What do you do to recreate yourself?

This was a question that Andy Henman used to ask me reliably, every single time that I saw him, until I reached the point of exasperation–and still he asked it of me. It’s a good question, highlighting that the point of rest and ‘recreation’ should be to restore your soul, not just to allow your physical body a little inactivity (though that too may be necessary). It’s a question that is more difficult when you are married, and you have covenanted to spend your life — for better, or for worse — with someone who wouldn’t necessarily choose to do the same things as you to recreate themself. And it’s a question that is potentially even more difficult when you have a baby, who changes the dynamics of what you can do in ways that you hadn’t completely foreseen.

Anyway, here’s a little list of seven things we did on our recent ten-day retreat to Devon as we attempted together to spend our time in ways that would be reviving, refreshing and recreating.

1. Ignore everybody
It was an unavoidable blessing to be in a little cottage with no broadband, no wi-fi, and not even a phone signal. I tried a couple of times to check my email (just in case there was something urgent) — and failed. We were unable to say anything to the all-too-often far-too-present rest-of-the-world — and that, I think, may just have been the mercy of God.

2. Slow down and try to hear God’s voice
This should really be the #1 thing on the list, at least in terms of its priority — but it is certainly helped by the first! Even before we’d got to Devon, God was speaking to me, nudging me to not take the whole over-sized pile of books from our shelf that I thought I might perhaps read while away, but to whittle it down to only the few necessary. I did so, and I was left with A Long Obedience In The Same Direction, the Pilgrim’s Progress, and The Solitude of Thomas Cave — all books about journeys. And, indeed, God did seem to be speaking about the journey, and the need to not lose hope but to keep perseveringly pressing on.

3. Watch films — but do it discriminatingly
We watched the Hobbit together — all three episodes — and that continues the theme of ‘the journey’. As Gandalf once said: It’s a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

I love how vividly and powerfully a scene from a film can capture the essence of something almost indescribably specific — and Peter Jackson is great at these. In the Hobbit we have several: that opening meditation on the multiplicity of meanings of a mere phrase like Good Morning; the sense of revelation and exalted perspective that comes as Bilbo sticks his head above the treetop canopy of Mirkwood and consequently sees with ease the right direction (that provoked Taryn to whisper to me, ‘That’s what a Quiet Time is like!’).

Films have their drawbacks though. For one thing, its such an immersive medium — an overwhelming spectacle of story, sight and sound — that the director has a worrying power to manipulate your emotions and thoughts. And I frequently find that I can’t tolerate what the film is trying to do to me. For another thing, it requires an almost total degree of passive attentivity — and again, I can only take so much of forced inaction.

4. Read: out-loud together, and alone
I prefer books. And reading aloud is something I love to do. Although it can be quite tiring — and admittedly, for the listener it is as passive as watching a film. Often Taryn and I have read books together while on holiday. P.G. Wodehouse, Jack Kerouac, Francine Rivers — all have at different times entertained and delighted us. And of course the Scriptures — this time we read Hebrews, and the stories in Genesis of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

On my own I dipped into the books I had brought — but also found myself irresistibly drawn to reading the books that were already in the cottage from before we got there, including a good selection of travel literature. I found myself enjoying one about A Year In Provence, and realizing that I do like that sort of writing.

5. Go to places
I have grown up in a family that makes it our mission to do as much in any place that we travel as would a self-respecting writer for the Lonely Planet — climbing every mountain peak, walking to the end of every road, surveying all the possible eating options before choosing where to get some lunch, and going to all the notable places of historic or cultural interest.

So, needless to say, I do like to go to places. We joined the National Trust, and visited at least four stately homes.

6. Walk through the beauty of creation
But you don’t even necessarily have to go anywhere in particular — you can just find a circuitous route that will eventually take you back to the point at which you started. And actually a walk through the great outdoors is often more impressive, refreshing your soul with a greater quality of grandeur, than even the most extravagantly architected antique building.

Conveniently, it also turns out that strapping a baby to your chest and walking steadily onward is one of the best ways of keeping that baby content, as the gentle rocking of the ambulatory action helps the child fall asleep.

But it is important to keep in mind that one person’s short walk can be another’s unbearably long trek. Discernment required, especially when you’ve never gone a certain route and there’s a certain amount of guesswork involved in estimating how long it will take.

7. Cook and eat well
I enjoy the creative challenge of cooking — particularly because it is the one household chore that immediately rewards you with a delicious opportunity to celebrate your contribution to domestic life. I volunteered to make our meals in Devon — and I think we ate rather well. And we took Paul’s advice to Timothy as well.

8. Play board-games
I love games, but when there are just two of you it can be hard to sustain both enthusiasm for competitive play and friendliness of spirit amidst afore-mentioned competition, particularly if the two of you are not precisely matched in your likelihood of coming out victorious in a certain game.

For myself and Taryn, we have found that Carcassonne (which we had borrowed from Mike & Jane) works quite well for the two of us. Go, on the other hand, not so much.

9. Make new friends
Certainly the highlight of our retreat was the way that the Holy Spirit set us up to meet Jim & Mary, the leaders of the North Devon House of Prayer. If you had asked me before whether I was interested in connecting with other Christians in the area, I would have probably said an unapologetic ‘No’ — we had just come from spending a great deal of our time in close community with other Christians, and were feeling somewhat ‘peopled-out’.

But through no desire of our own, God led us on our very first day to stumble into the North Devon House of Prayer, just as they were finishing their morning ‘Pray and Play’ kids session, and just before their afternoon worship set — by the end of which we were being anointed with oil, prayed for, prophesied over, and given a very generous financial gift. We were able to join NDHoP’s midweek prayer night, and then on our final evening to meet Jim and Mary for dinner at their home, during which it turned out that the journey God has led them on is astonishingly parallel to ours — even down to the differences in worship style between husband and wife, and the unreasonably agonizing experience of first-time childbirth.

Well, now it’s your turn — what do you do to recreate yourself?

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