Family Fitness Retreats:

 

Preparing Families to Serve

When Mike and Jan came to our home on Friday evening, they were impressive. Mike's square jaw, beefy neck and muscular physique said it all. Jan, a slim brunette, also appeared athletic and fit.

But on Sunday morning in a goal-setting session during our family fitness retreat, Mike's eyes moistened, and his voice broke as he confessed to throwing and breaking things in a fierce fit of anger directed at Jan. Despite her deep love for him, Jan tearfully confessed to adding tension by taunting Mike when he'd lost control of himself.

Other retreaters in the room reticently nodded, as if they'd done something similar. They took turns sharing hurts and suggesting opportunities to improve their families; then they asked to be held accountable by the group. Mike and Jan left the retreat resolved not only to maintain their physical fitness but also become more spiritually fit, more fit to serve.

The vision unfolds

The concept of our family fitness retreats was born while I climbed the hill behind our house. Gasping for air at the top, I scolded myself: Wow, are you out of shape! After catching my breath at a favorite quiet-time spot, my prayers and thoughts included some struggling young Christian families that seemed too weak and unprepared to climb the steep hills of their lives.

Looking down on our home, I thought of the empty bedrooms and all the planning, prayer, and energy Ruth and I had put into parenting our now-grown children. Could we share some of the ideas and biblical principles we used with our children to help young families? Maybe young couples would come to a free weekend away from their cute little noisemakers and other distractions. Then they could do some thinking, planning and praying about improving their family life.

Making it happen

After discussion and prayer, despite having no special training or skills, Ruth and I decided to go for it! We outlined a simple weekend retreat we've christened "Family Fitness Retreats."

The retreats are designed to use our empty bedrooms, property, experiences rearing four children and, most impiortant, passion for assisting young families get into better spiritual and relational shape. We discuss four critical areas of Christian family life:

*Our relationship with God (individual and family)

*The interactions between spouses

*Parenting principles

*Evangelism

Goals for the weekend

Friday evening is the time for snacks, self-introductions and laughs while the retreaters become comfortable with each other. Parents of young children often need to unwind after hurriedly getting the kids settled elsewhere for the weekend.

After breakfast on Saturday, we discuss an ideal relationship with God by reviewing Scripture, pertinent principles and our experiences. I ask each participant to picture himself or herself standing alone before God, explaining his or her relationship to Him. Then each couple critiques its relationship to God.

We also encourage family devotions. Our family added a new vocabulary word at each morning's devotions, and our children loved to stump us with a new word. That boosted their SAT scores.

Retreaters Jason and Katy had this experience: "When we got home after the retreat, we announced to our daughters, 'Come Monday morning, we'll have family devotions at 7 a.m.' They yelled, they screamed, they cried, 'We don't have any time now. We can't get up any earlier.' We prayed earnestly that God would change their attitude, and He did. They were at the table, and we now have morning family devotions."

Another couple commented, "We're progressing with our goals, especially with family devotions. We're definitely more fit to serve."

A wife told us later, "Ted now makes a specific effort to be home for dinner and usually leads our family prayer time. We are thankful that God put you in our lives."

After lunch Ruth and I divide the group for gender-specific discussions on the proper role of intimacy in a spiritually fit family.

We teach that tension happens in the best marriages, and our fitness to serve depends largely on how we handle it.

Husbands and wives list what they appreciate most about their spouse and something for that person to improve. Then the couples compare notes.

One wife wrote after the retreat, "Thank you for stressing the need for couples to walk and pray together. The stresses of life can look a whole lot different when you first take things to God and spend time talking with your spouse. My favorite part of a week is when my husband asks to pray with me and walk together."

Discussing parenting principles draws peak interest. We remind parents of what the Bible says about disciplining children. Then couples have a private discussion of parenting principles and goal setting personalized to their home.

Helpful feedback

"These retreats are a valuable ministry. As parents of teens, we appreciated hearing your positive talk about those years. We've been challenged to be more deliberate in our use of time with them, both spiritually and in our individual one-on-one time."

"The discussion of boundaries and consequences for the children really helped us."

"The focus on the Word as it applies to family relationships was very timely."

The evening emphasis on evangelism can be a challenge. Unless the couple is doing well in the first three areas--God, spouse and children--there's little family energy left to overflow to others. We review Scripture, popular evangelism methods and tools, along with our experience and advice.

' The Sunday morning session pulls the weekend together into a life- and family-changing plan of action. Each couple establishes specific goals in the four critical areas, with time frames to accomplish those goals.

Some reactions:

"The time to pray, prioritize and set goals with my spouse was terrific."

"Thanks for making us slow down and realize the priorities and purpose of our lives."

Sunday morning sessions are gratifying. We see talented, young Christian couples like Mike and Jan do self-analysis in light of God's Word. Then they set challenging goals to become better Christians, spouses, parents, and a family more fit to serve God and share Him with their neighbors.

Continuing the progress

After the couples are gone, the retreat is not over. Soon we plan a reunion. And whenever we meet them at the reunion party, or for lunch or something else, we ask the question, "How are you doing on your goals?"

We hear about plans for dinner with dad, date nights, family nights, camp outs and ballgames. Some couples decide they need to be more active at church.

One couple summarized the retreat with these words: "Thank you for a beautiful life-changing weekend. We took some acorns and planted them in our yard to remind us of the wonderful weekend and the goals we set for our family."