I recently had a three-day personal prayer retreat. For years, I have taken 1-2 prayer retreats every year, and they have become a foundational element in my spiritual growth and relationship with God. If you're wondering more about my personal prayer retreat, read on.
Where did I spend my prayer retreat?
My prayer retreat was at the Benedictine Monastery of Hawaii. Like many other Catholic retreat centers, the monastery hosts guests for retreats for a very reasonable fee. I paid $50 per night, which included a private bedroom and bathroom, as well as meals served in the dining hall. The Benedictines are the oldest religious order of the Catholic Church, and practice communal worship and prayer three times a day.
What did I bring with me?
I had a journal, Bible, my Retreat Guide and Life Reflection, and a few books (Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry by Ruth Haley Barton and The Color of Secrets by Lindsay Jayne Ashford). I find that one spiritual book and one novel is a good amount of content to consume. If I bring no books, I feel aimless; if I bring too many books, I feel overwhelmed.
What happened during my prayer retreat?
Even though I am not Catholic, I was graciously welcomed and encouraged into participating in the community practices by the monks. As an outsider, I observed how the daily communal prayer and mealtimes created built-in rhythms for everyone together. It was a gift to have these rhythms as part of our schedule.
Outside of the three daily times of communal worship and prayer with the Benedictine monks, I spent the rest of my time alone. I view these retreats as space to connect with God, retreat from daily life, and allow my soul to be refreshed.
Here are the main things that happened during my retreat:
Reflection with God
During the first few hours of my retreat, I read through my Retreat Guide, and spent time in reflective prayer. I allowed my soul to settle in, and shared with God about what I hoped for. I asked him to say and do whatever he wanted during the retreat. This invitation is a simple yet crucial transaction between God and myself. I struggle with wanting to control these prayer retreats, so submitting the three days to God’s agenda is a good discipline for me.
I did this Life Reflection, which is an exercise of a few simple questions that helped me to step back and consider the present reality of my life, soul, and spiritual health.
Throughout the prayer retreat, I paused and asked God to speak to me. Whenever I sensed God speaking, I wrote those things down in my journal. There were a few words, Scriptures, and images I received from God.
There were also several moments when I felt drawn to read Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, and was prompted at various points of reading to dialogue with God. For example, in the book the author talks about creating rhythms of Sabbath in community. I realized that although I want to practice a consistent Sabbath, I truly have no idea how to practically do that within our family life. I asked God for insight and wisdom in this area of my life, and sensed that he will give direction as I discuss this with my husband.
Solitude and Silence
For me, solitude and silence feel both refreshing and uncomfortable.
I believe the discomfort occurs not simply because I am used to more noise and activity, but also because my soul enjoys being distracted. When I fill my life with social media, activities, and other voices, I can ignore the subtle places of loneliness that my soul experiences. If it is simply me sitting quietly with God, there’s no place to run and hide.
If I allow myself to enter into the solitude and silence, my soul begins to enjoy the quiet. The weight and burden of needing to have words or social energy for other people starts to lift off my shoulders. There is freedom to simply be God's child, and rest in the still presence of my Father.
Sleep and Rest
After several prayer retreats like this, I have come to expect that a big portion of my time will be spent sleeping. In my normal daily life, naps feel like rare luxuries. I am constantly on the go, pushing through tiredness to get things done. I’m usually unaware of how exhausted I am until I have the space and permission to deeply rest. Did you know that God ministers to us by allowing us to sleep? Prayer retreats give me a chance to switch to “off” for a while. On each day of my retreat, I took 2 long naps, and slept for a full 8 hours at night. My body needed this restorative sleep time from God.
Beyond sleeping, my body was allowed to rest. I moved slowly, without having to jump from activity to activity. I sat around a lot, being more attentive to sights and sounds around me that I normally miss.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
~ Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
My prayer retreat can be summed up in the promise from Jesus above, “Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.” I received renewed vision for life and ministry, a clearer sense of what God is doing in me, and direction for the next leg of the journey.
Ultimately, I had the experience of being with Jesus, and receiving his rest, life, and freedom.
How are you in need of a prayer retreat? How can you make space for time to be alone with God in the next few weeks?
If you would like guidance from me in taking your own prayer retreat, I'd love to work with you. Read about how I can help with your retreat.
How to Take a Spiritual Retreat: A Practical Step-By-Step Guide
10 Practical Ideas For Your Spiritual Growth
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Author: Larissa Marks
Larissa Marks is a spiritual director, ministry planter, writer, and Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Bluewater Mission Church in Honolulu, Hawaii. Her mission in life is to know God, and help others know him. She enjoys hanging out with her husband Steve and their three kids, drinking red wine, and hoarding books.