The Spiritual Discipline of Retreat

Top Text: The Practice of Retreat Image: Pastor Preaching to Camera against White Wall

Full disclosure, I am prone to getting overwhelmed. I tend to overcommit, max out my schedule, and run as fast as I can until my sprint turns into a slump. While nothing gives me the same jolt of energy as ministry, there are times when it can be too much.

Overcommitment becomes overstimulation which becomes overwhelmingness. So how do we prevent ourselves from becoming overwhelmed and overstimulated in life? By observing the spiritual practice of retreat.

I hear you. “Woah buddy, you are telling me to retreat? I can hardly get away from my office! How do you expect me to retreat from everything else?

I used to think this way, but we need to rethink retreat as a concept. Retreat is not a star on a map, it’s a state of mind. Retreat is not a noun. As in, this is not a place you visit or a program you work through. Retreat is a verb. This is when you actively, proactively, and intentionally withdraw from your surroundings. For what purpose though?

Retreat is when you withdraw from life’s expectations to draw near a life-giving experience with God.

As the designer of human DNA, Jesus understood that we need to withdraw for of our most powerful moments of worship. Let’s explore a fascinating passage where the God of the universe took time to retreat.

Jesus was a very busy pastor. In the first chapter of Mark alone, we get a glimpse at his early preaching, an exorcism, and a massive marathon of healings. He preached, traveled, and healed hundreds of people within the first few dozen verses. Exhausted after an intense workweek, Jesus took some time for prayer and solitude.

READ: Mark 1:35

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”

Jesus was a big fan of retreat. There are nearly a dozen examples in scripture of Jesus seeking solitude either before a ministry milestone, after one, or even on both sides of it. We can infer that He made this His rhythm of ministry. This passage shows us two pivotal  principles about the practice of retreat.

Retreat Requires Premeditation

Jesus got up before the sun then immediately retreated to a quiet place. To do anything that early, you have to plan it. Jesus set His alarm, prepared his route, and planned his morning around His morning meditation. He prioritized His quiet time. While sitting alone, He prayed and meditated before starting his day. He spoke God before He spoke to anyone else.

Where did Jesus go? Mark says he went to a “solitary place.” I see all you extroverts squirming. A lot of us, me included, hate being alone. The thought of going to a solitude place sounds scary, boring, or even dangerous. That’s far from the truth though.

Solitude, as a spiritual practice, is not about isolation; it’s about transformation. You are not alone in your solitude. You are surrounded by the Spirit of the living God. In a society as stimulating as ours, sometimes solitude is the best way to be truly transformed into that reality. God meets with you, changes you, and recharges you in the quiet place.

  • Success starts in solitude.
  • Spiritual strength develops in solitude.
  • Strategy births out of vision in solitude.
  • Your soul finds rest in solitude.

Please take some time to intentionally be still. Premeditate it too. Press pause on your own life as much as possible. Don’t just wait for you to need one. Build retreat into your routine. Yes, we should practice retreat with focused consistency. Even Jesus needed some quiet time, can you imagine how much more you need it? Intentionally cultivate time to retreat and reset with God.

Retreat Does Not Require Extreme Relocation

Jesus didn’t get on a boat or camel. It looks like just left the house and went into the backyard. Don’t fall for the fallacy that retreat requires a road trip. When we think this way, retreat becomes some sort of privilege instead of a practice.

Yes, retreat is distinct from Sabbath, as it does demand withdrawing from your normal pace, place, and practices. However, you can easily do a local retreat or even one on your own property.

How do you find your destination? Ask yourself these questions:
  • Where do I feel calm and collected? (This could be a specific coffee shop, a museum, a park, or on a nature trail.)
  • Where can I ensure I won’t be tempted to work? (Don’t you dare bring your laptop. Focus on going to a place that does not have attachments to your vocation.)
  • Where do I feel inspired? (Do you connect to God through nature? Try a park. Do you connect to God through creativity? Try an art museum or record shop. Do you connect to God through deep thinking and introspection? Consider a library or bookstore. Do you connect with God through food? Consider a farmer’s market trip with a picnic finale.)

While proximity needs to be considered, we must not attach retreat to activity. We imagine possibilities like a writing retreat, pastors retreat, or an ultimate frisbee retreat. Our gut reaction is to immediately add as much structure to our practice as possible. Because, if we don’t have an activity, then what are we really doing, right?

Well, you are doing something. You are retreating. You are connecting with God in solitude. There are few better uses of your time.

With good intentions, we make retreat a bit like arithmetic. Complicated. We find the best cabin, the perfect campground, or the ideal spot for our magical moment with God. Since retreat is when we withdraw from our expectations, routines, and sensory inputs, then we need to go someplace new and exotic, don’t we?

Retreat requires internal activity of the soul, in its deep desire to connect with Jesus in a real, raw way, rather than an external location. When we recognize this, we can now experience the gift of renewal and retreat without a road trip or finding an Expedia discount code.

Here are four tips to help you observe a local retreat:
  • Pray: You saw this coming. Prayer was at the center of Jesus’ practice of retreat and it should be for yours too. Prayer is what separates retreat from isolation. Always invite Jesus to direct your time together first.
  • Plan Nothing: We spend so much time during our regular life managing schedules, moving from meeting to meeting, and helping people engage with worship. Do not do this in retreat. Resist the temptation to be overly structured in your retreat. Trying to schedule the retreat will destroy the centrality entering into the time and space of God. Jesus is the guide, not you. Follow His lead.
  • Practice the Presence: Really settle into the presence of God. Intentionally do something that quiets your mind, body, and soul. This will free you up to really engage with God’s experience for you. Ease into your present moment like you are slipping into a refreshing pool. Take it easy and allow yourself to become hyperaware of God’s presence. When you sense His nearness, lean into it. Speak to Him. Worship Him. Experience Him. Engage with Him.
  • Prioritize a Pencil and Paper: Like I said, no laptops! You need to reflect on everything you experienced in retreat. Your mind finally got a break, so you will be amazed what you uncover and discover in solitude. Reflect on what you received from God during retreat. There may be some things you need to leave behind forever and there may need to be some things you need to carry forward with you. Write those out!
Your Turn – Time to Take a Personal Retreat!

We may think of retreat in a negative light. Retreat is not about moving backward though. It’s about moving forward. When we take time to withdraw, God draws near to us. A life of consistent retreat is a life of consistent renewal — for you, your family, and your ministry.

So, get out there and get away.

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