Q: Thanks for sharing about your personal spiritual retreat in Canada [October 2019]. This is making me curious (and I suspect that others might be wondering also) about what is involved in such a retreat... If you get a chance, could you please share your thoughts with all your readers about the practical aspects of organising a personal spiritual retreat. It would be great to hear about your typical day, do’s and don’ts, etc. — C.L., Melbourne, Australia

A: I've only been on a handful of personal spiritual retreats, though I'm happy to share some ideas. (I know some people who are really good at this. Let me know if you want to contact them for their suggestions.)

  1. Since it takes a day or two to decompress, the longer the retreat, the greater impact. Mine was 4 nights—88 hours in all. (I'm glad it wasn't even one day shorter.)
  2. Solitude is key. Otherwise interruptions and technology tend to derail us. Although I did talk to a handful of people, I tried hard to keep the retreat private. I bought food from the grocery store, ate simply, and didn't go to restaurants.
  3. Walking in nature allows us to be awed by God's world. The Canadian Rockies are stunning. The mercury was below freezing, so that was refreshing, too, the cold air making it easier to concentrate.
  4. During these walks, I prayed and sang. (Difficult to do when there are a lot of people around, not so difficult when we break away.)
  5. This was a good time for some reading—mainly Timothy Keller's excellent book on preaching, plus 80 or 90 chapters in the Bible. I took extensive notes, and am still working through them. This was rewarding, and rich.
  6. I'm not really the journaling type, but I brought a little notebook and wrote down many observations and even some feelings. (Many of us men are not that good at knowing what we feel, so it can be good to force ourselves to put pen to paper.) This made it easier to recall these thoughts and feelings afterward.
  7. In the whole process I was seeking understanding and guidance. What does the Lord want me to do in this stage of life? Do I need to cut back on some commitments? Is there something important I haven't made time for?
  8. Last, I shared everything with my wife over the course of the following 10 days, taking an hour or more each day to go through the notebook. This led to some really good communication—a weak area for too many of us husbands.

Thanks for suggesting I share these thoughts more broadly. Last, I realize that not everyone has the time or means to take several days off work. We're all in different situations. Let's just do our best, remembering that Jesus himself periodically withdrew (Luke 5:16; 6:12; 22:39). He's the one we follow, and sometimes that means removing ourselves from the usual hustle and bustle.