He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.”
Spiritual retreat is time set apart to be in quiet, rest, and solitude with God. For generations, people have gone on spiritual retreats to encounter God and experience spiritual renewal.
Retreats remove us from noise and distraction, and into a place of spiritual refreshing and renewing. It is a way of entering into the presence of God, and allowing him to nourish our soul. As we settle into the stillness, we notice the stirrings of our soul, our deeper longings, and God’s quiet whisper to us.
Wise words from a spiritual mentor
One of the people who first got me to consider taking a personal spiritual retreat was the late author known for writing about Christian spiritual formation, Dallas Willard. Dr. Willard was a professor at USC while I was there as a student, and later as a campus minister. During one of his open office hours, Steve and I meandered into his messy little office, hoping to gain a bit of wisdom from Dr. Willard. As he was known to do, he welcomed us in, and generously answered our questions. One question we asked him was, "What spiritual disciplines do you think are most vital for leaders to practice?" Without a pause, he answered "Solitude." He went on to say, "In order for ministers and leaders to thrive, they must maintain a deep, abiding relationship with God outside of public ministry demands." He suggested we learn how to be with God by ourselves through practicing regular extended times of retreat.
I am not one to take Dallas Willard's perspective lightly, but the idea of having extended time of solitude and silence initially seemed like a terrible idea to me. I am extroverted and driven by nature, and at a deeper level, I was scared of simply being with God. Wasn't I going to just be bored out of my mind? What if God doesn't do anything, and it's a complete waste?
My experience with spiritual retreats
For my first spiritual retreat, I blocked out 24 hours (which sounded way too long to me). I found a local retreat center, brought my Bible and a book, and asked God to meet with me. Guess what happened? God MET WITH ME. God gave my soul deep rest that I didn't even know I needed. God spoke some words to my soul that refreshed me and ministered to me.
Since that first retreat, I have taken personal spiritual retreats for prayer and solitude about 1-2 times a year. Each time I have a retreat, I receive an incredible outpouring of God's presence, direction, and voice. I often come back from my retreats with renewed vision, a deeper connectedness to God, and a clearer sense of my identity. In short, I highly recommend spiritual retreats to anyone who wants more of God in their lives.
You may want to take a spiritual retreat, but don't know how to do it. If the practice of spiritual retreat is new or foreign to you, I've created a simple guide for you. Whether your retreat is a half-day or multiple days, this guide will give you some helpful steps to take.
Download and print a free PDF Guide to Spiritual Retreat.
A STEP-BY-STEP GUIDE TO SPIRITUAL RETREAT
1. CREATE THE TIME & FIND A PLACE
Consider the length of time you want to take, and figure out when it can fit into your schedule. It can be a day or multiple days. Make any necessary arrangements to protect this time from distractions and work. Find a quiet setting where you can spend time alone with God. Go to a retreat center or monastery that welcomes visitors. Or spend a day outdoors in nature.
2. SET YOUR INTENTION
Consider what the purpose is for your retreat. What are you hoping to receive from the time? Perhaps you want to experience rest, or gain more clarity about something in your life. Maybe you are discerning your vocational calling or a major life decision, and want to dialogue about that with God.
3. SETTLE INTO GOD’S PRESENCE
Once you begin your retreat, spend a while simply settling in. Do something that helps you quiet your body and soul, and ease into the present moment - take a leisurely walk, or sit in stillness while doing deep breathing exercises. Allow yourself to become aware of God’s presence. When you sense his nearness, dialogue with him about your feelings and expectations of this time. Ask him what he wants for you to receive during this time. Listen. Respond to any stirrings you receive from the Spirit.
Let your awareness turn to the last week or month. How have you experienced God’s presence? What has been life-giving? What has been life-draining? You can use the Life Reflection worksheet. As you reflect, notice any desires of your soul that emerge.
5. CONNECT WITH GOD
Connect with God through practices that help you engage with him and rest in his presence. You might read Scripture, practice centering prayer, write a psalm, make a gratitude list, or go on a hike with God. Do some good self-care in the presence of God. Do anything that you desire that makes space for your soul to worship and listen. This Creating Space for God prayer guide or the Examen Prayer might be useful.
6. RECEIVE & RETURN
Ponder what you received from God during your retreat. What do you want to leave behind? What do you want to bring back with you? There is no right way to retreat. Receive what has been given to you, trusting that whatever happens is nourishing you in the way God intends.
Now that you have some simple guidelines, go for it! I believe that if you take a spiritual retreat, you will experience so much joy, life, and renewal. I hope and pray that you would encounter the life-changing presence and voice of God.
I have a lot of great guides and books in my resource library. Pick 1-2 of those resources and use them during your retreat.
Want to get more guidance for your spiritual retreat? I can help you with crafting a spiritual retreat to fit your unique needs. I will also guide and coach you before and after your retreat so you get the most out of it. Learn more about my Guidance for Spiritual Retreats.
Have you ever taken a spiritual retreat? How have your experiences been for you? If you haven't taken a spiritual retreat, what questions do you have? Please share in the comments.
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4/28/2016 08:31:01 pm
Great tips! We all need to do more "retreats" and getting away from the noise.
5/2/2016 02:31:39 pm
Great stuff Larissa! Simple, clear, and motivational. Thanks for creating such a helpful resource. We would all do well to make this practice a regular part of our lives.
12/16/2016 11:17:54 am
I love the practical help here. A spiritual retreat sounds so good but often we don't know how to "do" it. There is a doing part to being and you laid it out here. Thanks so much. Niki (visiting from H*W)
12/28/2017 01:36:59 pm
I like that you mentioned taking time on this retreat to connect with God by hiking or reading scripture. I know in the scriptures there is often talk of going up a mountain to get closer to God. Maybe you could do this and find some peace in this way.
4/4/2018 12:03:49 pm
I think this would be very healing for me. I like that you mentioned you should reflect on the last week or month. I think this can help you see all the good that has happened to you. It can also help you reflect on yourself to see where you can improve.
7/16/2018 06:09:43 am
I love this quote that you shared, "In order for ministers and leaders to thrive, they must maintain a deep, abiding relationship with God outside of public ministry demands." Recently, I have found it very hard to help others. My patience has been running low, and I haven't known why. Now I know that I must focus more on my spirituality and refocus on God so I am better able to help others. My heart is telling me I should look more into a places to retreat to help my spirituality.
11/16/2018 01:55:32 pm
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8/21/2020 03:01:52 am
Well articulated points. Really enjoyed reading through it. Well done.
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It's good to know that you should consider the purpose of the treat. My sister was telling me last night about how she is wanting to look into going on a religious retreat in a couple of weeks, and she wanted to know some tips about going on one. I'll make sure to pass this information along to her once she finds a retreat to go on.
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