Christian Retreats: Rendezvous with God
by Stacey S. Padrick Thompson
The day of our much-awaited rendezvous arrived. I packed, shunned the piles on my desk, and inched toward the door, hoping I could steal away. I had planned a getaway with the one I loved, and I would let nothing stop me -- not the “to do” lists, not the projects, and not the unanswered letters.
As I arrived at the retreat center, peace descended upon me like sunlight casting golden shadows upon the hills. A courtyard garden blossoming with pink roses beckoned. I delayed no longer, meeting Him by the fountain in the garden, my heart and body weary.
“It is so good to be here, so good to be alone with You,” I whispered as hot tears trickled down my cheeks. The guilt that had hounded me before I came no longer bound my heart as I heard Him whisper, “I have been waiting a long time for you to come.”
Too long. Although I spent time alone with God every day, I had begun to approach our morning meetings as any other appointment. Even while we met, I would catch myself planning my grocery list or deliberating over a problem, rather than truly listening to Him.
I had not made enough time to rest quietly in God’s presence, listen to His voice, or read His Word as love letters to relish rather than textbook chapters to learn.
The Secret of Passion
When I took my first personal spiritual retreat, I discovered a secret: Just as husbands and wives who interact daily still need time away to revitalize their love, so we, too, need extended time with the Lover of our souls to nurture our passion for Him. We are Christ’s bride (Rev. 21:2), and He is our Husband (Is. 54:5).
A Day in His Courts
Taking a personal spiritual retreat not only invigorates our relationship with God, but, most importantly, it honors Him. Having no agenda other than waiting upon Him expresses our conviction that He is worth our time. When God calls us to slow down and sit before Him in silence whether He prompts us to take an afternoon or a few days we must be willing to obey. On a personal spiritual retreat, we cultivate the spiritual discipline of waiting upon God. As our “soul waits in silence for God only” (Ps. 62:1, NASB), we discover that “a day in His courts is better than a thousand outside” (Ps. 84:10, NASB).
Where should I go?
Though you can take a spiritual retreat anywhere, you can find solitude even in a quiet corner of your backyard or a park. At some point I recommend planning a retreat at a convent, monastery, or some other retreat center. I look for locations where I can avoid the temptation to interact with others, and I especially enjoy places where I can walk and enjoy nature.
Over the past 12 years, I have visited a wide variety of retreat centers ¾ from a simple abbey in the countryside where cloistered nuns reside to a large mansion where guests eat gourmet dinners. The quiet spiritual atmosphere (as opposed to a hotel) helps me focus upon God. If you are unable to stay at a retreat center, perhaps a friend has a secluded cabin or vacation home you could use for a few days of solitude.
What should I bring?
Pack light. Don’t bring stacks of material that might distract you. I recommend bringing a Bible, a journal, and perhaps a devotional guide or reflective book on deepening your intimacy with God. Pack your most comfortable clothes, an extra sweater, shoes for walking or hiking, and a blanket to sit on outside if weather permits.
How long should I plan to stay?
I’d encourage you to begin with as much time as you can reasonably spend. If you can initially spare only a few hours, that’s great! Or try beginning with one day. If time alone in silence is new to you, you may not want to plan a weeklong retreat your first time out.
I’ve found that it usually takes me two or three days to quiet my spirit and to become still enough to listen to God. But on a longer retreat, sometimes I also experience great temptation to flee the silence and return to activity after several days. Some of my greatest times communing with God have come only after I have resisted the urge to “cut and run.”
What should I expect?
Try to leave your agenda at home. God may want to address something totally different from what’s on your mind. Let go of your expectations of receiving a “word” from God, getting an area of your life totally resolved, or having a burning-bush experience. Think of your retreat as a rendezvous with God, a time simply to be together with Him.
What happens after I arrive?
Remind yourself why you have come and who is waiting to talk with you. I like to begin my retreats by walking around the grounds. I pray that God will open my heart to His plans and open my ears to His “still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12, KJV). As I walk, I also ask God to show me what I can learn about Him from creation.
One of my favorite aspects of a retreat is having long, uninterrupted blocks of time to read the Word. If a verse or passage especially speaks to me, I’ll write it on a file card and meditate upon it as I stroll the grounds. Or perhaps I’ll do a word study on an area in which I need encouragement or on an attribute of God.
After lunch, I might take a delightful, guilt-free nap! A retreat can provide refreshment for both soul and body. Without a heavy schedule, retreats also provide an ideal time to fast.
In the afternoon or evening, I may browse through the library, find a spot outside in which to reflect, or curl up in a cozy chair to read. Sometimes, I sense God prompting me to write a friend who needs a word of encouragement or someone from whom I need to ask forgiveness.
Time Well Spent
However I spend those precious days or hours, I always seek to be open to the Spirit of God. Ironically, all those things that demanded my attention before leaving lose their grip on me during a retreat. I often return to my responsibilities with fresh perspective, greater discernment regarding God’s priorities for me, and the strength to do what He’s called me to. For “in returning and rest you shall be saved. In quietness and confidence shall be your strength” (Is. 30:15, NKJV).
Reprinted with permission from Discipleship Journal, issue one hundred twenty, 2000.