My experience last week was so rich, I still want to encourage people to take spiritual retreats, myself included. In the past, there have been some retreat-style experiences for me, but they were in groups and at other people's initiative. Here I want to share some of the things that helped this be a success in case any of these ideas could also help you prepare for a time out.
Firstly, sniff out an opportunity. If you struggle to continue the journey of knowing yourself and relish the thought of journeying forward with God and experiencing a fresh wave of release in your identity and purpose, then this should help you get sniffing, and, if a believer, praying for it too.
Secondly, when an opportunity arises - ask for advice on a good place and environment to go to (or maybe you know somewhere already). I have always been inspired by mountains (more so than the sea), because there is still something of a mountain-runner inside of me that just can't contain how incredibly beautiful these landscapes are when moving through them and interacting with them. I initially thought of camping, but the friend I consulted dissuaded me from that option. It's good to be comfortable but not in the lap of luxury either. I found a place on airbnb for 15 euro per night (I was particularly blessed here because the owners were away on holiday so I actually had full access to the living room, kitchen and garden too).
Thirdly, anticipate the departure. For a week or so I could sense my spirit within me slowly poise with anticipation about encounter. Some Christians talk about retreat as a time to meet with God. It is certainly that, but it is also about more fully becoming who you are, in order for meeting with Him to be a success. He has no problem with integrity. You, however, might do, and to be fully present for that encounter he will help you prepare and also experience it during. As someone who is at times obsessed by theology, I became aware that I would have to attempt to do as little of that as possible during the retreat to enhance the encounter experience. I warned my family to expect little contact during this time, and set up an automatic response email.
Fourthly, prepare practically for departure. It should be minimal. At one point, thinking that a personal retreat should be close to my previous group experiences, I thought I should prepare an organised programme, with timings etc. That is not necessary. This was my kit list more or less:
- My physical Bible
- My guitar and some worship music
- My knees
- Some verses to colour in and my kids' colouring pens
- An audiobook to listen to in the car on the way there. I had a credit on www.Audible.com, and spent it on God Is the Gospel: Meditations on God's Love as the Gift of Himself. It's pretty good; I may critique it at some point in the blog, but is more theological than I had been hoping.
- A gospel movie (2014 Gospel of John) and some worship music
- My readiness to be silent
- My trainers/walking shoes
- A journal and pen (essential)
- Candles, candle-holders and matches
- Some basic food for the time (shopping is a distraction)
- A great prayer book (semi-essential!). I have had a book for many years that I re-discovered on my shelves by James Houston, a Scottish Christian writer (I think). Man, I thought it was excellent: