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Why I Hate Retreat High

July 10th, 2012by Brad Bursa

For the record:  I love retreats, but despise any language or sentiment surrounding a “retreat high.”  I am not anti-emotional, nor promoting some sort of devotionalism devoid of all human emotion.  From my experience, many take on the spirit of a “retreat high,” in which teens (and adults) tend to approach retreats in an attempt to feel better about themselves, get emotionally jacked up on Jesus, or put Jesus on like a fragrance they know is going to wear off in a few days/weeks after returning home.  This is all superficial talk.  I’m positive Jesus wants to transform more than our emotions or sentiments.

In fact, He transforms whole persons.

On the bus ride back from Steubenville, OH (our high school youth were there for the annual Youth Conference – you can see more about our weekend HERE) I got to talking with a few of the girls in our program.  We were discussing this very problem.

Now, emotions are natural, human and they are often good.  Sometimes our experiences in meeting Christ involve the emotions.  But, not every time.  And, even when the encounter does touch on the emotional level, Christ’s work through the Holy Spirit is always more substantial.  His work is deeper than the surface.

I talked with those girls on the bus about the action of falling in love with someone.  Often, it is the case where emotion and physical attraction take the lead, and then give way to substantial friendship.  Or, when a couple gets married and enters the “honeymoon stage,” the emotions that correspond with love are pervasive.  However, to reduce love to these emotions is to do a great disservice.  While the “honeymoon stage” might “feel” more like we think love should feel, love in a marriage is actually more manifest years into it, when your child is up most of the night and you are dead tired, yet decide to lay down your life out of love for spouse/child (See John 15:13).  Very rarely does this feel good.  (It actually feels quite bad).  But, this is the action that drives love deeper, perhaps because it is what real love really is (ie. willing the good of the other).  And, it is an action that requires a free choice, a free response.

In much the same way, when teens return home and the “high” wears off, they have to decide if the substance of their personal relationship with Christ is founded on more than a feeling, and act accordingly.  This is a sign that conversion is underway – a conversion that necessarily requires self-sacrificing love for Christ (though always from/in/through Him – 1 John 4:19).  This is nothing less of dying to self, and so much more than a fleeting emotion.

Photo credit: Used through Creative Commons Licensing, Flickr/stlyouth
Brad Bursa

Brad Bursa is the Director of Youth Ministry at St. Gertrude Parish in Cincinnati, Ohio.