FAMILY FITNESS RETREATS

 

When Mike and Jan entered our home on Friday evening, their physical fitness was impressive to all of us gathered there. They worked out regularly and looked sharp. But on Sunday morning during a goalsetting session at our retreat together, we saw another measure of their "fitness" as a couple. Mike's eyes moistened and his voice broke as he confessed to throwing and breaking things in a fierce fit of anger at Jan. Jan tearfully confessed to adding tension by taunting Mike when he'd lose control of himself.

Other retreaters in the room reticently nodded as if they'd been there and done something similar. They, too, took turns sharing hurts and opportunities to improve their families, then asked to be held accountable by the group. Healing began while they hugged.

Mike and Jan left the Family Fitness Retreat resolved to become more spiritually fit. More fit to serve.

Later we ran into George and Ann with their two children at a mall. During our conversation, Ann reminded George that the following week marked their first anniversary for family devotions, as a result of a Family Fitness Retreat they'd attended.

This concept of Family Fitness Retreat--which both Mike and Jan and George and Ann had attended--was born one day while I, Robb, 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 spot, my prayer-thoughts included some struggling young Christian families I knew who seemed too weak and unprepared to climb the steep hills of their lives. Many felt that despite two paychecks, they couldn't afford a weekend family seminar as a way to get help. But like me, somehow they had to get into better shape.

What could we do to help these struggling, young Christian families become more spiritually fit to face the challenges of their lives!

Our children were grown and, looking down on our home, I thought of their empty bedrooms and of all the planning, prayer and energy we had put into parenting. Could we share some of the ideas we used with our own children? Maybe young couples would come to a free away, without children, to do some clear thinking, planning and praying about improving their family life.

The family-related seminars we had previously attended had all been helpful, but they had usually left us feeling as if we were drinking from a fire hydrant. With a deluge of great ideas flooding over us, we were inspired and motivated, but we lacked sufficient time to discuss and assimilate the new principles. And with the resumption of our hectic schedule, lots of great possibilities poured down the drain.

What if mature Christian empty-nesters would entertain young couples for a whole weekend, utilizing their children's empty bedrooms, communicating biblical principles for families, and sharing their own experience and advice?

After discussion and prayer, despite having no special training or skills, Ruth and I designed a simple weekend retreat we've christened, "Family Fitness Retreats--Fit to Serve."

At each of the retreats we've held in our home, everyone shares and everyone learns. But the couple who always gains the most is the Brandts.

We discuss four critical Christian family relationships: our relationship with God (individual and family), the interactions between spouses, parenting principles and practicing evangelism with "neighbors."

Our main objective for Friday evening is icebreaking: sharing snacks, self-introductions, jokes and laughs while getting comfortable with each other. On Saturday morning we begin digging into the four themes. That evening's emphasis on evangelism is a particular challenge and high calling, because unless the couple has their act together in the first three areas--God, spouse and children--there's simply no credible energy left to overthrow to others.

The Sunday morning session is then designed to pull the weekend together into a life and family-changing plan of action, with each couple establishing specific goals in manageable time frames. Our retreat then finishes about noon, leaving some weekend time for the parents to discuss their new goals with their children.

After they're gone, it's still not over. We're soon planning a reunion. And when we meet again, at the reunion party or anywhere else, our guests have come to expect the question, "How are you doing on your goals?"

We hear plans for dinner with Dad, date nights, family nights, camping trips and ballgames. Some decide they need to be more active at church.

And we hear other gratifying comments as well. "Thank you for stressing the need to walk and pray together," one person wrote. "The stresses of life can look a whole lot different when you first take things to God and spend time talking them out with your spouse."

"Thank you for your transparency," wrote another. "No one has ever taken the time to model a Christian home in such an honest way. Your honest sharing about your own family was refreshing."

And in different words, many communicated like this participant: "Thanks for making us slow down and realize the right priorities and purpose of our lives."

Often their responses take me back to my exhausting trek up the hill behind our house. Inside our house, both the empty nesters and the empty bedrooms are now more occupied.

It's true. Sometimes our toughest climbs lead to our pinnacle moments.

For more information about hosting Family Fitness Retreats, access the Family Fitness Retreat web site (www.familyfitnessretreats.com) or call Chippewa Evangelical Free Church at (724) 843-6381.

Robb and Ruth Brandt attend Chippewa EFC in Beaver Falls, Pa., where they have served in various leadership and ministry roles.