The day of our much-awaited rendezvous arrived. I packed, shunned the piles on my desk, and inched toward the door, hoping I could steal away. I had planned a getaway with the one I loved, and I would let nothing stop me - not the “to do” lists, not the projects, and not the unanswered letters.
As I arrived at the retreat center, peace descended upon me like sunlight casting golden
shadows upon the hills. A courtyard garden blossoming with pink roses beckoned. I delayed no longer, meeting Him by the fountain in the garden, my heart and body weary.
“It is so good to be here, so good to be alone with You,” I whispered as hot tears trickled down my cheeks. The guilt that had hounded me before I came no longer bound my heart as I heard Him whisper, “I have been waiting a long time for you to come.”
Too long. Although I spent time alone with God daily, I had begun to approach our morning meetings as any other appointment. Even while we met, I would catch myself planning my grocery list or deliberating over a problem, rather than truly listening to Him. I had not made enough time to rest quietly in God’s presence, listen to His voice, or read His Word as love letters to relish rather than textbook chapters to learn.
The Secret of Passion
When I took my first personal spiritual retreat, I discovered a secret: Just as husbands and wives who interact daily still need time away to revitalize their love, so we, too, need extended time with the Lover of our souls to nurture our passion for Him. We are Christ’s bride (Rev. 21:2), and He is our Husband (Is. 54:5).
A Day in His Courts
Taking a personal spiritual retreat not only invigorates our relationship with God, but – most important – it honors him. When we have no agenda other than waiting upon Him, it tangibly expresses our conviction that He is worth our time. When God calls us to slow down and sit before Him in silence – whether He prompts us to take an afternoon or a few days – we must be willing to obey. On a personal spiritual retreat, we cultivate the spiritual discipline of waiting upon God. As our “soul waits in silence for God only” (Ps. 62:1, NASB), we discover that “a day in His courts is better than a thousand outside” (Ps. 84:10, NASB).
Where should I go? Though you can take a spiritual retreat anywhere you can find solitude – even in a quiet corner of your backyard or a park, at some point I recommend planning a retreat at a convent, monastery, or some other retreat center. I look for locations where I can avoid the temptation to interact with others, and especially enjoy places where I can walk and enjoy nature.
What should I bring? Pack light. Don’t bring stacks of material that might distract you. I recommend bringing a Bible, a journal, and perhaps a devotional guide or reflective book on deepening our intimacy with God. Pack your most comfortable clothes, an extra sweater, shoes for walking or hiking, and a blanket to sit on outside if weather permits.
How long should I plan to stay? I’d encourage you to begin with as much time as you can reasonably spend. If you can initially spare only a few hours, that’s a great! Or try beginning with one day. If time alone in silence is new to you, you may not want to plan a weeklong retreat your first time out.
I’ve found it usually takes me two or three days to quiet my spirit and to become still enough to listen to God. But on a longer retreat, sometimes I also experience great temptation to flee the silence and return to activity after several days. Some of my greatest times communing with God have come only after I have resisted the urge to “cut and run.”
What should I expect? Try to leave your agenda at home. God may want to address something totally different from what’s on your mind. Let go of your expectations of receiving a “word” from God, getting an area of your life totally resolved, or having a burning-bush experience. Think of your retreat as a rendezvous with God, a time simply to be together with Him.
What happens after I arrive? Remind yourself why you have come and who is waiting to talk with you. I like to begin my retreats by walking around the grounds. I pray that God will open my heart to His plans and open my ears to His “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV). As I walk, I also ask God to show me what I can learn about Him from creation.
Time Well Spent
However I spend those precious days or hours, I always seek to be open to the Spirit of God. Ironically, all those things that demanded my attention before leaving lose their grip on me during a retreat. I often return to my responsibilities with fresh perspective, greater discernment regarding God’s priorities for me, and the strength to do what He’s called me to. For “in returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15, NKJV).
Reprinted with permission from Discipleship Journal, issue one hundred twenty, 2000.
P.S. Books for Your Retreat
You may enjoy one of the following books during your retreat. They’ll help you explore what it means to experience God in silence and solitude.
The Practice of the Presence of God
By Brother Lawrence
Making All Things New
By Henri J. M. Nouwen
The Pursuit of God
By A. W. Tozer
Celebration of Discipline
By Richard Foster
The Imitation of Christ
By Thomas a Kempis
The Soul at Rest
By Trician McCary Rhodes
By Jane Rubietta
Listening to God
By Jan Johnson