Bridgette asked if I'd share in this week's blog and since I was taking my annual pre-Mother's Day Prayer Retreat during this time, I felt inspired to share the basic concept with you here. Like you, I've been praying, fasting and incorporating some kind of little break-away for years but it's only been in the last 5 years, in the course of writing my first books, that I've actually left home and made space and place for time alone with the Father. And now I'm hooked!
This is about "intentionality". And, let's face it, girls...everything in our lives will fight this departure. From your church, to your family, to even the dog, we have to exercise discipline to not feel "guilty" (can I get a witness?), for breaking away and receiving a re-filling.
Now I'm a Jesus-loving, Florida Girl, so I head for the coastline, but you can retreat anywhere. I also prefer to go alone, and this year I took along a new book* I found on prayer retreating from author Alicia Britt Chole. I already love it! She's serious about the subject and she and her husband even have a retreat center in Branson, MO. Let me share an excerpt from her book here.
Prayer Retreating--Here's the 411...
"When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place." (Matthew 14:13)
"Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went out to a solitary place, where He prayed." (Mark 1:35)
“'Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place." (Mark 6:31-32)
"One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God." (Luke 6:12)
Jesus’ example grants us permission (and perhaps even a directive) to retreat to solitary places for extended prayer. Think of prayer-retreating as a scheduled rain for your reservoir. Living water from heaven refills us as we enjoy Jesus’ company on long walks or delight in Jesus’ artistry in the canvas of the sky.
Consider yourself officially invited:
To read a book that you have no plans of quoting;
To study a passage that you have no intention of preaching;
To sleep well and nap often because rest is a gift from God;
To allow living water to collect and rise and from the overflow, offering to others wisdom, energy, hope, and love...that is sustainable.
Does the thought of befriending solitary places of prayer fill you with anticipation? Stress? Joy? Procrastination? A desire to eat chocolate?
Henri Nouwen** encouraged readers to retreat for alone time with God, “an hour a day, an afternoon a week, a day a month, a week a year.” An hour a day devoted to resting with Jesus was familiar, thanks to the teaching and example of early mentors. An afternoon a week was familiar, thanks to unanswerable questions that led me into developing a practice of waiting upon God one afternoon a week in a lonely university chapel.
But one full day EVERY month and one full week EVERY year? What a glorious thought. Decades later, how can I quantify what these disciplines have meant to me? Their weight is beyond measure. Describe your current spiritual formation rhythms, patterns, and practices. In what ways do you feel that the discipline of retreating could enhance your life?
Instead of an opportunity for sermon prep or writing or admin or catch-up, I view these set-apart spaces like the expensive perfume poured out by the woman on Jesus’ feet before His betrayal (Matthew 26:6–7). These retreats are love offerings: gifts with no strings attached. Neither to receive an answer nor to resolve a problem, the retreats are for whispering, “I love You.”
Your season and schedule may lead you to develop quarterly retreats and monthly Saturday afternoons or annual weekends and weekly Monday mornings, etc. Whatever their configuration, what makes these spaces rich is "intentionality" and regularity.
Plan for them. Schedule them. Guard them as you would any meeting with a king.
Get practical with Jesus. What would it take for the two of you to experience a 24-hour retreat, or longer? Look at your calendar together. Circle several dates that are possibilities over the next few months. Then, identify details that would need to be covered.
Who could pet sit? What friend could fill in for you at church? What meetings and deadlines do you need to postpone? If you are a parent, who could help take care of your children? If finances are a factor, what would it take to stay-and-pray at home without distractions (if possible)?
SET A DATE
SELECT A SPACE
Bring your favorite Bible, plenty of fabulous pens, pencils, and highlighters, a means of searching the Bible (concordance or e-Bible), and a journal. Carefully select a few books that you feel will nourish your spirit. Please consider unplugging and making this retreat a no-media, low-tech zone. If at all possible, fast from texting, TV, and social media and only use your phone for urgent calls. Set up an auto-respond for email and alert your closest circle of friends that you need their help guarding this space. Personally contact those who might be truly traumatized by your lack of instant availability and give them the number where you are staying in case of an emergency.
Give thought to your retreat surroundings. What would be relaxing for you? Consider bringing a guitar or hiking boots, some painting supplies or a fishing pole, quality teas or specialty coffee. Some may ask, How about bringing a good movie? I really enjoy a good movie, but when I am preparing for a retreat I ask myself, “Can I truly talk with God and listen for His voice while doing ____________?” If the answer is no, I leave it at home.
4. READY. SET. REST!
“With” is the key word for your entire retreat. What you do during your retreat—reading, walking, writing, or singing—is not nearly as important as Whom you do it with. You are not alone. Think with Jesus instead of just thinking about Him.
5. WORSHIP (while exercising, painting, playing or singing music, etc.)
6. JOYFULLY EMBRACE REPENTANCE (God reveals to heal)
7. REST (Take a nap!)
I have spent entire retreats simply cycling from worship through repentance into rest. Depending on wiring, some may feel the need to emerge from a retreat with something tangible like an answer to a burning prayer or a new teaching. Personally, solutions and productivity are not what I hope for from a prayer retreat. Answers cannot fill a reservoir. God’s presence can.
Think of spiritual waiting like a parent lovingly soaking up each feature of their baby’s face and fingers and toes. They gaze because that is what love does.
Love—true love—is content just to gaze.
9. LISTEN (Be still)
10. END WELL
The last hour of a prayer retreat is especially precious for me. I savor these closing minutes with quietness and a posture of love toward Jesus. I may take a walk with Him or kneel at a favorite place of prayer. Even as I pack and transition, I work to keep the retreat mindset: I am not leaving the retreat—the retreat is coming with me! The quietness, the trust, the forgiveness, and the re-centered peace do not stay behind as I close a door and drive home.
When I first started the discipline of prayer-retreating, I thought of it as a luxury. Now, this Jesus-inspired habit of intentionally investing in extended time for prayer is a guarded given in my journey. Imagine, oh, imagine, how the future could be impacted by a generation of leaders whose public presence was anchored in spiritual rest! Known or hidden, we all carry a set of expectations into our retreats and—since expectations are powerful things—wisdom invites us to acknowledge and evaluate them. What expectations are reasonable when we are establishing the discipline of prayer-retreating?
Your first prayer retreat may be filled with revelation, tears, and triumphs, or silence, awkwardness, and struggling. You may wonder if anything was accomplished or if you were “doing it right”. You may be frustrated that your mind never seemed to slow down or you may be unsure that you could have “heard God” even if He did speak.
It is okay. Many, if not most, have experienced these exact emotions. The holy habit of prayer-retreating becomes easier and richer with time. If you find yourself wrestling, please know this: you just gave a no-strings-attached love offering to Jesus. He is truly pleased.
So relax. Let God measure the fruit. And make plans for your next retreat.
*Ready, Set, Rest: The Practice of Prayer Retreating*, Alicia Britt Chole (onewholeworld, inc)
**Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups, Henri Nouwen (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993, 96.)
The product of an alcoholic home, Susie Purkey suffered from severe depression at the age of 14. However, the Lord revealed Himself to her in a powerful way during a suicide attempt one night, by speaking the words; "You'll never know!" This led to her dramatic conversion and deliverance to be all God wanted her to be. Through the past 35+ years of ministry alongside her husband, Mark Purkey, Susie has shared her story of hope all over the world. But most precious to her is the privilege of intercession over multiplied decades on behalf of her alcoholic father who finally surrendered his life to Christ just a few years before his passing. The mother of two children and "Nina" to two grandchildren, Susie's life is full to overflowing! She most recently authored a book and Bible study, Poised with Bride Mentality.