A Half-Day Retreat to Spiritually Recharge

(With a free booklet on prayer and meditation for beginners)

The summer interns at our church have really appreciated the retreats we’ve structured for them over the past few years. These high school and college students come from all over the region to work with children and youth in our urban neighborhood – they’re camp counselors, youth group leaders, Sunday School teachers, swim instructors and spiritual mentors. It’s wonderful, exhausting work.

We wanted part of their training to include time alone with God, so they would learn that the power comes from Him, and we only have to give what we have experienced with God. We schedule three or four half day retreats over the summer, and try to do them in a beautiful, natural setting.

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Here’s how we structure it:

  • For the first hour we stay together, checking in about how each person is doing (I ask them to rate themselves out of ten on energy levels, stress levels, happiness levels). We stress listening deeply to each other. Then I read a brief Bible passage three times, asking them to listen first for content, then to experience it with all their senses, imagining themselves in the scene, then to pay attention to what stands out to them – what God may be speaking to them through the passage. This excercise calms and centers people, and they can keep focusing on that passage, if they want, in their alone time. Then I pray for protection, peace and guidance for them in their time alone.img_20170605_160429434.jpg
  • For the next two hours, everyone disperses alone, not talking to one another. They choose whether to stay in one place or walk around, and are given guidance in how to use the time. I encourage them to keep gently bringing their minds back to the here and now, and the reality that Jesus is with them. They may read the Bible or another book, memorize a few verses, or rest in the beauty of nature. We encourage them to stay off their phones. To help them, we give them a booklet of ten short articles on how to spend time with God – everything from dealing with silence to confession to healing to surrender to gratitude to Bible study (compiled from blogs on this site). Download this here. IMG_20160629_134707716
  • For the last hour, we meet together again and check in about how that time went for us. Some will describe a spiritual experience, some will share difficulties they may have had – trouble concentrating, falling asleep, grief overtaking them. Some of the interns are not comfortable being outside for long and get freaked out by bugs! But usually they report a good, refreshing time. We end up praying in groups of three or four for anything that surfaced during the time alone, and for ministry coming up.

It’s a good idea to have a few people available during the alone time in case people get stuck trying to connect with God alone, and need someone to talk with them or pray for  them. I think any group of people in Christian ministry should regularly have retreats. Jesus did it; so should we.

Unblocking our View of God (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge, Part X)

When it comes to being aware that God is right here with us, most of us are blocked. Like a guy with foggy glasses, like a girl who has the radio cranked too loud to hear her GPS, there are some simple things we need to do before we can perceive what is so close.

This is the last in a series of ten posts that discuss things we can do on our own to let God into our heads and hearts. Any contact with God is renewing. So, in summary, here’s what we can do to spiritually recharge:

Elijah on Mt Horeb, by Sister Genevieve
  • Find beautiful quiet places to be alone undisturbed.
  • Give yourself time alone in silence, undistracted by noise and the demands of people.
  • Learn to meditate on true statements, repeating them while you breathe slowly and deeply.
  • Examine yourself and confess to God the ways you have harmed yourself and others.
  • Practice gratitude for what is in your life right here and now.
  • Develop faith by praying for healing of physical, emotional and relationship problems.
  • Surrender to God anything that is not good for you, or is taking the place of God in your life.
  • Build a habit of reading the Bible often.
  • Learn to study the Bible for yourself.

There’s a balance between spending time alone with God and experiencing God in community. Each needs the other, each feeds the other. People who want to seek God benefit greatly from worship services, service projects, Bible classes, prayer groups, retreats with spiritual directors. These are the things we tend to think of first when considering practicing a faith.

But following Christ is much more than practicing a religion. It is a relationship with the one who made us, saved us and loves us every moment of our lives. God really wants time alone with us. And whether we want it or not, we really need time with God.

Whether it’s once a week hiking in a forest, or every morning sitting in an armchair for fifteen minutes, our spirits can be continually renewed, like a fountain that never stops flowing. All we have to do is give God time and permission to work in us.

Surrender is Underrated (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge Part VII)

Years ago I had a dream. I was carrying someone up a mountain, struggling under the weight to keep my footing on a narrow rocky path – a rock wall to my right, a cliff edge to my left. I fell, in terror as sheer as the cliff. Then, a big invisible hand caught both me and my burden before we hit the ground. We fell into a soft, enveloping safety and I woke, relief flooding my heart.

I  had the same dream three times on the same night, each carrying a different person. God was trying to get through to my wildly codependent subconscious that He was responsible for me and the people I was trying to rescue, that we were safe with him. Best of all, those people weighing me down were caught in God’s other hand. I had nothing to do with their rescue, having dropped them when I fell – just to avoid any confusion about who is and isn’t capable of rescue.

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Not all of us are rescue rangers but we all have stuff or people or issues we cling to, even idolize. And we won’t be at peace until we let God have them.

That’s where prayers of surrender come in. In this way of praying, we slowly learn to open our hearts to God, like a fist that has clenched too long being gradually pried open. First it hurts, but then we are free.

Surrendering control is against our nature, so it will not happen all at once. Like sandpaper on hardwood, we hand ourselves over to God to be worked on. It goes something like this:

  1. We get alone and calm and aware of God, to be best of our ability. (See the earlier blogs in this series, 1, 2 and 3.)
  2. We dwell on the thing we are clinging to, telling God why we want/need it so much, and all our fears about losing it.
  3. We acknowledge that God, our creator, knows more than we do, and has loves us more than we know. So we say, “Your will be done.”
  4. We put the matter in God’s hands. Try actually lifting the person, habit, situation, whatever, up to Him in your imagination, and actually lift up your arms.
  5. We let go. We say, “I give up. If you don’t want me to have this, take it away.”

Sometimes we’ll get what we want; the job, the relationship, the house – whatever, along with clarity that we need God more. Other times, God takes it away for good. We don’t always get to know why, either.

Surrendering our big issues is key, but surrender also needs to happen in our everyday lives. I knew a missionary in Austria who took every Sunday afternoon to review each family relationship, his work issues, and his life in the community. He asked God to show him what was best in all of these, surrendering his own agenda to listen.

Some people are systematic, and a daily or weekly prayer of surrender really helps them. Others feel trapped by that, and it’s better to just deal with things as they come up. Either way, we have to surrender if we want peace, and the joy of seeing God doing good things in our lives.

Chunks of the Bible that can help us with surrender include: praying the Lord’s prayer, imagining Jesus’ ultimate surrender at Gethsemane, meditating on the poem in Philippians 2, or memorizing Galatians 2:20.