Frozen pizza or fresh baked? Nothing wrong with a good frozen pizza especially as you walk through the grocery store late at night and you can have pizza in 30 minutes! But no matter how good a frozen pizza might be, there is nothing like a fresh pizza made from qualities ingredients made by expert hands fresh from the oven. It reminds me of a pizza place in my hometown of Austintown, Ohio. There is nothing quite like a fresh pizza pie from Wedgewood pizza, made by the master of pizza, Fernando Riccioni.
You may be wondering what in the world this has to do with the Retreat House. It might mean I shouldn’t be writing when I am hungry! However, just like quality Ingredients in the hands of a master chef like Fernando make a great pizza, so too can quality ingredients make for a great retreat placed in the hands of the Master for Him to do His work. Not all retreats have to have these ingredients, but here are some wonderful items to consider as you think about going on a retreat with God.
That’s right. Sleep. There is something refreshing and restorative about sleep. Depending on the length of your retreat, you might sneak a cat nap or a nice leisurely snooze. On retreat we give ourselves permission to fully unwind. Sleep can be a wonderful ingredient to include. On my most recent retreat, midway through the morning I took a nice nap. It was wonderful to experience the gift of sleep.
Strong’s Dictionary defines the Greek word for rest used in Mark 6:31 this way: “to cause or permit one to cease from any movement or labor in order to recover and collect his strength”. Rest is different than sleep. We are awake in rest but we let go of all striving and activity. We learn to sit quietly, letting our souls settle, our heartbeat slows down, and we enjoy just
breathing, taking slow deep breaths. We rest in the presence of God. We attune our hearts and minds on just being in His presence. We take notice of Him without any expectation of what is to come.
A great retreat includes movement. One of my absolute favorite things to do on retreat is to walk….slowly. There is certainly much research around walking and the good it does for us. Even more so, it just provides a way for us to experience the nearness of God. As we walk we can explore creation and allow ourselves to be enraptured by its grandeur and beauty. Sometimes we might meditate
on a short passage of scripture as we walk. Some of the most significant moments I have had with God is while I have been walking. Walking also helps with distractions. Our minds tend to go a million miles an hour so trying to keep focused on God for the time of retreat can be challenging. Walking has always helped me to focus and refocus on my time with God.
This can be a hard one. We are so used to noise and activity that silence can be awkward and a little scary. What if we don’t hear anything from God? But you know what? Silence is beautiful. Recently my wife and I went for a drive in the country. When we got out of the car, we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the silence. No traffic noise, no music playing, no crowds of people…
we were away from all media. It just felt so peaceful. Silence is a great ingredient to nurture. Sometimes when we least expect it, God may move in us in times of silence. Ruth Haley Barton, in Sacred Rhythms, describes one such moment while being served dinner in silence on retreat:
Without silence, we are usually too busy or distracted to experience a movement of God that He wants to make in our lives. It may be challenging, but try to embrace the silence. At times when I sense my wandering or compulsion to fill up the silence, I stop, take a couple of deep breaths to refocus my attention and then I say a short prayer where I choose to let go of whatever is tempting me to shun the silence. I confess that to God and then ask Him for His help to learn how to rest in silence with Him.
Prayer and Scripture
We experience communication with God as we spend time in prayer and in His word. Prayer is wonderful way to express to God what you experience as you are on retreat. Do not feel any pressure to pray all the time or for a specific length of time. On retreat, you will be resting, sleeping, walking and eating. But there will be times while you are retreating that you may want to carve out and reflect with God what you may be experiencing or share some of life that you brought with you on retreat.
Regarding Scripture, it is helpful to focus on one passage of Scripture. Unless you have defined this to be a study retreat, try to limit the amount of Scripture you read. You might pick a passage of Scripture ahead of time that you want to meditate on as the theme of your retreat. Sometimes, God lays a passage on your heart during retreat. Let go of any pressure to read lots of chapters or to do deep Biblical analysis. Let this be a time to soak and experience the words God has given you.
Some may call this self-awareness, but noticing is a very important ingredient on retreat. When we are retreating, we are letting go of activity, busyness and performance. We are resting, walking slowly, and nurturing silence. During this time notice what you are feeling and thinking. Do you sense any resistance? Just notice what is happening without making a judgement on yourself.
As you begin to notice things, these become wonderful opportunities to bring up to God in prayer. On a recent retreat, after the first couple of hours I began to notice this tension of performance beginning to resonate within me. Part of me just wanted to stop the retreat because I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. But, instead I just noticed the struggle. I didn’t try to push it away. I continued on for a while longer and God began to show me more about the meaning of it all. He showed me how my need to perform was more about me and making myself look acceptable to others rather than from a pure heart that is loved by God.
One final ingredient for a good retreat is journaling. To be honest, this is my least favorite part or at least the one I struggle with most. For some reason, writing down my thoughts and expressing what God may be showing me is hard. Maybe in part because of a fear someone will read it some day and think I was stupid to think that? Who knows? But I have found when I carve out some time and
sit quietly and reflect on what I have been noticing and what God has been sharing with me in prayer or scripture or in walking, I have an easier time and I start to write. Two things have helped me to break down the journal barrier I have. First, I just start writing. I have found when I start I am able to put focus on the passion and thoughts of where I am in the moment. Second, I put the thought filter away. This is hard as I like to think before I speak, but with journaling I just try to write as I feel led without trying to make sense of it or organize it in any particular way. As I do this I have found freedom to express things to God or what I am experiencing in life to God that has been really helpful. Later when the retreat is over, I can look back at my journal and see what God was showing me and what if anything I may want to pay attention to going forward.
There you have it. The Retreat House. We bring all of ourselves to the retreat house to spend time with our Father. We come with an attitude of openness and courage. We receive the giftedness of this house and the place, space, and time we have been given. We then add some quality ingredients that can help us spend this time with God that allows us to experience Him more fully.
How about you? Have you given thought to doing a retreat? What might your retreat look like? Is there something within you that yearns for this place of retreat with your loving Father? I hope that presenting this retreat house helps you to have framework for doing retreat. For me, it kind of gives me permission to keep it simple and try not to make it more complicated than it is.
In the next post, let’s go on a retreat together. I am going to share some ideas of what I have done on retreats and stories of how I have encountered God while on retreat.