A well-done spiritual retreat or program can rejuvenate your Christian walk, supply life-changing tools and resources, and create wonderful memories.
But whether it’s your first time or your tenth, getting ready for a retreat is never as simple as hopping in a car. Tying up loose ends can make you wonder if it’s worth it, but effective preparation – both practical and spiritual -- begin before you even pack your suitcase.
Here are six tips to consider before you go that will help you maximize the retreat experience once you’re there.
Give yourself permission
Feelings of guilt for carving out time away from family or work can undermine your trip. Life requires balance and for single mom Cheryl, who attends Christian conferences with her children and on her own, attending a retreat is an investment in personal growth and wellbeing.
“I have found it is necessary to gather thoughts, ‘smell the roses,’ and enjoy special time with God,” she says. “It is okay to grant yourself a time to reflect and be revitalized.”
Once you’ve booked your retreat, begin putting it before the Lord. Ask Him to prepare your heart for the ways He’ll minister to you. It may be through featured speakers, other guests, or even time alone. Consider asking a friend to pray for you as well.
Call ahead about dietary needs
Dietary restrictions can be a distraction if you haven’t done your homework. Does the retreat center offer a special menu? Do you need to pack your own food, and if so, will you have access to a refrigerator? Lorri, a frequent guest at retreats and program events, says she learned this lesson the hard way when she spent precious time at a retreat pulling together her own meals. “Now, I always call ahead so I don’t have to worry about it.”
Be flexible in your expectations
A program event may pique your interest because of its theme, but keep your expectations flexible. While you may anticipate a mountain top experience with a much-loved speaker, a worship song or unexpected connection with a new friend can hit the spiritual mark in a way you didn’t anticipate.
Bring a journal or a book
Lorri attends a variety of retreats and program events, and brings books and journals with her every time. “My suitcase is light on clothes but bigger on books,” she says.
Commit to a break from your phone or computer during down time, and instead jot down your prayers or thoughts in a journal. “I love giving a lot of thought to what God wants me to study while I’m away,” says Lorri. “It might be a book I’ve read but want to dig deeper into, or a book of the Bible.”
Get on the same page
Attending a retreat with close friends can enrich the experience and provide reassuring faces in a larger crowd. But it’s good to flesh out expectations. Will you eat every meal together? Will you schedule time alone? What about meeting new people?
Taking the time to lay the groundwork for a spiritual retreat will enable you to be fully present to the Lord while you’re there, and affirm the benefits of a designated time to recharge.