1. Prepare before you come. Ask God to open and prepare your heart for the retreat you are about to experience. Don’t neglect to get everything in order, by taking care of the details that might need attention at home while you are gone. Once you leave for the retreat, let your heart and soul be at peace so that you are not constantly worrying about your home life while you are gone.
2. Pack lightly. A retreat is a time for you and God to be together. It is not a time for bringing every familiar thing along with you that will divert you from that purpose. You may be tempted to bring too much to a retreat, because you are afraid you will get bored, you want to stay connected and active, you unconsciously fear God won’t really be there, or you are simply addicted to your ‘stuff’ and feel like you will go through ‘withdrawal’ if you don’t bring it with you! But, just a few clothes, toiletries, Bible, prayer book, spiritual reading, notebook and pen will be enough. A few chocolate chip cookies might help ease your concern that you will be deprived at the retreat!
3. Anticipate and expect. God is always with us, but the busy-ness of life along with its multitudinous expectations and demands often keeps us from deep intimacy with God on a daily basis. Consider your retreat as a time of tryst with the Holy One – a time away from all the usual responsibilities so that you can go inward – inward to deepen your own self-understanding and experience special and dedicated time with God. Anticipate and expect that you are coming to the retreat to meet and be with God.
4. Listen to your body. When we are so filled with activities in our regular daily lives, we can find sleep is sometimes disturbed or lacking altogether. Once you arrive at the retreat center and start to decompress from activity and stress, you may become aware of how very tired you are. It is not unusual to simply need to sleep. Listen to your body, and if a nap will help restore you, take it.
5. Eat lightly and savor food and drink. Everything is slowed down during a retreat. We eat quietly and slowly, we pay attention to the beauty and taste of the food, and we exercise gratitude for it in a way that we forget to do at everyday mealtimes. Tea, coffee, and water are always available, along with cookies or fruit. Take time each day to simply sip a drink and nibble on a cookie or piece of fruit, doing nothing but appreciating taste, texture, and the time to treasure it all.
6. Take a walk. The grounds of the retreat center are beautiful and serene and offer time for private reflection and physical exercise. Moving in nature is another way of spending time with God. We often think that we just pray and meditate at a retreat, whereas the reality is that we are there to spend time with God in all kinds of ways. Taking a walk is good for both body and soul.
7. Read and Write. At the retreat, there is time to be in a large group and listen to a talk by the retreat leader, there is time for sharing with others, and there is time for silence and solitude for you and God to be together. This provides space for thinking, praying, reading, and writing in your journal. Let your journal become a record for you of the movement of God in your soul throughout the retreat.
8. Be still. This is perhaps the hardest part of a retreat for people in the modern world. We are so accustomed to constant motion that being still can feel like an impossible challenge. As soon as we are still, we want to move, or think, or complete a task. Yet, stillness is important in order to see your soul clearly. Like a pond returning to stillness after a pebble has been thrown into it, you need to let the pebbles of life come to rest so you can see clear and deep within.
9. Expect a word from God. We often wonder if God still speaks as was so often the case in Scripture. God does still speak, but in the activities of our daily world, it’s sometimes hard to hear God’s voice. At a retreat, activity and anxiety are ‘dialed down,’ in order to hear from the Holy One. God will always give you a ‘word,’ when you are on retreat. It may be a new insight that comes to you that comes just when you need it. It may be a phrase that keeps popping into your head throughout the day. It may be just a single word that is an amalgamation of all the thinking and praying that has been done. In a retreat, you aren’t taking in information as you would when going to a class or taking a course. You are just an open vessel, waiting on the still small voice of God.
10. Plan your next retreat. Just as any relationship needs regular and care-filled attention, your relationship with God needs periodic times when you step away from the hubbub of life to give your full attention to your relationship with God. When you visit someone you love and are preparing to leave, it is quite common to make plans for when you will next see each other. Planning your next retreat keeps your soul ready in anticipation for the special time with God that only a retreat can give!