I’ve been having conversations with more and more people that feel the stress of ministry, life, work, and family. Let’s be honest; it’s all pretty difficult to juggle. I want to be more than I am and do more than I am doing, but I have limits. We all have limits. One of the ways I pay attention to my limits is by paying attention to my spiritual rhythms. Jesus was the master at spiritual rhythms. I’ve always been impressed when I would read about Jesus waking early in the morning (without multiple alarms set on his phone!) or staying up all night in prayer. The reality is, Jesus had healthy rhythms because he knew it was essential to being human and to the mission of God. Jesus passed this truth on to his disciples. In John 15 Jesus states that he is the vine and his followers are the branches. If we want to produce fruit we have to remain in him. Apart from Jesus, we can do nothing.
Chances are that if life is feeling busy and stressful, there is probably a very good reason – because it is busy and stressful! There is, however, something we can do. We can slow down. We can feel the heartbeat of Jesus like John resting on Jesus’ chest at the last supper or like Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. I can promise you that if you wait for life to slow down and create space for you, you’ll never have space. If you need space in life, you have to make it. You have to say yes to the most important thing, the “one thing.” One of the ways I create space in my life is by holding regular spiritual retreat days. I would encourage you to create your own rhythms of holding personal retreat days. Here are some principles to help guide you in setting up your own personal retreat day in order to make it exactly what you need.
If it isn’t on your calendar, you won’t do it
This is the first step in setting a spiritual retreat day. If you don’t schedule it on your calendar and protect it, it absolutely will not happen. You’ll continue to talk about it and think about it and yearn for it, but nothing will happen. I sit down with my calendar and plan out a personal day of solitude once a month. I protect it and treat it like I would with my most important meetings.
What do I need out of the day?
Ask yourself what you really need out of your personal retreat day. Do you need solitude? Do you need to remove any personal distraction and be alone? Do you need silence? In my driest seasons, I go on a silent retreat for a few days. It keeps me from filling space with my own voice or endlessly listening to music and NPR. Beautiful things happen when we allow ourselves to be isolated for a short time. Henri Nouwen has often stated that community is when “solitude meets solitude.” When we allow ourselves to be alone and silent, we find we are left with only ourselves and God. In that place we find we are out of hiding places for our fears, failures, and frustrations. When we allow for solitude and silence, we can reengage the world by giving the best gift of who we are because we’ve taken the time to address “me” and allow the grace and love of God to touch us.
Sometimes we need just the opposite. Maybe your time is best spent reflecting on life with a counselor or spiritual director. Maybe extra time is needed with a close spiritual friend that can help connect you with the heart of God and reflect back to you what they see.
Where will I go?
This is a simple question that may often be overlooked. I never overlook it. Place and space is very important to me. I want to feel my surroundings and be refreshed by them. Where I retreat is almost as important to me as what I will do on my retreat. My favorite place is the woods. Once I set foot out of my car, sling my backpack over my back, and light up my tobacco pipe, I know I’ve created the ideal atmosphere for my heart to connect with God’s. The woods may not be for you – my wife, for instance, is convinced she would be murdered in the woods alone. She would not be able to connect well with the Lord while also looking over her shoulder for that imaginary killer. Maybe you need an empty house – Find a friend that can give you the gift of a house that is available for a day so you can relax and enjoy you and God away from your own house that will always be reminding you of projects that need to be done and floors that need to be cleaned.
What will I do?
You’ve determined that silence and solitude at a friends lake cottage is the place for you to go. You put the date on your calendar and arranged everything for responsibilities that need to be covered while your gone. You arrive at the cottage, sit down, and realize you have no clue what to do! I would suggest that you make a list of what you want to accomplish on your personal spiritual retreat. When I go out for a single day, I know that it will always go by more quickly than I anticipate. I want to give each task I approach plenty of room to breathe. I make my list simple and short. I bring my journal, my Bible, and a book that will connect me with God’s heart. Most of my time is spent simply reflecting on life and writing down what God is showing me. Where is grace needed? Where do I need to recognize the current reality of life, relationships, and my heart? I write these things down and offer them up to the Lord. If action is needed out of God speaking, I make sure I plan that out as well. Then I spend extra time in Scripture. I don’t study it or attempt to cover as much as I can. I simply read and allow the word to become flesh in me. If I have time, I pick up my book and read until I sleep.
An important note on naps: you should absolutely take one. Even plan on it. I remember a professor in college once stating, “sometimes the most spiritual thing we can do is sleep.”
What will I NOT do?
What rules do you need to establish for your personal spiritual retreat? When I spend my day in the woods, I bring my phone, but I turn it on airplane mode. I don’t want anything to distract me. I refuse to answer emails or even receive calls or texts. I don’t want the distraction of social media. I want to be completely unplugged. What rules will you establish to make sure you get what you need out of your day?
A personal spiritual retreat day is just one of the ways I “remain in him.” It isn’t enough on it’s own, but I encourage you to let this be a monthly supplement to your daily abiding times. You can also look at yearly rhythms that need to be implemented. Happy retreating!
Dan Koller is the youth pastor at Gun Lake Community Church. Dan enjoys spending time with his beautiful wife (who edits all his content and makes him sound smarter than he actually is) and his two amazing sons. He has a heart for small town ministry and has a passion to help other youth pastors succeed. Dan is also working with Rebuild North America; an organization dedicated to empowering and resourcing children’s, youth, and young adult leaders through coaching, training, and content.
You can read more from Dan at HTTPS://THESMALLTOWNYOUTHPASTOR.WORDPRESS.COM.
You can also connect with him on facebook or instagram @smalltownyouthpastor or twitter @smalltownYP