How to Plan a Spiritual Retreat

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In my previous post, “How to Make a Strategic Withdrawal During Busy Times“, I said that I would be happy to help anyone that needs help during the planning stages. I realized after a reader took me up on that offer that it might be more helpful to post it here. If you haven’t read the previous article yet, I encourage you to, since this is a follow up.

Before You Start:

When it comes to making a get-away plan, it’s not as complicated as you might think.  First, if you have a “significant other” I recommend that you talk to them about a not-too-far-away time when you can spend 2 days away from home. Explain that it’s not a “Vacation”, but a “Spiritual Retreat”, and then tell them that, to be fair, you will free up a time for them to do this too! Then you’re not imposing, life is fair, and they have something to look forward to. Plus, they can help you with the planning stages and pray for you.

Once you have your date set, inform your church, your job, and anyone else that needs to know that you won’t be available and that your cell phone will only allow emergency calls. The iPhone has a very cool “Do Not Disturb” feature that only rings when one of your “Favourite” numbers call. Android has a couple apps that might help too.

I don’t recommend using “Sick/Stress Leave”. Here’s why. It’s best to use vacation time or your regular time off. If you have a nice boss, see if you can get your shift schedule changed around to be more compatible.

Regarding Food:

I recommend bringing a simple diet of healthy food that you bring with you (sandwiches, pepperoni sticks, sliced veggies, crackers and cheese, etc.). That way you don’t have to leave wherever you’re staying to go find a restaurant, and if you go for a walk, you can bring your food with you. Avoid big meals that need to be cooked and snack foods that will make you feel sluggish and ill. If you need a morning brew and are staying in a place with a coffee pot, great, but if not you might want to bring a thermos or two full. Bring some fruit juice as a nice treat.

Regarding Destination:

Where you go doesn’t have to be a big deal either. I recommend that you make a point to be alone for most of the time (i.e. don’t go to a coffee shop, a library, or the mall). If you have the money, a hotel room is perfect, but if that’s out of your price range, a camp ground or retreat centre is a good option. If you stay in a hotel, make sure you LEAVE THE ELECTRONICS AT HOME and CALL AHEAD AND GET THE TV REMOVED FROM THE ROOM!

There are lots of websites to look up Christian Retreat Centres. Here’s in the Ottawa area: http://alpha.ncf.ca/alpharet.html

Another option is to sleep in your own bed and then wake up early, have coffee, kiss the family goodbye, and take a drive up to a nice place where you can sit, walk and enjoy nature (I recommend a place like the Gatineau Hills). Come home when it gets dark and then go somewhere else (or back to the same place!) the next day.

The important thing is to know where you are going and stick to the plan. Don’t try to figure out where you want to go that morning or the night before. Have a place, and then a back-up place if the weather changes. Perhaps a quiet museum or an indoor arboretum.

A Note About Spiritual Attacks:

If you are going to get away and be with God, I have a bit of bad news for you: your life is going to get worse before it gets better. Why? Because you’re decision to grow in your devotion to God will make you a target for Satan. You’ll start finding a lot of excuses to forget about it, your work-life might get kooky, and the people around you may start going squirrely for no particular reason. In other words, you will be under spiritual attack.

Stay in daily prayer and devotion. After prayer, set the date for your “Strategic Withdrawal” and KEEP IT! Tell the people who need to know what you are planning to do and ask them to pray for you during the planning stages and while you are there.

Regarding “Chosen People”:

I recommend you call a good Christian friend of the same gender, or your small group leader of the same gender, or your pastor of the same gender, and ask them to meet you during that time. Whether they come to your room or meet you in a coffee shop, work out a time and place to sit down for a long, afternoon conversation with them (about 2 hours, but not more than 3).

Make sure they know that you are trying to be purposeful with the conversation and use it to grow spiritually. Tell them you are calling because you believe they can help you take another step forward in your Christian walk. Below is a list of discussion questions that you can ask them to spark conversation. Make sure you listen humbly and seek clarification.

