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.

Finding a Thin Place or Two (10 Ways to Spiritually Recharge)

There are a few habits, like, say brushing your teeth or checking texts, that you don’t think about. Life just would not work without them. I’ve come to feel that way about spending time with God. I have several habits, some involving seconds, some whole days, that draw me into awareness of God’s presence and give me spiritual strength. There’s lots of advice out there about how to stay physically well, and Americans are good at playing, which helps us recharge emotionally, but how to stay spiritually healthy is not such a hot topic. So the next ten posts will be about staying spiritually well.  But first, a few words about location:

A ‘thin’ place is a Celtic term for a location where it’s easier to connect with God, a natural place of beauty where the barrier between heaven and earth is somehow more permeable. I won’t debate whether these places exist in the objective sense, but what I know is that when I find an undisturbed place that delights me and I repeatedly use it as a base for praying and reflecting, it becomes a thin place for me. Just being there makes it easier to calm down, focus and become receptive to God’s presence.

Some of us don’t even know we need these places until we find them, and then it feels like we’ve been living on a fast train, and only by accident stepped off to still, solid ground. Then we don’t want to leave.
church garden outside 2 light outside gardenMy closest thin place is a lovely garden on a church property up the hill from my house. On a winding path of memorial stones, you pass under a bell tower,  flowerbeds and shady trees with stone benches, to a tiered fish pond. When I have less than an hour, I go there to think, pray or maybe just rest. If I have a little more time, I drive to Spring Grove Cemetery, one of the most wonderful properties I have ever seen – acres of towering trees, stunning monuments and endless flowers. The beauty of the place never fails to work its magic. Even without the effort to think or pray, you just feel better in a place like that.

When I can schedule a whole day off, I go to a retreat center an hour away, off the highway, past streams and farms and into the back country of southern Indiana. There are cabins there for people who need to get away. There are walking trails, a labyrinth and a lake with a spring that keeps bubbling up to its center. That spring is a metaphor for what happens to me whenever I go there. I experience the energy of God freshly, and realize it will always be there for me, if only I sit down and shut up long enough to drink it in.

We desperately need to find these quiet places, where our heart rates can slow and the silence helps us remember who we are.

Not everyone has access to beautiful quiet places, but even in a city there are little parks with hidden benches. There are churches open to the public. If all else fails, we may have to hide in a closet. Somehow, some way, wherever we are on the journey, we need to set aside time and place to be with God, or, if we are unsure there is a God – to seek truth.

So, this week – find a thin place or two.