Get Off the Grid
October 27, 2021
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“But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.”
-Luke 5:16 (NLT)
The word retreat means “to move back.” The irony? That’s how you make forward progress. It’s as counterintuitive as the law of diminishing returns—less is more.
If you want to make or break a habit, it’s a lot like learning a new dance. My repertoire is pretty limited, but I can floss and churn the butter, and I do a pretty mean running man. How did I learn those dance moves? I had to break it down and slow it down. Then, and only then, was I able to go faster. Simply put, you cannot hurry habits. You have to retreat in order to advance.
Remember Alice in Wonderland? She ran as fast as she could to keep up with the Red Queen, but she didn’t gain any ground. Ever feel like that? “Here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place,” said the queen. “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” How do we get off the merry-go-round that goes faster and faster? You’ve got to get off the grid. How? Here’s a simple idea: day off, phone off.
Next time you read the Gospels, notice how often Jesus withdrew. Jesus was retreating all the time—climbing mountains, walking beaches, sailing across the Sea of Galilee. He even spent forty days in the wilderness. Evidently, the best way to make progress is by retreating with great frequency and intentionality! Jesus operated with a sense of urgency, yet He was unhurried. In the words of Japanese theologian Kōsuke Koyama, He is the “three mile an hour God.”
I live by a little formula: change of pace + change of place = change of perspective. There are moments when we need to pick up the pace because of laziness, but more often than not, we need to slow the pace because of busyness. “If the devil cannot make us bad,” said Corrie ten Boom, “he will make us busy.” Why is it that the Sabbath is the longest of the Ten Commandments? Perhaps because it’s the hardest one to keep! You have to slow down, which is tough to do in a rat race.
At the end of every year, Lora and I take a two-day planning retreat. Along with budgeting and calendaring, we review our gratitude journals and set goals for the coming year. We employ a wide variety of techniques to keep us centered, including a word of the year and a verse of the year. You don’t have to go somewhere exotic. It can be a staycation. But you do need to set aside time for a set purpose. In addition to that planning retreat, we try to schedule a silent retreat once a year. With all the white noise these days, we need to do some ear cleansing! Finally, I’d recommend one weekend a year to set goals, review goals, and reverse engineer your goals into daily habits.
Get off the grid!
Mark Batterson serves as lead pastor of National Community Church in Washington, DC. NCC also owns and operates Ebenezers Coffeehouse, The Miracle Theatre, and the DC Dream Center. Mark holds a doctor of ministry degree from Regent University and is the New York Times bestselling author of 17 books, including The Circle Maker, Chase the Lion, and Whisper. Mark and his wife, Lora, have three children and live on Capitol Hill.