At-Home Retreat Guide
by Letitia Suk
A personal retreat to Getaway with God is one of the most transforming ways to experience His love. The intimacy created in this time of solitude allows for new insight, direction, healing, and a deepening of one’s relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Sometimes, it isn’t possible to actually go away for this retreat, but you can still plan and enjoy significant time with God in the comfort of your own home.
The following is a simple guide for an at-home retreat. It can be modified to fit whatever time you have available or be adapted for a small group experience.
Before the retreat:
• Look at your calendar. When can you set aside an uninterrupted half or whole day? Make plans to eliminate family and work responsibilities, if need be.
• A few weeks before your retreat, begin asking Jesus to prepare you for the experience. Begin to pray about a theme for your time. The theme might be something like listening to God, Scripture study, deeper prayer, or rest. Ask him to point you in the right direction.
• Choose the space for your retreat. Decide if you prefer an indoor or an outdoor space. If possible, choose a more unfamiliar space such as a different bedroom, basement, porch, etc. If you’re retreating outdoors, choose a place that has walking paths or has a place for you to sit comfortably. Parks, forest preserves, and beaches are great places to meet God.
• Pack your retreat bag with things like your Bible, a journal, headphones, an inspirational book, water, a snack (unless you are fasting), and so forth.
• Expect spiritual resistance in your mind or circumstances. Don’t allow these troubles to make you cancel your plans or make you fearful. Instead ask Jesus to help you deal with the hardships.
• Ask a few friends or your small group to pray for you and your time.
Set up your space:
• If possible, close the door so you can be undisturbed.
• Set up as many props as fit your style. Some ideas include candles, string lights, music, flowers, fragrance, essential oils, or a hot beverage. You are creating your personal retreat center; your chapel.
Your plan will depend on how much time you set aside. The following are outlines for four- to eight-hour retreats.
If you are retreating with a group, designate one or more members to plan the retreat (if the group wants to follow the same retreat plan). Decide ahead of time how your interactions will look during the retreat. Does anyone want to be silent? Is texting okay? Do you want to touch base at the beginning and the end? Additionally, consider agreeing to pray for one other person in the group during the retreat.
Begin with an "opening ceremony" of some sort. Here’s one example:
Create a plan for the retreat time:
• Turn your phone off.
• Speak or write a prayer. Consider something like this:
Jesus, thank you for inviting me to spend this time with you. I can’t wait to hang out with you for these next few hours! I trust you with my time. I trust that you will lead me to places you have prepared for me. Help me to follow you.
I give you permission to speak into my life, to guide me, to show me what I need to see now. I know I’m going to get distracted, but help me to stay with you throughout this time. I want to say yes to what you want to do here.
I’m going to turn this light on now as a sign of the presence of your Holy Spirit. I will leave it on during the retreat to remind me that you are always with me.
I want to listen now to see if you have anything to say to me. Thank you.
As you go deeper into the retreat, add any of these components:
• Light a candle or turn on a soft, inviting light as indicated in the prayer.
• Take one or two minutes to listen for the Holy Spirit to give you any direction, which might come in the form of a new thought or a Scripture verse coming to mind. If you don’t sense anything, that’s fine too.
• Consider doing an exercise called "Palms Down/Palms Up." Sit quietly with your palms resting on your thighs. It should remind you that it is nearly impossible to hold anything on the tops of your hands. Release in prayer anything that is troubling you. Take as much time as you need. When you are ready, turn your palms up to indicate that you are ready to receive God’s peace, his blessing, and his grace. You can repeat the exercise anytime you feel your cares returning.
• As you head into the retreat, know that you are also heading into a real spiritual battle. Read Ephesians 6:10-18, and ask God to strengthen you in each area listed. Remember what is true, hold on to righteousness, be ready to spread the gospel, ask for more faith, hold on to your salvation, and immerse yourself in the Word of God.
• If you chose a theme for the retreat, such as deeper rest, a desire to seek God about a specific issue, or sorting out a new season of life, lean into that theme. If you don’t feel specific pull, that’s okay too.
Now take a break. This is a good time to head outside and walk with or without music. If you are staying inside, do some stretching and drink some water. Feel free to take a short nap if you are feeling sleepy.
As you dive back in:
• Imagine that you are chatting with Jesus and getting a checkup, just as you would at the doctor’s office. Let him know how your body feels, what is filling your mind, etc.
• Pick one of the following passages to read: Ephesians 1, Psalm 18, Romans 12, or John 15. Choose only one--these are loaded passages. Take your time reading it.
• Read the story of Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52 several times. Can you identify something that has held you back for many years? What would you like from Jesus right now? Journal your reflections.
• Pray the "Jesus Prayer," as follows: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Try inhaling as you pray, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God" and exhaling on "have mercy on me, a sinner." Stay relaxed and breathe slowly. Repeat.
• Utilize one of the suggested digital resources below.
• Choose another passage of Scripture from the list above.
• Reflect. Ask yourself: What do I need to release to God? What practice do I need to return to? What am I hoping to receive?
• Create a "Breath Prayer." This type of prayer is similar to the "Jesus Prayer," but any prayer or Scripture in couplet form can be part of the inhale/exhale. Say or think the first part of the couplet as you inhale. Move to the second part as you exhale.
Here are some examples:
• From Samuel 3:10-- (inhale) "Speak, Lord" (exhale) "for your servant is listening"
• Lord Jesus / I trust you
• You are / in control
• Give me your peace / take my fear
• Read Psalm 36:5–9. What speaks to you? Can you turn these verses into a prayer?
• Take another walk or break.
• Remember that it’s more important to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work than to fill all the time.
Close your retreat:
• Sit quietly and listen for anything else.
• If you wrote in a journal, review your notes.
• Decide how you will start to implement any action steps the Holy Spirit indicated.
• Give thanks to God for your retreat time.
• Blow out your candle or turn off the lamp.
Feel free to skip these suggestions if your phone will be a distraction to you or others. They are not necessary for a successful retreat.
Suggested Digital Resources for Your Retreat
• Pray As You Go. Each selection on this app offers music, a passage of Scripture and reflection questions, and might take you about twelve minutes. Additionally, there are many good resources in the menu. This app is free on the App Store.
• Reimagining the Examen. This app has you participate in the examen, the ancient practice of taking a deeper look at one’s day to see where God showed up. There are many options of music and reflections that are available in the app. This app is free on the App Store.
• Lectio 365. This app contains Scripture and prompts for meditating. Night prayers are also available. This practice might take you about ten minutes. This app is free on the App Store.
• David Tolk. Relaxing instrumental albums. Try listening to the album “Seasons” or the song “Faith” on DavidTolk.com.
• Salt of the Sound. Find this band’s four “Meditations” albums on SaltOfTheSound.bandcamp.com.
• Daily Lectio Divina podcast. In each episode, you’ll hear a very soothing reading of a Scripture passage read four times. Prompts are included for reflection. Set aside twelve to fifteen minutes for each listen.
• "The Divine Hours" prayer guide. This guide leads you through the centuries-old way of praying every few hours. Find it at annarborvineyard.org.
For more on building a personal retreat, read Getaway with God.
Letitia Suk provides step-by-step guidance and the necessary tools to enable any woman to plan an extended time away on any budget. Part one offers detailed steps for preparation, including descriptions of different kinds of retreats and templates for how to use each hour. Part two focuses on designing a five-day life-review retreat, including guided questions and ways to bring the retreat home. The practical appendixes identify retreat centers nationwide and provide a checklist for what to bring.
Suk's warm, mentoring voice will assure readers that, no matter what their season in life, the time for retreat is now.
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