A View from the Pew: Taking a Personal Spiritual Retreat

I’ve never hiked the Appalachian Trail, but I know people who have. It sounds like something I would want to do, but then again, maybe not.

I like the outdoors. I like hiking. I enjoy time to reflect and physically exert.

I don’t enjoy getting lost. I don’t like being out in weather extremes. I don’t enjoy sleeping on the ground with wild animals having unfettered access to me.

There’s a difference between the idea of the experience, and the experience itself.

I’ve never taken a personal spiritual retreat, but I know people who have. It sounds like something I would want to do, but then again, maybe not.

I like prayer. I like quiet time. I enjoy reflecting on Scripture and what it means both in its historical context and for my life.

I don’t like seclusion. I don’t like too much silence. I don’t like feeling unstructured or unproductive.

There’s a difference between the idea of the experience, and the experience itself.

Still, each year when I map out my spiritual practice, including my writing, I have idealized notions of taking a spiritual retreat by myself. Getting away from the worries and pressures of work as well as the duties and responsibilities of family for even just a day to really listen for the voice of God and respond to the direction of the Spirit’s nudging in my life.

But so far, it hasn’t happened.

In my mind this would be fun. I could really clear my head of all distractions and make an effort to get down to what truly matters and what is truly important to me. It would be clarifying and energizing. I would emerge more focused on my life’s mission and how I should be spending my time, particularly as I close in on a milestone birthday that reminds me that life is but a vapor.

I also know it would be a challenge. Thoughts invade while I try to pray for 15 minutes each morning. I am easily distracted from the words I try to read in the Bible by concerns for my family, news of the world, and my to-do list at home and at work. Taking time away from work would only make me more anxious about falling behind on projects. Being away from my family would leave all of the responsibilities on the shoulders of my wife who already does the lion’s share of the household management.

This isn’t an easy journey to take, but as I contemplate it year after year, there will come a time when it will become unavoidable. And as difficult as it may be, it will be worth doing.

A few years ago, our church had a half-day retreat experience with a guide written by our pastor. We all “retreated” to different locations around the church to work through the guide and spend time in prayer before gathering together for worship and a meal. It was an incredible experience. It was just a taste, but it left me wanting more.

I’m curious: have you ever taken a personal spiritual retreat? If so, what was it like? If not, why not?

With Lent rapidly approaching, this is the ideal season to deepen your spiritual practice and more fully inhabit your role as a child of God. Let’s plan together on going deeper in our relationship with God.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA. He earns a living in higher education communications.

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