A steady feature of my middle and early high school experience was the weekend long Baptist church youth retreat. The weekends were equal parts fun and serious and often included roasted marshmallows and few hours of sleep. The last night would inevitably include teary renditions of songs like the one that lends its title to post. We were whipped (and whipped ourselves) into great fervor, determined to return to our schools and friends new people, on fire for Jesus.
Inevitably, though, reentry would be difficult. We might keep up our commitment for a few weeks, maybe even a month or two, but then we’d start slipping. Sleep seemed preferable to prayer or a daily devotional, and the latest MTV video seemed easier conversation fodder than the Lord.
It was easy to slip into a kind of junkie retreat cycle, always living for the next praise music, sleep deprived, junk food fueled emotional retreat high. At some point I decided the high wasn’t worth the hangover, so I checked out.
Those retreats came to mind in reflecting back over the past year or so of attending professional conferences. It seems dangerously easy to slip back into that same kind of mountaintop experience mindset. It’s tempting to get jazzed up by the amazing work those whom you’ve met have done, so you commit to come back and change your whole teaching practice, to be more disciplined. But then it’s Sunday night before you have to head back to school on Monday and the exuberance of the conference collides head on with the reality that you have three preps for tomorrow.
In a recent post, Bud referred to his hope that conferences might be “waypoints, times to recharge and retool before heading out into the work again.” I like that metaphor because I think it reflects the idea that conferences can be a time of rest and connection and a time to hone skills and reflect on our work.
Because the other danger is not to get excited at all, to cynically view the work and ideas presented at the conference as something that’s great for other teachers. Teachers with more resources or different administrators or more eager students or less need for sleep.
One of the things that makes conferences now different from retreats back then is the relative ease of staying connected once the time together is over. In my mind, that’s still not a total substitute for face to face conversation and shared experience, but it does make staying encouraged and connected easier.
For what it’s worth, I found my way back to the Church, although in a form that looks different than the one of my youth.