There is something about deliberately separating yourself from the subconscious pressures of day to day life which leaves you in a place of vulnerability, as well as giving you time to think. In my life, this is when the spirit has moved most powerfully and God has brought seismic shifts in my perspective of the world, the people around me and of myself. Kings’ student getaway 2017 was one such experience.
We’ll get to that in a moment – chronology takes precedence here. I remember my first year getaway clearly. I was still trying to establish friendships whilst navigating a self-esteem crisis and a slowly subsiding depressive episode. Not the best place, but God didn’t ask me for the best, He asked me for what I could give. So I went. I learnt two very clear lessons: Scotland is very cold, and I am not alone. I spent much of the next year continuing this battle, and with God’s generous love I made it to second year.
Now we get to the good stuff. November came around again, Chris and Alys wouldn’t stop talking about Getaway and, ever the perpetual ‘do-er’, the idea of spending two days investing in the importance of rest and taking time to prioritise our emotional spirituality didn’t really appeal. I was also aware that God was preparing me for the next hurdle and I wasn’t ready to face that. Nevertheless, I had an iPad thrust upon me after an evening service so it seemed like I was going anyway.
No prizes for guessing that it was really good in the end…
It’s a heart-warming experience to watch community blossom, even more so when you have the honour of being part of it. Seeing a group of Christians, all at different places in their spiritual journey with Christ, coming together to proclaim to the Father that He is good is incredibly powerful. It bonds us in a way that we can clearly see the world is seeking but not finding in the right places. If nothing else, a church weekend away is crucial to our discipleship because it reminds us that friendship is not based on convenience but on covenant – we all share in the greatest hope that God is for us and that we are adopted as fully entailed heirs. This is the foundation in which God-centre community is built.
Graciously, though, God blessed me (and many, many others) with more than covenant centred friendships. Through the talks on emotionally health spirituality, I realised how little time and effort I gave to investing in my own (rather than others’) emotional health. This process had been building over the last few years but reached a tipping point at getaway. I was challenged to revisit God’s command to keep the Sabbath and its place in our modern society as both buffer to stress and powerful witness of a God-orientated life. Sabbath is one of the most ancient and most underused blessings we have in our spiritual tool-kit. I know many of us Durham busy-bodies were challenged on this front last getaway, this is why the small discipleship groups you’re placed in for the getaway weekend are so valuable. You don’t realise how perfect God’s timing is until you’re sat alongside five or so other individuals who simultaneously share your feelings and challenge you in unexpected ways.
On the final evening, I was all out of tears and overflowing with peace. Yet, the negative voice crept back in, making me aware that tomorrow would mark a return to ‘normal’ life and that I’d have to apply all I had learned and been challenged on. It felt too great a calling, how was I supposed to change my lifestyle so drastically? It felt like a recipe for failing God again. Meditating on (or rather, getting caught in a downward spiral due to obsessing over) this, I felt the spirit prompt me to share part of 1 John:
‘My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.’
We will fall short of the Christ-like lives we are called to, but God knows that, and we are not loved less because of that fact. Jesus Christ is our advocate; only through His work of sacrifice upon the cross, and giving our lives to Him in response, are we made righteous. Our works don’t count toward or against God loving us! Only in a place of being locked onto Jesus by recognizing this love, worshipping the Father and wanting to glorifying Him with our lives can we actually begin the process of changing the way we live. God reminded me that it is His power, not mine, that would follow through.
So here I am, writing to encourage you as a student to join us at getaway this year. Please forgive me the personal nature of this advert, but I can’t know what God is planning for and working in you. I suspect that His plans for you are greater than you can conceive and that they will most likely surprise you. I’m pretty sure that coming to getaway will both further your discipleship and your strength to follow Christ in your university life. All I know for certain, however, is that God is good and that He wants to bless you as your turn your life towards He who created it.