A DAY FOR RETREAT
ideas for what to do!
Sometimes (often, most of the time) I need rest – physical, emotional, yes, but mostly spiritual time away from normal everyday busy-ness. I need to make time for meeting with God over a longer period, time for spiritual renewal and self-examination. In Jesus’ time, long walks were part of everyday life – when one could presumably reflect and pray and think, although it was probably no easier than it is now! Jesus certainly 'drew aside' from everything for quiet moments, often climbing the hillside to do so. And so I need to build in times of quiet, times of enjoying God’s creation. At least once a year (and three or four or five times is better!) it helps if I go to a place of quiet and beauty and just BE.
If you've never done this before, it may be strange at first. Maybe start with just a few hours – a half day; or maybe only an hour for the very first time. Start small and keep adding. Don’t wait until you feel you can take on a whole day or you may never begin! And if after a while you have had enough, don’t feel guilty! Either push on through to see what happens; or leave it there and try again another time. Or try something entirely different! These are just suggestions which I have personally found work for me and for many others; feel free to experiment!
PLANNING A DAY OR HALF DAY RETREAT
PLANNING: there’s the start. If I don't plan, it doesn't happen! I have to PLAN when to do this and write down the date and time, and the place, otherwise I'll procrastinate and never start. Then I begin to look forward eagerly to this special time, asking the Lord already to meet with me and refresh and renew me.
SUGGESTIONS TO TAKE: Bible, journal, pen; family photos or special momentoes; Praise worship (CD, iPod, etc) post card of a painting
- I like to get away, head for the countryside, a retreat centre, a friend’s country cottage. If you can’t, make a special area at home with some of your favourite things, maybe a rocking chair, a large cushion, scented candles. Get it ready in advance and every time you pass be excited in anticipation! Check if you need to remove a ticking clock or anything else distracting.
- When going away, it's good to get there the night before. I love to have a long relaxing bubble bath and allow the cares and stresses to begin to slip away and then retire early with a relaxing drink (Horlicks?!?!?!?! Camomile tea …) and I do love a hot water bottle at night!! Snuggling in, I read the Scriptures planned for tomorrow - but just read them, nothing else, and then put the light out early. Bliss!
- Awake whenever – no alarm clock! And I don’t DO anything, for half an hour. Breakfast: taking a mug of steaming coffee and sitting on a sunny rock, or under a tree, or by a log fire and just sitting and BE-ing with God.
- Then it's time for an extended praise and thanksgiving to God, focusing on all the things I'm grateful for. If I need a reminder or a prompt, I can ook at the photos and momentoes I brought with me and praise and thank God for what they each mean to me. Then a fun bit: listing 10 things in my journal for which I'm grateful and thank God for each of them, with the focus on blessings, not problems. Then another 10 and thank Him; and another …. And so on. Sometimes I will set myself a minimum, say 30 or 50 or …. And see where I end up!!! No pleases, just thanks!
- A Psalm, (Not a difficult one, but one of my favourites, such as praise one) and I read it out loud. Slowly. Twice. Then I put the Bible down and reflect on it, maybe recall words or phrases that stood out or leaped at me, or meant something. Then write them down. Read aloud again – slowly. Maybe learn by heart one of the special verses. Write it down. Ask the Lord if He is saying something to me through it.
- Then, and only then, I turn to either my normal daily Bible reading, or to a special Bible passage; or to a whole small book (eg Philemon or Jude) I can spend an hour or two on this: read it aloud, slowly; relish the phrases; repeat it until the meanings truly sink in. Listening – letting God speak to me through it. Mark/write/record what happens. Was does it mean? Is there a promise, a command? Something I don’t understand which I can look up another time or ask someone about later? Reflect and pray it through.
- One of my favourite things is then to go for a long leisurely walk and enjoy an extended time of praise. And when I am far away from civilisation and anyone who could possibly hear I sing praise songs aloud in the glories of creation (the psalmist recommends making a joyful NOISE to the Lord so then I don’t worry that I am not an opera singer!!) Then I can envision God looking at me with love and walking beside me with His arm on my shoulder - like a friend accompanying me on the journey, in love. I either sing unaccompanied or I have some things on the iPod to sing along to.
6 Then and only then, either whilst out or on my return, I pray and write down my prayers. - for my family, my friends, my loved ones; for my self, spiritually, emotionally, physically, socially, intellectually; God, when you look at me, what do you see? Lord how am I doing? What do you want to change in me? I pray about my dreams, my challenges, my diary.
- Enjoy a leisurely lunch at some point (or I may want to fast for the day) and listen to some worship music – of whatever type I prefer that day!
- After lunch, I take a nap; rest and put my feet up. I do nothing for a while, with a cup of tea. I might look at a religious painting or a picture that speaks to me of God and meditate on it and put myself into it and allow the Lord to work in me through it.
- I enjoy reading through the late afternoon - a helpful but light book – maybe a Christian biography – a book which will bless, inspire, enthuse me.
- Finally, almost regretfully, it's time to return home listening to my favourite Christian praise music .
Sometimes it's hard to return to the noise and bustle of home, family, pets, etc. But I know that often happens, and so I pray about it on my return journey, asking for grace and lots and lots of patience, and for the fruit of the Spirit as my loved ones crowd around and normal life resumes. And I hope I remembered to make sure supper was prepared either before I left or by someone else!
If you are returning to an empty dark flat, ask for the love of Jesus to be there to welcome you home, for His light to shine in the darkness and for His presence to surround you.
Finally, I remember to write the date in my diary for my next retreat.
© P Swithinbank