I had wanted to make a spiritual retreat part of my monthly schedule ever since I heard a pastor describe how having his staff do this revolutionized his church. But the months and years slipped away until, three years later, I still had not done so. As Penn observed, my perception of my priorities did not prompt me to take the time—a regrettable state of affairs.
Finally, I bit the bullet. I called some friends who have a wonderful apartment below their home that they use to serve people in ministry. My wife and I had spent a couple of delightful days there earlier that summer, and our friends had told me I was welcome to come over any day to be alone for this purpose.
The venue settled, I made my plans. I decided to fast, though for no other reason than that I wanted to clean out my system and didn’t want to take the time to prepare food. (During my senior year of college I’d drunk only spring water every Thursday, and the physical and mental benefits far outweighed the tedium, foul breath and ferocious hunger.) So I trundled off with my gallon of filtered water and the ridiculous notion that I could, by eating nothing, better understand the plight of so many millions of people around the world who would also go without food that day—ridiculous because I was sitting in a posh apartment drinking pure water from a clean glass whenever I wanted it.
I’d planned to spend time reading my Bible and catching up on missed pages in my Life Journal, the study guide I was using in my personal devotions that year. With the time left over, I wanted to finish a short book on missions; re-order my prayer list; pray for all the missionaries I serve; work on an article I was writing for a magazine and spend time in my memorization of James, which had been erratic.
All good intentions, but a sad delusion. Though I was able to avoid being distracted by the beauty on the other side of the patio door—a lovely English garden, complete with a fountain and frequented by scores of birds and butterflies, as well as a wooded area surrounding a small waterfall—I grossly overestimated the amount I could accomplish. (This is my perennial error, always followed by a self-inflicted brow-beating for being so unproductive. The classic vice of a textbook perfectionist.)