'll be pouring out words again soon. Sharing your gift is important, but your health and your family more so. Have a wonderful time away, the retreat sounds idyllic! Miss you, lots of love xx

    1. Hello again, my beautiful friend. It's nice to be missed! These words of mine are really words from the Lord. He knows how to express things when my mind isn't working well. Your prayers have been greatly appreciated. I hope to resume pouring out words as God anoints me to do so. My health remains unstable and this relapse is taking a while to recover from. I have missed the social interaction since my return and hope to be able to join in more freely soon. Have missed reading your lovely blog too! Lots of love xx

  10. Lovely Joy. We care about you – your online friends – and we don't want you burning yourself out on our account. We love you.

    So glad you were able to go on retreat; looking forward to seeing what God said through it.

    Praying rest, restoration for you- God's voice, perspective and wisdom on what to focus on. Praying this for you as you're back, and starting anew.

    Sending you SO much love xxx

    1. This made me cry..in a good way! I felt overwhelmed by your lovely comment, Tanya, and the sweet wishes wrapped up in your words. Yes, I have been burning myself out trying to keep up with it all. Now I'm having to be very circumspect about my engagement with social media and ability to read and comment on other blogs. Such a shame as I miss it dreadfully! But, as you know only too well, our health must come first. Your prayers are greatly appreciated, my friend. Returning love and prayers to you xxx

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