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Christian Living

Spiritual Life

The Guide to a Personal Retreat with God

Our spiritual lives can often resemble our cell phones at the end of the day. The battery is run down and in need of a charge. Sometimes we are down to 2% before we even realize it. It’s important we reconnect to our power source. Even a single day set aside to recharge fully with God can do wonders for the soul. In Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat (Kregel Publications), Letitia Suk offers women a step-by-step, no-excuses guide to getting back in sync with God.

Q: You introduce Getaway with God with a great analogy. How are our spiritual lives similar to a cell phone at the end of the day?

If yours is anything like mine, by the end of the day the battery is running down, and sometimes I wonder if I will make it until the end of the day. My soul feels like that sometimes too.

What if you could plug your soul in for a long recharge like you do your phone every night? If you’re like me, the “juice” on my phone can slide into the red zone without me even noticing. An emergency-like response sets in as I desperately grab the charger to plug back into the power. Staying connected to the source feels critical. And that’s just for a phone.

Our souls work like that too — draining constantly throughout the day, even more during times of crisis. As with the phone, we may not be aware of the energy loss until we are nearly empty.

Q: What was it about the group retreats you had been on that led you to decide to take your first personal retreat more than 35 years ago?

While most of my weekend experiences enriched my relationships with my church, family and friends, time alone with God at these events often seemed minimal and tacked on at the beginning or end of a long day. I loved the girlfriend time and laughing together at the skits. Retreats were always a great opportunity to get caught up and renew friendships, something that seemed hard to fit into our busy lives. Occasionally I started a new friendship too after initially connecting at a retreat.

Those are valuable takeaways yet I sometimes I came away with a longing for more of what I only tasted at the group retreats, entering into the presence of God. I realized I didn’t want just to taste it but hang out there for a while.

Q: At first you had your own questions about what a personal retreat would entail. From your own experience, what exactly is a personal retreat?

I would define a personal retreat as an opportunity to take a simple day away to unplug from stress and recharge your soul. My first one came about in the early years of our young church when I attended a large group retreat at a local convent. While browsing the book area, I picked up a brochure for the facility and noticed “private retreats available” listed among the amenities. Right away I was intrigued, but I was unsure what a “private” retreat would be. The idea suggested an unhurried time to pray, read and just enjoy being with God at my own pace.

I was ready to sign up, but I felt clueless how to spend 24 hours without a retreat schedule in hand. So I stuck the brochure in my bag and took it home. A few months later, while seeking God about the direction of my life and not hearing much back, I pulled out the brochure. Immediately myriad questions flooded my mind:

If I do this, will I just pray the whole time?

Should I fast?

What does it mean to “wait on God”?

What if I get bored?

How spiritual do I have to be to try this?

Then the possibilities began to emerge — time alone, time to seek God truly, a chance to finish that Bible study I started at the beginning of the year, an opportunity to sort out the next season of my life — and I realized there was way too much agenda for one retreat. I called the facility and made a reservation.

Q: Why does everyone need to take the time to go on a retreat alone?

Perhaps not everyone does, but any woman who is in need of deeper rest, longing for a connection with God for more than a minute or feels overwhelmed by the to-do’s of her life would highly benefit. I guess that would describe all of us at some time or another!

Time after time, year after year, I came away filled with a renewed sense of purpose, clarity of vision, trust in God’s ability to untie all the knots of my life and overwhelming sense of being loved. There’s nothing quite like a retreat to provide that much restoration in such a relatively short amount of time. Many of us are familiar with the relationship boost a getaway with your spouse or family can provide, and a getaway with God has the same results for our souls.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your new book. Is Getaway with God a precise, step-by-step guide for personal retreats?

Yes, in a very warm, conversational tone, the first part is a detailed guide for all the how-to’s/what if’s of a shorter retreat. It is designed to bring along as a guidebook to be referred to throughout the retreat.

I include:

  • Detailed schedules
  • Recommended reading
  • Packing lists
  • Retreat exercises
  • Guidance for doing small group personal retreats
  • Links to discover retreat centers
  • Creative ways to change up your prayer life

The second half invites the reader to take a longer life-review retreat, and I use my own five-day retreat as a model. In this section the reader is guided to take a deeper look at where she has been, where she currently is and where she is going.

Q: When people hear the word “retreat,” they often think of mountain cabins, church groups and long drives to get there. Is it possible to take a personal retreat without going far or spending a lot of money?

Definitely! If you are on a tight budget, a convent or retreat facility usually fits the bill for anonymity and few distractions. Retreat centers are sprinkled throughout the country in places you wouldn’t expect them. In the appendix section of the book are links on how to find them. Check the website or call ahead to see if they serve meals and if special requests can be accommodated. Do they have a fridge available for you to bring your own meals? Is there a place to walk? Is silence the norm?

For a no-cost retreat, consider asking a friend who is gone during the day if you can use her place, or trade homes with a friend for a weekend. When my children were starting morning programs in school, I asked a neighbor from church if I could use her apartment for a morning retreat while she was downtown at work. I didn’t have the luxury of an overnight or even a full day, but the change of venue and close proximity created just the place I needed.

An outside retreat at a public garden, large park or on the beach can work in the right kind of weather for a shorter retreat. Bring along something comfortable to sit on and create your own sacred space.

One word of caution: Staying home to retreat may seem like an ideal solution. But if possible, get out of your house. Too many distractions, including undone chores, ringing phones and getting chicken out to thaw out for dinner, can derail the best of plans.

More about Letitia Suk

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