Retreat

Life in this millennium is running and blurring. Events and deadlines move faster; tasks and roles mix together. Time is less discrete and more fluid. Technology allows you to carry your work anywhere, anytime. You can do a little “office work” on the metro and send a message to a co-worker at 8 p.m.

So what do we do? One answer is to stop everything and retreat—intentionally escape “normal life” (whatever that is for you) for anywhere from a few hours to several days. Here are some tips for making it happen and making it worthwhile.

retreat
Life in this millennium is running and blurring. Events and deadlines move faster; tasks and roles mix together. Time is less discrete and more fluid. Technology allows you to carry your work anywhere, anytime. You can do a little “office work” on the metro and send a message to a co-worker at 8 p.m.

These changes affect more than our employed lives. Time with family includes conversations like: “Come to dinner, Brian.” “I’m watching this.” “It’s Thanksgiving dinner!” “OK, I’ll TiVo it.” And our social lives feel the effects of it, too. Social-networking sites suck us in for moments upon moments, adding up to hours per week, messing up our efficiency and our actual brick-and-mortar relationships. We blog about it all so everyone can read it. But maybe nobody ever does.

So what do we do? One answer is to stop everything and retreat—intentionally escape “normal life” (whatever that is for you) for anywhere from a few hours to several days. Here are some tips for making it happen and making it worthwhile.

1 .SCHEDULE IT.

Yeah, right, you think—your life doesn’t allow that, does it? Maybe not this week, maybe not next week, maybe not even next month, but at some point in the future, there are a couple days without anything written on them in your planner or calendar. Find them and write “RETREAT” on those days—in pen. It sounds simple, but when life is pressing hard on all sides, you feel like you’re never going to catch a workable gap for an hour, not to mention days. If you put it to paper, get it down, then the hope and anticipation starts, too—it’s coming. Your retreat is coming. And just that little thought can give strength for this week.

2. PROTECT IT.

Something is bound to come up. When someone plans something during the time you’ve marked for your getaway, tell them you have something else going on or that you’re going to be out of town. If they are a work contact or professional acquaintance, that should satisfy them. If it’s a friend or family member, tell them you’re going away to be by yourself and relax for a couple days, and maybe add a crack like, “Lately I forget my own name sometimes,” or “Being alone will probably remind me how boring I am.” Or you can be very direct—“I am stressed out and need to focus back on Jesus.” “I’m going to read and write and walk and think and sleep.” You might scare some people a little, but most will respect you for it.

3. LOCATE IT.

Your retreat venue is a very important consideration. The simplest option is to hole up in your home, preferably when everyone else is away. This may work for many people, but there’s usually something freeing in being away from the normal routines and tasks. If you’re planning just a morning or a day, consider quiet but anonymous spots, like a coffee shop you don’t normally visit, a park, a hiking trail, a library or an empty church. For two-day getaways, if you know of someone else who also lives alone who might also be interested in a retreat, you could swap places. Then, at least, you have a change of scenery. But be prepared for new distractions, depending on what movies, books and gaming system they have lying around.

It’s not the greatest aesthetically, but a hotel room will do in a pinch, if you’ve got a bit of cash. But a much better choice is a quiet, comfortable place where you can stretch out, move around, talk to yourself, dance, whatever. Do you know anyone with a vacation home that’s usually vacant? An empty-nester family at church with a furnished basement they don’t use? Someone going away for the weekend looking for a house-sitter?

Finally, some places are designed to host people on retreat. For something spiritually stimulating, you can dive into a silent retreat at many monasteries or nunneries, regardless of your denominational background. They usually offer small rooms, simple food, quiet (lots of it!) and chant services several times a day. Prices at such places can sometimes be very cheap or even free. Check the Yellow Pages, call around and you might uncover a great spot. Otherwise, check with camps and “retreat centers,” as they often have space and lulls between groups.

