Hey, my friend.
This year, I am doing a monthly episode where I share a book recommendation with you, because I love to read, and I bet you do, too!
But this month, I’m taking it a step further because I actually have a signed copy of this book that I would love to gift to one of you. Interested? If so, just go to lovedoesthat.org/giveaway by Friday, June 30, 2023 and enter. I’ll announce the winner shortly after.
But first of all, what book is it? It’s Invitation to Retreat, by Ruth Haley Barton.
And it fits in perfectly with some of our topics this summer as we take a closer look at spiritual practices that help us stay close to God, even when life is hard or heavy. Just a couple of weeks ago, we talked a little bit about journaling—specifically, how to journal in front of others. And next week, we’re going to talk about sleep as a spiritual practice. “Sleep?” you ask. Yep. Sleep. I can’t wait to share about that one with you.
For now, let’s dive into why I recommend the book Invitation to Retreat to you—and learn a little more about Christian retreats in the process.
Ruth Haley Barton as a Spiritual Mentor
I’ve got to start by saying that Ruth Haley Barton has been a sort of informal mentor to me in the world of spiritual formation. I’ve never met her personally, but I have a lot of her books, many which speak to spiritual practices, leadership, and discernment:
- Invitation to Silence and Solitude
- Sacred Rhythms
- Pursuing God’s Will Together
- Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership
She also has a podcast geared toward those in leadership and is the director of the Transforming Center, which is a great place to find a spiritual director.
What Exactly is a Retreat?
Ruth begins her book, Invitation to Retreat, by describing what a retreat actually is. And the reason it’s so necessary is because the concept of “retreat” can have a lot of different connotations, can’t it?
So she writes, “Retreat in the context of the spiritual life is an extended time apart for the purpose of being with God and giving God our full and undivided attention… The truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives, which means we’ve gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and half an hour there… But many of us are longing for more.”
Essentially, you are getting away to spend time with God.
How long is an extended time? I think many people would suggest two or three days. But if you can’t get away for that long right now, even a day or half a day can really make an impact on your soul.
What to Do on a Christian Retreat
After defining what is meant by a Christian retreat, Ruth then goes on to share more specifics about what this can look like.
One of the things I found interesting is that she said that many times, when people are on retreat, they often fall asleep sometime during the day. This is because so many of us are not getting the restful, replenishing sleep that we need. In fact, she suggests starting a retreat in the evening so that the first thing you do is let go and slow down and sleep.
And so one of the first invitations you might sense from God on retreat is simply to rest. To literally lay down and close your eyes and relax. Maybe even to fall asleep.
Meet with a Spiritual Director
If you are on a retreat with a group or at a Christian retreat center, one of the things you might also do is to meet with a spiritual director who is there. This might be one-on-one or in a group setting.
If it’s one-on-one, you’ll be able to share a bit about what brought you to the retreat, any hopes or questions you are holding before the Lord, and receive encouragement and prayer from the spiritual director to help guide the rest of your time there.
If it’s a group spiritual direction session, it might look more like a time of guided prayer or teaching, Bible reading or meditation.
Even if you create a retreat of your own, you can schedule a meeting with your own spiritual director while you are away—or, since my clients and I write to one another, we can write back and forth during the retreat to process what is stirring within them. I love hearing from my clients about how God shows up and speaks to them during a retreat!
Prayer & Bible Reading
Retreats are probably known for times of extended prayer and Bible reading. You are free to really lean into the moment and sit with God for as long as desired.
Maybe there’s a big decision you need to make and you’re on this retreat to seek discernment and guidance from God. So you spend a lot of time in listening prayer and looking up verses that God brings to mind and journaling about your thoughts and feelings regarding it all.
Maybe God has been inviting you to really dive into a book of the Bible, and so you take your retreat as a way to read through that book once, maybe even twice or three times, depending on how long it is. And you sit with that part of the Bible and meditate on it and pray through it.
Again, if you’re at a Christian retreat center, they might offer scheduled times of prayer for everyone to come together to the chapel and read written prayers. Or you could take this as an opportunity to explore fixed hour prayer, where you “pray the hours” and are constantly returning to intentional prayer several times throughout the day.
Intangible Things to Do While on Retreat
Of course, not everything we do on retreat is a task or activity. A lot of it has to do with our hearts. And that’s where Ruth spends a lot of time in her book.
Retreats are a great chance for us to reflect, to open our hearts up to God, to confess any sins or misplaced priorities, and to seek His voice in regard to how He wants us to live. It might also mean surrendering and letting go, recognizing any unhealthy living patterns, or naming sinful attitudes within ourselves.
This isn’t necessarily the easy part, is it? But it is probably the most important. Because this is how we draw close to Christ. We recognize what has been getting in the way and we ask for His help to fix it.
Find a Christian Retreat or Create Your Own
Ruth writes, “The yearning for retreat: Can you feel it? That yearning is your invitation. It is the Spirit of God stirring up your deepest longings and questions in order to draw you deeper into the intimacy with the God you were created for.”
So, my friend, will you accept God’s invitation to retreat? Will you set aside some extended time this summer to rest with Him?
There are many places that offer retreats. If you’d like some recommendations, just email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, my name is spelled K-A-R-I. If you include in your message anything specific you’re looking for, that would help me offer you a couple of options.
But maybe you’d rather just create a retreat of your own. You know, get a way for a few days in a quiet place and rest with Jesus. And that’s great, too. In episode 56, I offered some ideas for creating your own spiritual retreat, and also shared about a mini-retreat I created for myself. But again, if you’d like help planning this out for yourself, please don’t hesitate to email me. I’d love to help you with this!
Now, don’t forget, you can sign up to get a free, autographed copy of Invitation to Retreat by going to lovedoesthat.org/giveaway. Be sure to sign up by Friday, June 30, 2023.
And if you are looking for a spiritual director and find yourself going through a hard and heavy season of your own, I’d love you to consider written spiritual direction with me. We use email to correspond with one another, so it offers great flexibility for your schedule and it also gives you the time and space you need to reflect and pray before writing back to me. You can learn more about that at lovedoesthat.org/spiritual-direction.
And that is all for today, my friend. Be sure to join me again next week as we talk about sleep as a spiritual practice. Until then, let’s encourage one another.
RELATED EPISODES + RESOURCES:
- Episode 56: How to Create a Personal Spiritual Retreat (And Reflections on My Own)
- Episode 94: Entering the Silence and Stillness with God: A Conversation with Blogger and Writer Celia Miller
- Episode 118: Tips for Journaling in Front of Others
- Podcast: Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership
- Transforming Center: Find more resources, including retreats and spiritual directors
Learn more and register for Journal Gently, an 8-week program designed to help you use writing as a way to process hurt, grief, and trauma with God.