by Emma Major
Last year, Laura Neale and I decided that we could both do with some time on retreat. We had led a one day digital retreat at the end of 2021 but hadn't made time in our own lives to spend time away with God. We put a week into our diaries and looked forward to a week of prayer, listening and relaxing with God. The question we were faced with though was “how do we go on retreat and find relaxation when we find it hard enough to relax at home, where everything is set up to help?”. The solution: we could retreat from our own homes together.
Neither of us approached the week with particular aims other than holding it lightly and asking God to guide us in the year ahead. Laura had some reading she wanted to do and I was looking forward to stepping away from emails and doing lots of praying, paintings and poetry penning.
Each morning Laura and I touched base with a video call or messaging. We shared a bit about how we were feeling, what our day might look like and a reminder to us both to hold it lightly. Jesus took time to rest and so we could too.
I loved the week, I settled into a retreat rhythm much quicker than I expected and loved the time and focus I had to pray and create. I received many blessings from God in new expressions of painting and reminders to value my creativity as part of my ministry. But just as importantly I heard the repeating message to rest and relax, to trust that God is with me in whatever I do, even when that feels frustratingly little.
In her reading of Ruth Haley Barton’s book, ‘Invitation to Retreat’, Laura came across a section that was exploring what it meant to retreat from the military context. Retreating is ‘a tactic military troops use when they are losing too much ground, when they are tired and ineffective and when there have been too many casualties or the current strategy is not working. We might see it as a negative but it is a wise tactic – an opportunity to rest, tend to wounds, stop the enemy’s momentum or to pull back and get a wider view and set new strategies.’
In order to clarify the purpose and intention of retreating, the military often refer to it as a ‘strategic withdrawal’ instead now. Like troops, we need to put on our amour everyday (Ephesians 6:10-17), but there are some moments when we need to strategically withdraw too and allow God to protect and comfort us when we are at our most vulnerable.
As many people will not have retreated digitally or at home before, we wanted to share some of our top tips with you!
Set a time to meet with someone else on retreat or your spiritual director, either at home or online via Zoom like we did. This helped us to reflect on what we had done and thought about and to give the week some structure.
Being at home, especially if you have others living with you, can make moving from a day to day/ work/ busy mind set to one of rest and retreat can be hard. If possible, find a quiet space away from the hustle and bustle during the hours you have set to be retreating and avoid booking anything else or doing any work during those times.
If you are tired, physically, mentally, emotionally, sleep. Our bodies are a part of who we are and who God made us to be. One of the best parts of our retreating at home was being able to rest and sleep as and when we wanted or felt we needed to. God was as much with us then as He was when we were awake, praying or reading the Bible.
Treat yourself! God loves you and wants you to love yourself too. Take this retreat time to do something nice for yourself. Perhaps have some of your favourite food, paint your nails, have a long bubble bath or do some painting. Just because you are putting this time aside to be with God, doesn’t mean you have to strip back all the things you like.
Try to not go into your retreat time with a set plan as this can cause it to feel like work that has to be done and can lead to you trying to force something out of it. If you have things that come to mind, write them down and keep that note with you but try to allow God to speak to bring other things to your mind. Going into our retreat, we kept our minds open and had very little planned but this meant that we were able to tune into the other things God was raising up that we might otherwise have missed.
We decided to share this because we both gained so much from the experience and wanted to suggest it to others who might not have considered it. One thing we have both agreed is that we will retreat at home together again soon. How soon is too soon?
(If you are considering retreating, we would highly recommend checking out Ruth’s book, ‘Invitation to Retreat’ to prepare you.)