Have you taken a retreat lately?
Maybe right about now the only kind of retreat you are thinking of making has more to do with fleeing or running away than sitting in prayer or meditation. Alas, there is nowhere we can run to escape from the pandemic, the new pressures of ministry on top of the old pressures of ministry, the election, or all the other things that are spinning through our minds. That, dear ministry leaders, is exactly why you should be figuring out how to design a retreat for your spirit.
Retreats come in all shapes and sizes, from taking half a day to center yourself, to going away for a week of silence. There are all kinds of formats for retreats that will tell you what to do and what not to do, but right now in these extraordinary times, I invite you to reflect on your own needs and give yourself permission to design and take the retreat that you need most. Here are some things to consider as you plan.
What is the purpose?
Chances are pretty good that as you start to imagine taking a retreat you start thinking of all the work you could get done if you only had a few days to yourself. Cool. But that isn’t a retreat; that’s work time. Obviously the time you put into your own retreat will have benefits for your ministry, but this is about your own health and well-being as a child of God, not accomplishing work projects. So the first question to ask yourself is what is the purpose of the retreat? Maybe it is rest, healing, discernment, or simply space to listen to the Spirit living within you. Whatever nudges you are feeling from the Holy Spirit about why you should be taking time to nurture your own heart are there to serve as your starting point.
At their core, retreats serve to help us better connect with ourselves and God. They open up sacred space away from the daily tasks and busyness of life so that we can take a pause, notice things in new ways, and really be present. So be clear about the purpose of your retreat and then shape your retreat around that point.
Begin with prayer. Pray about what you need at this time and how you might create space to take care of yourself. What is your heart telling you?
Set an intention, or choose a guiding image, word, or phrase to return to as you ground yourself in your retreat time. Bring an icon, a piece of music, a poem or writing to reflect upon or to bring you comfort, clarity, or challenge.
Think about what helps you reconnect with yourself and God that you don’t always have time and space to do. Maybe you want time to pray the hours, meditate, write, read, hike, or create art. What is going to nurture you at this time?
This is valuable sacred time, so treat it as such. Don’t sabotage yourself by scrolling through social media. Put down your phone and turn off notifications. Give yourself permission to be disconnected for a bit so you can reconnect with something greater.
Have a schedule in mind, but don’t be rigid; be open to the Spirit’s guiding. Maybe that hike through the woods will lead you to places in your heart that you need to explore more fully; go there. Maybe your intention to journal feels forced and flat; move your body instead. This is your time.
Prepare for yourself like you would prepare to lead others—with love, thoughtfulness, and flexibility. Think about what you need (and don’t need) to be fully present. If you need rest, set yourself up for good rest. If you want to explore the outdoors, bring good shoes. Bring the food, books, candle, journal, and comfy clothes that are going to support your retreat time.
Communicate well with those who might need you while you are on retreat. When are you willing to take calls and texts, and when will your phone be off? Be clear to avoid frustration for all parties.
Consider all the boundaries of your sacred pause. You don’t need to post, tweet, or share anything; this is just between you and God. Let this time be just yours without outside commentary.
A retreat might be half a day, one hour a week, a night away, a weekend, or longer. What is doable in the context of work and family is different for each of us, but we all can carve out a little time. If taking a long retreat is not possible, consider scheduling smaller half or whole days in your month to observe as retreat space and treat it as sacred space on your calendar.
This may be the biggest challenge these days. What feels safe to you? How far are you willing to travel while respecting the guidance of your local health department and the realities of COVID? It might be that your backyard or your favorite neighborhood park will serve you well for a half day retreat. If you are able to take more time, check out a Bible camp, a cabin, vacation rental, or Bed and Breakfast near you. Check with family or friends who might be willing to let you use their cabin, porch, or spare room.
A blessing for you as you plan:
Gracious God, you created, and are creating, and will continue to create. And you rested and will rest again. Rest, it seems, is part of the cycle. What do you do for rest, God? Do you marvel at the colors or listen to birdsong on repeat? Do you let the sun wake you when it chooses, or laugh with the wind, or taste what has ripened in the branches of the trees, or absorb the glow of the moon? Do you look back and remember, with joy or grief, or write down all the things that expand your heart? Do you breathe in compassion, and exhale out love? Do you meditate on our potential or sew up broken hearts with brightly colored thread?
Teach us to rest, O God, because rest comes from you.
Teach us to rest, O God, to renew and recreate our hearts in love.
Teach us to rest, O God, to take time and space to really be, just be.
Teach us to rest, O God, in you.