There are certain laws of physics that only apply when you are in a canoe. How else can you explain being upright and dry and then moments later with seemingly no explanation be upside down in freezing cold water?
I was introduced to canoe physics on the St. Francis River in southeast Missouri while on a float trip with the college group from my church. I was relatively experienced with an oar in my hand, but my canoe comrade had never been afloat before. And no more than fifteen seconds after we shoved-off from the river bank with all of our friends watching, my rookie paddler did the unthinkable. He committed the cardinal sin of canoeing. He stood up.
You never stand up in a canoe. That’s like the first thing they tell you when they hand you an oar at Boy Scout Camp. You know why? Because if you stand up, you will tip your canoe over in a hilariously awkward manner. And all of your friends on the float trip will laugh. And you’ll spend the rest of the day looking for your lost flip flop.
Why do I mention this embarrassing story? Because it’s one of my fondest memories. I was acquainted with most everyone in our college group when we headed out from our church with tents and sleeping bags. But I made friends on that trip that to this day still laugh at me for falling out of my canoe. That whole experience is a key point in the storyline of many of my most-treasured friendships. If you’ve ever wondered if going on a retreat or trip has tangible value for the church, I can tell you unequivocally that it does.
When you get away from home on a retreat, you bond with others in a unique way. You eat your meals together. You read the Word together. You sleep in the same room. You share the same bathroom. There’s a certain amount of unavoidable togetherness that happens when you share a bathroom with someone you don’t know that well. For those two or three days on that retreat, you’re basically living together. And these shared experiences are the building blocks for long-term, Christ-centered relationships.
As a man, I struggle to find connection points with the other men in my community of faith. It just doesn’t happen organically. We need planned, intentional events to set the stage for that type of interpersonal bonding. And retreats are the best way to achieve that.
I think one of the best measures of how strong the relationships are in your church is how many inside jokes do your people have with one another. How many funny stories do they tell about that one time when you tried to stand up in the canoe? The stories and jokes themselves aren’t important, but the relationships are. Churches spend a lot of time and money trying to build that kind of community. And there are a lot of ways to create those moments that people will talk about for years to come. But the best way is to get away.