This is a small study guide on how to take a private Christian retreat — a practice that is firmly based on hearing God’s word in the Bible and through His Holy Spirit.
Your private retreat may take half a day, a day or 2 days. Of course you can take longer such as whole weekend and there are people who can retreat for one or two weeks. For most of us with families and regular jobs, a half-day to 2 days will be the most likely.
Can you retreat at home? You can, especially with the half day retreats. However, home can be mightily distracting. I suggest that you do something different than you normally do, such as take the retreat on your porch or deck. If it’s cold or too public (or you don’t have a porch or deck), then change the furniture around or go into a room you don’t spend a lot of time in. You can also prepare a place for a retreat by cleaning a spot of its usual bric-a-brac and bringing in plants and candles. Anything to make it look different and welcoming.
Can you retreat at your church? Maybe. Your local church probably knows you well and you’re likely to run into people you know. You will have to plan your location carefully to avoid talking to everyone who comes into the church during the day. I would suggest you tell the pastor what you are doing and then take your retreat in the sanctuary where people are less likely to be running in and out.
Ideally you would go elsewhere. Here are some ideas:
- A local monastery or convent. You don’t have to be Roman Catholic or Episcopalian to be welcome at their guest houses. Call beforehand since not all monasteries are set up to take retreatants, but many are.
- Park or public garden. There will be other people around but they won’t interrupt you. You do need a quiet place though, so find a place off the beaten track such as a secluded bench away from the action.
- Ocean, lakeside or forest. It’s easier to find a private place in the forest than by a beach – something about all those trees. But if you can find a secluded beach or quiet lakeside, then go for it. And if you or someone you know owns a vacation property where you can be alone, that is close to ideal.
- Someone else’s house. This can be a little unusual but you might be able to arrange some retreat time at a friend’s or parents’ house. It should go without saying that the friend and parents shouldn’t be there at the same time.
Phones and the Internet
Keep the cell phone off and the Internet connection at home. Some of you are getting the shakes even as we speak, because what if the world should blow up during the six hours you do not have your cell phone turned on? Honestly, if you have an ailing parent, child or pet you’re not going to be on away on a retreat anyway. As for the Internet connection, lose it. I most often journal on my laptop so you can bring a laptop if you like, but turn off the wireless connection. Sure you can get to the excellent www.BibleGateway.com on line, but Facebook also beckons. Turn it off.
What to Bring
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes, because I urge you to go walking as part of your retreat. One of the important places to meet God and to worship him is in the beauty of his creation. Bring your Bible. Bring something to journal with. Journal ideas include:
- Good old paper and pen. When I’m away from my computer I take a blank book with me and write in that. I have a whole collection of them by now.
- Laptop. If you journal electronically then bring it along, just turn off the Internet!
- Visual journal. Bring along paper and art supplies such as markers, colored pencils, watercolors, and collage materials. It doesn’t matter if you’re artistically any good or not.
- Bring snacks or a lunch and water. Or fast, in which case just bring the water and maybe a thermos of coffee. (That’s probably fast cheating but I do it anyway.)
- Bring Christian books to read but don’t send the whole day doing it. It can be tempting to read a good book and call it a day, but if you do read a Christian book then read it in short snatches and pray and journal over what you just read.
At the Retreat
There is one thing and one thing only you are going to be doing at your retreat: PRAY. You will pray over different things. You will pray over your Bible reading and Christian books. You will pray as you journal. You will pray as you walk. You will pray as you wrestle with issues and learning. You will pray as you relax into the presence of God in silence.
That’s really it, that’s the whole point. Talking to God. This site has some specific retreat themes and ideas, but don’t feel that you have to have a formal structure. Sometimes all God wants from us is our attention. Why? So He can show us that He loves us. How amazing, how life-changing is that? Listen. Just listen.