In our noisy, busy, shallow and disconnected culture, retreats are a valuable and foundational discipline that create unhurried spaces for our hearts to go deeper with God and with one another. If the only time we retreat, though, is when we can join a formal retreat planned by someone else, our retreating will be rather infrequent–and thus less effective in our lives.
Taking a personal retreat can provide the solution. A personal retreat is just that–a retreat taken personally. It is not dependent on someone else planning it or on a group coming together for an event, rather it can fit into the regular rhythm of your life. It can be for a couple of hours or a couple of days. It can be as near as the local park or as far as a retreat center in the mountains. It can be alone or with a few friends. It can be as simple or complex as you design it to be…because it’s a personal retreat.
So how do you go about planning a personal retreat? In general, I like to say you need a Place, a Plan, and a few People.
Finding a conducive Place can actually be a tricky thing. Home is not usually a good place, because there are too many familiar distractions and pressures. A coffee shop or restaurant can be an OK place but usually has music playing and lots of people, so it’s not very conducive to quieting your heart before God. An outside place like the beach or a park can be good, but sometimes weather or bugs or just the hardness of a picnic bench makes it difficult to stay for a longer period of time. For me, either a retreat center or a library or a campus chapel have been the best places, because you can be alone and quiet, but it’s more comfortable and has a bathroom nearby, so you don’t have to be constantly moving around or changing places.
Then you need a Plan. Ask yourself what your purpose is in going on a personal retreat. Even if you’re goal is to do nothing and just to rest or listen to God, that’s still a purpose that will dictate something of what you do or don’t do. So take some time to pray about what God wants you to focus on when you go, and then collect some ideas or materials that will help you toward that focus. A big part of the purpose of retreating is to make space for God to work in unexpected ways in you, so resist the urge to pack the day so full that there’s no breathing room. And of course hold your plan lightly—make a plan, but submit yourself to what God may have for you that’s not on your plan.
And finally you need People. Not necessarily people to go along with you, though that can work. But what I’m thinking of is more like people who will support you in this—a handful of friends who know when and where and why you’re going, and who will pray for you and hold you to it and ask you about it. This is vital so that the retreat doesn’t just stay as a “mountaintop experience” but can come back down to affect the reality of your everyday life.