I’m a pretty simple, straightforward guy, and as a leader, I’ve been an advocate for my team to take personal retreats at least twice a year. At a minimum, I consider a personal retreat fills a standard, full workday, 8 to 10 hours, tucked away in a quiet place, following some simple practices I’ll outline below. Before the what, let’s look at the why.
Your why may differ, but here are the reasons I take a personal retreat:
1. I need a good cry.
In my personal retreat, I come before the Lord saying, “I’m not enough, but You are, and I need to cry out my concerns, worries, shortcomings, discouragement, sadness and stress before You, and I’m praying that You will lead me today and restore my soul.
2. I need a good nap.
At some point in the day, I’m going to lay down my journal, my bible, my timeline, my structure and I’m just going to take a good nap, resting in my Father’s loving arms. It’s a nap of dependence and trust, saying, “God, I’m depending on you, and I’m trusting that today, you are at work, even though I am at rest.”
3. I need focused time with the Lord.
In my work, I am usually generating some output or meeting with people trying to accomplish something and my days are filled with thoughts of getting stuff done. Unfortunately, on a normal day, even as I spend quiet time with God, it’s a pretty quick connection between a spiritual thought and how that thought advances my work to-do list. As a church communicator, I’m guessing you may fall into this trap as well. On a retreat day, I have more time to stay present with the Lord in His word, in prayer, in worship music and if my mind starts to jump too quickly to work, I can focus back on the Lord. This is always time well spent.
4. I need fresh or affirmed vision.
After a good long cry, nap and time with the Lord, I pray for fresh vision, or for the Lord to affirm the path I’m on. “Lord, what do you have for me in this next season, or six months, or Lord do you have a longer-term vision for me?”
5. I need to know what I can stop doing.
At the same time that I’m asking for something new, I also ask, “Lord, is there anything I’ve been focused on that you want me to set aside?”
The reason I say I “need” the above is because without these things, I’m just grinding along, month after month, on the treadmill, and my soul becomes weary. With most every personal retreat I’ve taken, I have a fresh-step in my get-along that propels me forward into a better version of me, my work and my life outside of work.
How do I approach a personal retreat day? I follow these simple steps:
1. I put it on my calendar.
I book out a repeating event, every six months, set until Jesus comes back. Naturally, I have to adjust it a few days or a few weeks here and there, but having it on the calendar gives it a fighting chance of actually happening. I set aside a full work day. I know some who have multi day, overnights, etc., but I find I’m more likely to have it if it’s a day and simple and done is better than complex and, missed it.
2. I simultaneously set expectations low and high.
I set expectations low for me – I don’t overly worry about the day’s schedule, whether my journal writing will be amazing or not, if the setting will be Instagram perfect – all of that, I keep my expectations low. Then, I set my expectations high on what God is able to do with the time. It’s a “more than we can ask or imagine” sort of day. I plan to show up, and I’m believing that God can SHOW UP!
3. I plan for a special place.
It doesn’t need to be special as in 12th Century monastery special, or Indonesian private island AirBnB, special, but I pick a place. In the past, I’ve spent the first couple hours at a wonderful place for breakfast, 4 hours at a public library, an hour walk, followed by a couple hours at a friend’s fancy conference room with a white board and a sofa for a nap. If you have some budget for an Airbnb tiny house, or you have a friend with a lake home, this could be a fun twist, but not necessary. Again, simple happens. Complex doesn’t always come together.
4. I pack food, drinks and snacks.
I don’t want to spend time day-of finding something to eat. I plan that ahead. Now, I might have my DoorDash order ready to go.
5. I work up a VERY LOOSE agenda.
More a list of what I can do, but don’t have to do. On it, I might put a chapter of my current Bible study, journaling, praying, walking, aforementioned nap, walk… and just sit. I remember when my wife and I went on sabbatical in 2017 I just sat for over an hour one day watching the activity on a butterfly bush. It’s a rare treat to soak in God’s goodness in that way for that length of time. It’s restorative.
6. I ask the Lord questions, broad, open-ended questions, and I listen, best I can.
- Lord, what do you want me to learn in this season?
- Lord, in this particular situation, what are some ways to approach it that would be consistent with your love for people?
- Lord, what does my family (marriage, team, extended family) need from me right now?
- Lord, what do you have for me in those relationships right now?
- Lord, how can I best support my pastor in this season?
- Lord, is there any blindspot in my life that you want me to see?
7. Follow-up with a trusted mentor or friend.
I have sometimes ended my retreat day by having dinner with a friend, or breakfast the next day. I share my retreat experience and ask for their insight on the day. I ask two primary questions:
- Now that I’ve shared about my retreat day, what do you hear in all of it? Then be quiet as they share their thoughts. Don’t overly discuss, just keep asking, “anything else?” And keep listening.
- Now that you’ve heard about my retreat, and shared those thoughts, is there any question you think I should be asking myself that I’m not maybe asking? Again, be quiet and listen well.
I’d love to hear what works for you in your personal retreats, or I’m happy to answer any questions you have. I’d even love to help you dream a little about your next retreat. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on socials as @evanmcbroom – it would be fun to dream with you a little.