Over the years, I’ve found that having regular times where I choose to be alone with God has been a brilliant way to nurture my relationship with him, to grow spiritually and to enjoy “life in all its fulness” (John 10: 10). It’s also been particularly helpful at significant crossroads in my life – for example when I was made redundant, or praying over career decisions. I now have a retreat day every month to help me focus on God and make him a priority. So here are my top tips for making the most of your retreat.
Before you go
- Have a plan. Make this at least the day before to minimise decision-making and procrastinating on the day. You will need to decide where to go, what to take and sketch out a timetable of what you’re going to do when you get there.
- Have a wet weather plan. Unfortunately the British weather is highly unpredictable, so unless you’re planning an exotic retreat to the Caribbean, it’s good to have a wet weather alternative.
- Try to make sure you’ve got urgent work out of the way so you can have a clear head. It can also be helpful to set an ‘Out of Office’ reply on your email to let people know that you’re not available.
What to take
This isn’t an exhaustive list, and you may not need all these things, but here are some ideas. I find it helpful to avoid taking electronic gadgets so that I’m not distracted so I tend to go old school with pen and paper.
- Bible study notes
- Pen and notepad
- Packed lunch
- Musical instruments
- Stuff for creative activities. This depends on your personality and how you worship / connect with God. You might want art materials, crafts, a camera etc.
- Worship CD / iPod for car
- You might want to make a scrapbook of your day and include written prayers, leaves you’ve collected, drawings etc.
Don’t take your phone. If you need a phone for emergencies, buy a £10 pay-as-you-go phone and only give the number to family / emergency contacts.
Where to go
There are lots of great places to have a retreat day and you don’t have to go miles away. I tend to have day retreats at the coast (even if it’s raining, there’s a car park in Whitley Bay right opposite the beach so I can sit looking out to sea with the windscreen wipers on!) and have also been to the local park, up into Northumberland and Alnwick Gardens. Here are some ideas:
- National Trust place
Remember to plan where to eat and also where you can be inside if it’s wet / cold.
There are also dedicated Christian retreat centres – a quick Google search will show you the ones in your area. In the North East we have Shepherds Dene, Minsteracres and the Northumberland Community.
You may also want to go for more than a day, so could go to:
- Youth Hostel
- Retreat centre
- Friend’s house
In the past I’ve hired a cottage in Northumberland, gone to a B&B in Ravenscar and stayed at a Youth Hostel in Northumberland.
What to do when you get there
It’s good to include a variety of activities including:
- Worship. You might want to sing (depending on where you are!), or speak out praise to God, or respond to God creatively (see suggestions below)
- Bible reading / study. I often take some Bible study notes with me to provide some structure to my session.
- Prayer. I like to walk as I pray and sometimes take inspiration from the things around me (for example if I see a waterfall, I might pray that the streams of Living Water will satisfy my spiritual thirst.)
- Creative activities – crafts, sketching, music, photography etc.
- Fun stuff – go for a paddle, climb a tree or do something else that brings you joy.
You can go on your own or with others (but have time on your own). I recently went for a retreat day with Abby and we had a great time worshipping, studying the Bible and praying together, but also had time on our own to pray and reflect.
Here’s an example of what a retreat day at the coast might look like for me:
9 – 10am – Singing along to worship CD in the car
10 – 11am – Bible study in a café
11am – 1pm – Prayer walk along the coast
1 – 2pm – Lunch
2 – 3pm – Focussed prayer for specific people / issues
3 – 4pm – Creative time (photography, building a stone sculpture etc.)
4 – 5pm – Bible reading
5 – 5.15pm – Paddle!
5.15 – 6.15pm – Drive home singing along to worship CD in the car and praying
Most of all – have fun! Spending a day with God isn’t homework or a horrible chore – it’s a ‘date day’ with the person who loves you more than anyone else does!
This blog was originally posted on Anne Witton’s website here