One of my favorite things about pastoring our church is facilitating over-night soul care retreats for our members. We debuted these “soul care” retreats about five or six years ago. The first wave of retreat participants were people who were already enthusiastic about sabbath, solitude / time apart, and retreats in general. It is no surprise that several of these participants have attended more than one of these soul care retreats over the years.
After about 3 or 4 retreats, we started seeing the second wave of participants. This second wave of retreatants were somewhat hesitant to attend the retreat for one of several reasons: they had never done anything like it before, they were afraid of the unknown, or they were extroverted or very social and were concerned about extended periods of silence. Most of these folks attended because they were convinced of the benefits of the soul care retreats from those who attended them.
(If you’re wondering how I know all of this, its because I collect post-retreat assessments where retreatants can provide feedback on their experience.)
This post is primarily for those of you who resonate with the second wave participants that I described above. Maybe you’ve never gone away by yourself for a time of silence and solitude. Perhaps you keep a busy schedule and the prospect of slowing down is scary. Maybe you’re afraid of slowing down and being quiet because you are afraid of what might bubble to the surface when all the distractions are silenced. I wrote this post to encourage you to take a step of faith and go on your first overnight solo retreat because I think you will discover the benefits of time apart.
If you’re a retreat enthusiast or have gone away several times on solo retreats, I hope this post will encourage you as well!
Planning your first overnight retreat
NOTE: Much of what you’ll find below is similar to another post I wrote a little over a year ago entitled “Your First Half-Day Retreat.” If you’ve never experienced time apart on a solo retreat, I suggest that you dip your foot into the pool with a half-day retreat.
On to planning your first overnight retreat!
STEP 1: Schedule your retreat date and time
You do what you schedule. Block off 20-24 hours for your overnight retreat. Put the dates into your calendar and don’t let anything bump it out of the way.
ACTION: Schedule your first overnight retreat date to happen sometime within the next 90 days.
STEP 2: Reserve your retreat location
There are more overnight options out there than you realize. Here are a few options:
- Retreat centers. I sent out a few exploratory emails to some local retreat centers a month or so ago and discovered that in addition to accommodating groups, many also accommodate individuals for personal overnight retreat.
- Monasteries and convents. Most Roman Catholic monastic communities welcome and accommodate guests who wish to have a time of personal retreat. Usually they only require a small voluntary donation.
- Hotels. Don’t overlook the fact that you could stay in a hotel overnight. I don’t recommend hotels as a first option, but only as a last resort for several reasons. First, hotels are usually more expensive. Hotels also have a host of distractions in the room—TV, high speed internet, telephone, mini fridge, and sometimes loud neighbors. Hotels also don’t provide meals except for breakfast, so you either need to fast, go out to eat, or bring something that can warm up in a microwave. Don’t let these things discourage you. If you can’t find a retreat center or monastic community, a hotel is a legitimate option.
- Camping. This is also an option if you are already comfortable staying outdoors on your own. This option will be the cheapest, but also the most high maintenance. You provide your own bed and meals, and the weather is always a factor. Nonetheless, there’s something special about sitting in the woods by a campfire and praying.
STEP 3: Invite your spiritual friends to pray for you
Invite 2-3 spiritual friendsand/or your small group to be praying for your time away. Ask them to pray that you will stay healthy and that nothing would preclude you from your time away. Ask them to pray that you would be attentive to the Lord, that you would have a willing spirit to obey him, and that your relationship with the Lord would be renewed and refreshed.
ACTION: Make a list of 2-3 spiritual friends that you will invite to pray for you.
STEP 4: Gather your retreat resources
Here are your essential retreat resources: Bible, journal, pens or pencils (bring at least 2 because pens run out of ink and pencils break). Some optional and at times helpful retreat resources to bring with you: a book(s) on Christian spiritual formation and discipleship, a hymnal, and/or a prayer book. Consider leaving your laptop at home—especially if you are tempted to check email or social media.
ACTION: What spiritual themes or topics interest you at the moment? Prayer? Bible study? Discipleship? Evangelism? Church leadership? A specific book of the Bible? Make a list of 5-10 interests. Then, review your list and whittle it down to the 2 that you believe are most timely. Bring resources (books, journals, etc) that address these interests with you on your retreat.
Okay, you’re ready to go!
While on Retreat
What do you do while on retreat? Once again, a plan is helpful. Remember, we hold our plans with open hands so that the Holy Spirit can guide and direct our time as he wills. Here are some things you can do on your retreat:
- Turn off your cell phone and limit distractions. I often schedule times—once every 2 hours or so—when I will check my phone for messages from my wife. Otherwise, I leave my phone off, take my watch off, and generally keep all digital and electronic devices off.
- Go for a walk. Walking at the beginning of your retreat enables your scattered mind to identify pockets of prayer and ways to be attentive to the Lord. Just walk and ask the Lord to listen in on your mental conversation (“I’m stressed about this…” “I’m worried about that…” “I’m freaking out about him…” “I’m angry with her…”), convert your worries into prayers, and ask God to make you aware of his loving presence.
- Sit quietly. Maybe walking is not how you think you should start your retreat. You can do everything I mentioned above by sitting quietly instead of walking.
- Read Scripture. If you have a reading plan, read what is next in your reading plan. If you do not have a reading plan, spend the days leading up to your retreat asking the Lord to reveal books and passages of Scripture that he may desire you to meditate on. If in doubt, the Psalms and Gospels are great places to spend your time on retreat.
- Journal. Write down observations, reflections, convictions, and decisions during your retreat.
- Sing praise. If you are in a place where can sing praise without disrupting others, lift up your voice in praise!
- Read. Maybe you need to spend time reading about spiritual formation or discipleship, or to pray through a book of prayers. Take a few moments to sit under the tutelage of another believer.
- Nap. Sometimes your body needs to rest in the presence of the Lord. Maybe you just need to curl up on a pew, on a grassy spot in the sun, or in a hammock and rest in the presence of the Lord.
What you do after the retreat is often as important as what you do on retreat. Here are some thoughts on what to do after your first half-day retreat:
- Obey. What has God said to you on retreat? Do it. Remember: “to obey is better than sacrifice” (1 Samuel 15:22).
- Share. You’ve had spiritual friends and your small group praying for you. Share with them about your retreat. Encourage them to go on their own half-day retreat!
- Repeat. Do it again! Schedule your second half-day retreat sometime in the next 90-days from your first retreat. Getting into this rhythm will enable you practice attending to the work of the Lord in your life.
Join the conversation
- Do you go on overnight (or multi-day) retreats regularly? If so, what tips or pointers would you suggest to those who read this post? Who in your church should you encourage to go on their first overnight retreat? Consider sharing this post with them as a resource to assist them with going on their retreat.
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