I remember attending a women’s retreat as a young mom and spending much of the time in rest. In the silence and solitude that I created for myself in the midst of 100 other people, I was able to meet with Jesus and return home a better mom.
In the busyness of life it can be difficult to escape the many things that distract us from God. Whether it’s the hum and flicker of technology or the tyranny of tightly packed schedules, there is no shortage of activities that interfere with us seeking his presence.
Throughout Christian tradition, followers of Jesus have recognized the importance of spiritual retreats. This discipline offers us the opportunity to step away from our mainstream activities to meet Jesus with intentionality. It is a time to process and examine different aspects of our lives or to put into practice those things the Spirit has already revealed to us. The fruit of a retreat should always be Christlike renewal that equips us to face the demands of life.
Nurturing our Spirituality
There are no one-size-fits-all retreats or formulas for the perfect experience. Retreats can happen at any time, at any place, with any number of people and for any length of time. My husband, Ron, and I have had many opportunities to participate in a variety of retreats. In my experience, the spiritual value of retreats has been determined more by what I wanted to go home with than the parameters and purposes outlined by the organizers.
The essential components of spiritual retreats are invitation and intention—not activity. As we respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to participate in a retreat, the invitation must also be extended to Jesus to occupy that time with us. The intention is to hear from Jesus in a way that develops a deeper understanding of ourselves and him.
Choosing a Retreat
When choosing a retreat, it is essential to ask whether the Holy Spirit is beckoning you to make space in your life for him. If so, you should then ask what area of your life he would like to focus on. It is helpful to understand how you as an individual can be most present with Christ and hear him speak. Where and how do you most naturally or readily connect with him? Is the Spirit calling you into or away from community? In his life and ministry, Jesus illustrates the need for both (see solitary retreat: Matthew 14:13, Luke 5:16, Luke 22:41, John 6:15; communal retreat: Mark 3:7, Luke 9:10, John 11:54).
As well, you need to discern whether you should enter a place of comfort or discomfort. In the early stages of our spiritual development, the Spirit will nurture us in our comfort, but as we mature he often calls us into wilderness places of discomfort so that we may know him and ourselves in a new way.
Finally, what are your financial, relationship and work constraints? Circumstances may dictate that you be inventive in creating your retreat. This may consist of packing a lunch and going to a quiet park for a few hours to sit in silence, journal and read the Bible.
The best way to discover what organized retreat opportunities exist is to inquire within your own church or with other neighbouring Christian organizations, such as a spiritual retreat centre. The Salvation Army has trained personnel who can lead retreats, offer spiritual direction or suggest resources for both (contact Major David Ivany, spiritual director, THQ pastoral services, for more information).
Regardless of what form your retreat might take, it’s important that you find the time to step away from the world’s distractions and into greater intimacy with God. If Jesus saw the value of retreats in his life, how much more do we need them?
Types of Retreats
The kind of retreat you are looking for will depend on your personal journey. At times we feel the need for quiet solitude—giving ourselves a chance to hear God speaking to us. At other times we need conversation and reflection with others as a group:
• Preached retreat: For larger groups, this retreat experience consists of several presentations centred on a specific theme, morning prayer, devotional talks and then quiet time for reflection.
• Guided retreat: Smaller groups (five to 10 persons) gather for a daily conference together, and then are on their own the remainder of the day.
• Private retreat: For individuals looking for rest, solitude and private prayer.
• Directed retreat: For those seeking a more extended retreat experience up to a week or more and the opportunity to meet daily with a spiritual director who facilitates the experience of prayer and personal growth.
Major Toni Cartmell is the corps officer of Kelowna Community Church, B.C.