Typical isn’t it? Here I am, writing an article about retreating, and I am feeling frazzled, cross and at the end of myself. Not really in the right frame of mind… but maybe this is the perfect place to start.
Our lives are full! Demands, desires, pressures and pains all steal our time, our attention and our focus away from God far too often. Retreating, if we understand it at all, is filed away under ‘If only I had the time’. Let’s be honest, many of us even struggle to get a weekly, biblical Sabbath! An extended time of rest – time with the Lord and away from all the demands placed on us – seems like an impossible dream. Many of us never even give it a thought or even recognise it as a need.
So how do we turn this impossible dream into a reality and, if it isn’t a dream yet, how should we be thinking?
Firstly, we need to understand what a retreat is.
For many people, retreating is something other, ‘more holy’ people do. Perhaps you’ve heard of someone heading to a monastery for a period of time, and not really understood what you would do all day! Perhaps you think retreats are likely to be too quiet for you! But there are retreats of all types, for all different seasons of life and for all ages. In its simplest form, a retreat is specific time away from the usual demands – either alone or with others – to spend time with the Lord. You shouldn’t go expecting to learn anything specific, like you would if you went on a course, although you probably will learn a lot. It’s not a holiday, although it is an opportunity to rest. It might be good to be able to meet with someone to talk things through with, while you are there – not a counsellor so much as someone who can accompany you through your questioning, and keep referring you to God for the answers – or you may want to be left alone to do business with God yourself.
The important thing is that you set aside the time without distraction to pray, reflect and meditate or ‘chew over’ what you know to be true from Scripture in an unhurried way.
Jesus ‘retreated’ into the desert for 40 days. For most of us, 24 hours is a good place to start!
The second thing to bear in mind is that we need to know what we want to achieve. Are you needing to retreat because you are simply exhausted? You may find that just being in God’s peaceful presence – and getting quality sleep – is exactly the thing you need most. Perhaps you want to spend time mulling over a specific theme that the Lord keeps showing you. In that case, perhaps a led retreat on that theme would be the perfect choice. It is true that most retreats will include some reflective times of silence or times on your own. But, on many retreats, there will be ample opportunity to meet together with others, either in worship, over food or during a shared activity. So be clear why you are going, and ask lots of questions of your chosen venue so you feel comfortable with what they offer.
And talking of venues, does it always have to be a monastery? Definitely not, although go for it if you would like to! There are a large number of centres around the country (and the world) that seek to be a place of welcome and witness to Christians who want to meet with God. Some can be found in or on the outskirts of large towns, such as The Greenhouse Christian Centre in Poole (www.the-greenhouse.org), whilst somewhere like Lee Abbey is on the edge of a cliff in North Devon (www.leeabbey.org.uk). Sometimes, specific retreats run by organisations are held in various locations around the country at different times. Fitfish (www.fit-fish.co.uk) runs retreats like these, and they specifically focus on being fit for God in body, mind and spirit – a completely different approach to the traditional retreat entirely!
Whatever you decide to focus on and wherever you decide to go, I urge you to make retreating part of your regular spiritual practice. I promise you, it will change your life.
ARTICLE SUBMITTED BY KATE STRAND FROM THE GREENHOUSE CHRISTIAN CENTRE.