4. PREPARE FOR IT.

Try to take a few minutes (or an hour or two) for several days and think and pray about what’s going on in your life. What are you facing? What are you struggling with this month? What do you dream about? What dreams are slipping out of your grasp? Are there ways in which you feel like you’re failing God? What do you wish you had answers for? Might God be asking you to read a particular book or passage of the Bible? Talk these over a bit with a mentor or close friend to unearth some more ground to cover on your retreat, but don’t try to “solve” them in this conversation. Let that come during and after the retreat.

5. PLAN IT.

This is where you must be your own Retreat Drill Sergeant. You’ve got to think carefully about what the purpose of your retreat is and what will move you toward fulfilling that purpose. Keep yourself from bringing work along, of course. But also examine yourself and consider whether it might help to get a bit of exercise. On the other hand, maybe you need to give your usual die-hard exercise routine a break. You may want to fast, you might want to just eat some basic healthy foods that don’t require any preparation, or it could be best to carefully cook some favorite foods as a way to relax. Kneading and baking a couple loaves of bread, for example, can be something of a mental laxative. Start to get a vision of what’s going to work for you.

6. GATHER RESOURCES FOR IT.

Given what you find in Nos. 4 and 5, find a book or two that will speak to some of the issues in the mix. Don’t give in to the temptation to bring the 15 books you’ve been meaning to get to for the last year. You won’t read them, and you’ll feel guilty about it. Or you’ll just read all weekend and never get anywhere. Think carefully about whether you want your iPod with you. Depending on how you relate to music, you may find yourself fiddling with it, listening to music you forgot you had or just making playlists the whole time. It might be helpful to have a laptop available to journal electronically, or to write some thoughtful emails to folks you’ve lost touch with. But for most of us, it seems to be too much of a temptation or burden that derails the kind of introspection, prayer and renewal we hope to gain in a retreat.

7. SLEEP FOR IT.

See Also

Yes, sleeping is an integral part of many retreats. But if you’re maxed out, stretched to exhaustion the week before your retreat, you’re just going to sleep away the whole thing, which would defeat the purpose of your retreat. So, get as much good rest as you can in the ramp-up to your time away. That said, there is something of a precedent in the Bible for foregoing sleep in order to pray and worship God. Maybe God has something like that in store for you for your retreat. If so, it may be doubly important to be well-rested before you hit

it hard.

8. BEGIN IT.

The first moments of a retreat can make a big difference in how it goes. So when you arrive at your retreat location, turn on your Retreat Drill Sergeant, switch off your phone, unplug any phone there, hide the remote, turn off the computer and put away distractions (DVDs, magazines, newspapers, books, CDs, photos, etc.). You might start with a run or some yoga and a shower, as a clean, fresh, bright-eyed beginning. These can provide a break from other activities and the travel, clearing your head and focusing you for the time set apart to be worked on by God.

9. WRITE IT.

Some people can just sit and focus and pray and be calm and clear. But for most of us, we end up thinking about the phone call we should have made yesterday, an upcoming trip or the dirty dishes. It often helps to sit with pen and paper so our brains don’t drivel away so easily. Try writing what you’re thinking about to get that out and over with. Write prayers and questions, listen for God, and you might sense some sort of direction. Make lists. Draw up some goals and write some brainstorms about how to get there. Go back to God and ask for leading and clarity. Open a Bible to something that informs what you’re considering. Take a walk and let your brain run free on something else. Don’t stress if you don’t feel anything mind-blowing or life-shattering; just enjoy being away. All this can form the meat of a retreat—sitting with God and looking at life, looking for the next steps and praising God back for all the love you have received in the steps you’ve already taken.

10. REPEAT IT.

Once you do it once, you’ll want to do it again. So make the last element of your retreat to schedule your next one. If you can’t make space for another good-sized retreat until four months away, also write in two mornings or afternoons between now and then. And write them in pen. You will be glad you did.

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This article originally appeared in Neue Quarterly Vol. 01. You can subscribe to the Quarterly or buy individual copies.

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