  1. Where would you say I am in my spiritual pilgrimage?
  2. How have you seen me grow personally and spiritually over the past while? In what areas have I had the most growth?
  3. What do you think my spiritual gifts are?
  4. How have you seen God use me over the past year?
  5. How well do you think I handle pressure and stress?
  6. How well do you think I deal with disappointment, rejection and discouragement?
  7. Would you say that I’m a low-drama person or a high-drama person?
  8. Have you witnessed any times where I handled my anger poorly?
  9. Have you witnessed any times where I was selfish or proud?
  10. Have you witnessed any times where I have judged others too harshly?
  11. Looking at my life, would you say that I have my priorities straight?
  12. Do you see any addictions in my life?
  13. Am I materialistic in any way?
  14. Would you say that I obey 1 Timothy 5:1-2? (“Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”)
  15. As you’ve observed me on Sunday mornings, would you say that I worship God in Spirit and in Truth?
  16. What is my reputation like among the people who attend church with us?
  17. Is there anyone that you are aware of that I need to ask forgiveness from, or give forgiveness to?

Anything Else?

I hope that helps! If there is anything I missed, let me know and I’ll add it to this post.

 

5 thoughts on “How to Plan a Spiritual Retreat

    A Monk’s Story 7 | A Pastor's Thoughts said:
    October 1, 2013 at 10:24 am

    […] How to Plan a Spiritual Retreat (artofthechristianninja.com) […]

    agapesantos said:
    January 4, 2014 at 11:26 am

    Great thoughts. Can you comment on planning a spiritual retreat for a small cohort of people? I want to create a space with a little bit of instruction (very little) that is directed toward helping them maximize their intentional “time apart” (probably some approaches to prayer, meditation, or contemplation) and structure LOTS of time to do exactly that. I’m thinking about including spiritual direction, which I am not qualified to do but I know someone who is and might be willing to help me. Thoughts?

      Pastor Allan Descheneau responded:
      January 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm

      That’s wonderful, agapesantos!

      I think the general principles are the same, so here are some suggestions:

      1. Send them this article to read before hand (or a summary of the ideas) so they can start to prepare themselves way before. Let them know the “rules” (cell phones on vibrate, bring your bible, etc.).

      2. Though retreats for individuals can be loosy-goosy, I would suggest giving them a very specific schedule for when meals, teaching, meditation & prayer, recreation, and times of silence will be. Put an astrix on there that reminds them that if God is moving that they are not required to attend any given event.

      3. I do recommend a time of imposed silence. Perhaps a morning or an afternoon where people are encouraged to be alone and quiet.

      4. Some people won’t know what to do with themselves if you say “go read your bible”, so give them some specific scriptures to read / journal about. Of course they can deviate, but most people need to know where to start.

      5. Also include a list of prayers. You can use some of mine, get copies of “The Valley of Vision”, or others that are meaningful.

      6. Perhaps you would like to theme the times. “A Morning of repentance and confession” followed by “an afternoon of thanksgiving”, then “an evening of worship”.

      7. Music is very powerful, but it can also be distracting. See if you can get the venue to be silent. If people want to bring their ipods and headphones, then fine.

      8. Pass out mini journals. Dollar store has some good ones. Some people will want to remember what God is doing, write scriptures, or write their prayers.

      9. If you can, have a pastoral counsellor available. Some people may need some guidance, a reminder of forgiveness, or help with next steps. Let people know that the pastoral counsellor is available any time during the event.

      10. End with a specific time of teaching, worship and communion. People need to be reminded about the promises of Jesus because the spiritual opposition will be very high during that time. If the time has been especially convicting, then they may need to be reminded that they are loved, forgiven, a child of God and part of a spiritual family.

      11. Ask a group of people to do spiritual battle in special prayer for you and the group during that time.

      Hope that helps!

    agapesantos said:
    January 14, 2014 at 1:15 pm

    Thank you for your reply. Many of your points parallel my thoughts, which is encouraging, and there were several elements I had not considered. I am actually planning for several times of silence, with exercises explained at the beginning and specific instructions (with room for the Spirit to redirect the retreatants, certainly!) I will be working with a mentor and also with my spiritual director in planning this experience. My hope is to offer two things: first a start for those who are desiring deeper intimacy with Father, but perhaps have not explored some of the Spiritual Disciplines such as Lectio Divina, contemplative prayer, etc. Secondly, a place and time for both those new to silence and those who just can’t seem to “get away”, to encourage them on their own journeys of faith. I do plan to ask for one or several spiritual directors to be present (depending on the size of hte group) and even to make at least one time of direction part of the schedule for each retreatant. Some people don’t know how to ask for direction, others don’t know the value of this kind of “three way” conversation of listening and responding to Spirit’s leading. I would enjoy additional conversation with you as this unfolds, perhaps not on the public blog unless you think it is helpful. I believe that my email is disclosed to you in the reply, please feel free to email me personally if you feel so inclinded. My name is Laura, but my signature always comes up with my blog “name”.

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