This is the final installment of this series on Entering the Retreat House. So far we have described the various aspects of the Retreat House. We enter the house with our lives and our experiences. The house is built on a foundation of community. We are not alone, we enter in the community of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and sometimes we retreat with others as well. We bring attitudes of openness and courage as we place ourselves in the Holy community. We acknowledge that His house is a gift we have been given where we have a place, space and time to just be and rest with God. And we also incorporate several ingredients that make retreat meaningful including sleep, rest, walking, silence, Scripture, prayer, noticing, and journaling. Now that we know about the Retreat House, let’s experience it together.
One Day Retreat Model
There are so many ways to do retreats but I would like to focus on one model that I have used the most that has been a real blessing to me. This model is a one day retreat where I go from when I wake up until around 4-5 in the afternoon. I have found that with a little planning and intentionality this kind of retreat time can be done on a fairly regular basis without placing too much of an imposition on others.
So lets walk through a retreat example. I am going to describe a retreat that I recently did but also sprinkle in some experiences I have had on previous retreats to help explain the retreat model. Below are various components that help describe my one day retreat model.
I am a planner and I believe on a previous post I may have discussed how I over analyzed and tried to plan the “perfect” retreat some years ago. So when I think about preparation, I am describing the idea of preparing your heart for the retreat day. I like to do this the night before the retreat. I begin to let go of any tasks or burdens or responsibilities of regular day to day living. I might even make a list of these things and pray, surrendering them to God. The evening before I am beginning my unplugging process. There is something restful in knowing the next day will be a day of retreat, away from the regular stresses of life.
The Retreat House can be any number of places. I have gone to a retreat center, a church, and most often a park. For my last retreat, my home was my retreat house. We no longer have kids in the house so our house is a great place for retreat as long a I put away the ‘chore list’ from my mind. I spent a good bit of time sitting in this chair in our bedroom or by our pool in the back yard. We have a wonderful retention pond in our community that was the target of a couple of walks on this last retreat
Starting the Morning with Gratitude
I begin this day slowly. Knowing I don’t have to be anywhere specific, I let myself lie in bed, maybe even doze off a little. I spend some time before I get up, thanking God for this day and dwell for a few moments on my life and all that God has done for me.
Theme of the Day
Sometimes you may block out a day of retreat for a specific purpose like praying for direction or healing of another. Often, though, we are retreating just to get away and be with our Father. In the last retreat I took, I focused on the theme of “living water” based on this passage of scripture from John 7:37-39:
Some of you may be rolling your eyes at the idea of journaling and I am right there with you. This is not a requirement but an invitation to jot down anything you are experiencing during your day at the Retreat House. Journaling does not come naturally for me but I have found if I just start and not worry about being perfect in my writing or worry if someone thinks I am not spiritual enough if they read it, then it has become a welcome part of my journey. Journaling helps my wandering mind to refocus and I have also noticed as I write sometimes thoughts continue to come that I may not have tapped into without taking the time to journal.
When I first starting doing retreats, I was really concerned with how to fill up the time and how to keep from getting distracted. In a way I initially tried to fill up my retreat schedule with so much activity because I was afraid of the silence and being distracted. Here are some things I have found helpful in managing distractions:
- Acceptance: you will have them and that is ok. Accept them as they come. Don’t beat your self up when they come but don’t run down the trail with them
- Breathe: when I feel a distraction, I take a couple of deep breaths and as I do I return my attention back to God
- Creation: focus on the beauty of creation and let that draw my attention back to God
- Movement: walking and other light activity are helpful in warding off distractions. If you have been having quiet time and sense your mind wandering. Get up and take a walk.
- Light work: if I am home, I might unload the dishwasher or pull a few weeds. I refocus my attention on God as I do this.
- Scripture: I keep going back to my chosen verses of the day anytime I feel a distraction going on.
Structure of the day
I hesitated in writing this section because the last thing we want to get caught up in is putting too much structure to our retreat. However, I thought it would be helpful to give an example of what retreat day might look like. As I think about the day, there is an overall rhythm that seems to permeate the day. There is an ebb and flow that seems to work for me from rest to movement back to rest and then movement again. So as I highlight a day for me, you can see this rhythm. Sometimes we can think when we are retreating that we must be in constant prayer and Bible study. In a way we are but it does not mean we are sitting at a desk all day or in a chair. There is something that I find refreshing as my day ebbs and flows between stillness and activity. As you read the points below, can you see this flow?
· Beginning of the day: take some time to express gratitude for the new day.
· Morning Quiet Time: spend some time in silence, reflect on your theme of the day or a passage of scripture you are looking at. On this retreat day, I take plenty of time to ponder Jesus as living water and what am I thirsty for. For some of this time, I sit in silence and resist the urge to fill up the time any activity or talking.
· Morning Walk: walking really helps wake up my mind. I may continue to take my quiet time thoughts as I walk. Most often, my heart is drawn to revel in the beauty of God’s creation.
· Journal: By now it is mid to late morning, so I sit for a little bit with a notebook and write down anything I have experienced so far. We talked about one of the ingredients to a good retreat is “noticing”. What did I notice as I was meditating on living water or as I taking the morning walk? Don’t feel the pressure to write or having to write something perfectly, just what you feel you are experiencing with God. Here is a section of what I wrote after my morning walk:
· Light Lunch: I usually have a light lunch. This can also be a day to practice the discipline of fasting.
· Quiet Time: I take some more time reflecting on my theme of the day, mixing in praise and worship.
· Light Activity: I spent a little time this day pruning back a couple of hibiscus bushes in our backyard. That may not “spiritual enough” for a retreat but doing some light work with my hands as long as it is not taxing or overwhelming really helps me continue to experience God’s presence and keep my mind focused.
· NAP!: it is early to mid afternoon at this point, so I give myself permission to lay down for a little bit and take a short nap. Thank you Lord for the gift of sleep!
· Afternoon Walk: feeling refreshed from my nap, I go for one more nice walk.
· Quiet Time: one more moment of quiet with God
· Journal: at the end of the day, I write down anything else I see the Lord putting on my heart. Here is one portion of what I wrote:
Leaving the Retreat House
A few things I have noticed after a day in the retreat house.
First, I sometimes leave with a little sense of sadness. Blocking out a significant time with God can leave you yearning for more! It’s a little like the feeling you get on the last day of vacation, but at a deeper level of the soul!
Another thing I have noticed is how fast paced our lives really are. I really noticed this after one retreat I took at a nearby park. As I began driving home, I was struck by the pace of the cars and the intensity and rush I felt. No wonder I can feel out sorts at times when I am marinating in an environment of rush and activity. It reminds me of the famous quote from Dallas Willard: “Ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
Finally, God has always spoken. It may not be an actual voice, but He has always spoken. Most of the time it is simply the message of His love for me and every once in a while it may be more of a movement to action. One retreat I took last August I felt the Lord letting me know up front that He was not going to give me any special word or task to do afterward, He just wanted me to rest in His presence and learn that that is enough. That was powerful for me. It let me know how performance-oriented I can be even in doing a retreat and having an expectation of something “worthwhile” that came out of it. Wow, that sounds bad now that I write it. I think what God was reminding me of what St. Augustine meant in his famous quote:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
I hope this has been helpful in providing an example of spending time in the Retreat House. It is such a wonderful place, I marvel at times how I can go so long in between visits. But it always available, and you can book a room at any time for as long you want. Are you ready to make a reservation? If you do, I would love to hear about your experience. Feel free to share your Retreat House experience in the comment section below.