3 Blessings of Micro Retreats
- Denise Kohlmeyer Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2022 20 Apr
I listened to the soft soughing of the wind through the pines and to the birds twittering in the trees. I watched a pair of gray squirrels scampering through the underbrush around the Hopevale Memorial Chapel in the Glen where I’d come to have my morning devotions. Other than the wind, the squirrels, and the birds, I was alone, in silence, tucked away inside the woods of the 900-acre Green Lake Conference Center in Green Lake, WI.
I’d come to this Baptist conference center (three hours north of my home just outside Chicago) for a private weekend retreat—a micro retreat, I call them—a scheduled, intentional getaway for personal, spiritual renewal, refreshment, and recommitment.
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Why a Micro Retreat?
The idea of doing micro retreats came to me several years ago after I noticed how frequently Jesus would steal away from the curious crowds, His ever-present (sometimes dense-headed) disciples, His demanding ministry, to spend times in solitude and silence, using those precious moments to pray for strength and comfort (Mark 1:35, Luke 5:16). I noted, too, that Jesus chose secluded, “desolate places” where He could commune closely and quietly with His Father. These places included a mountainside (Matthew 14:23), the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), and the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-44). He also chose strategic times that were most conducive for quietude: early morning, evening, through the night.
I concluded, then, that if Jesus—who is fully God but also fully human—needed times away for refreshment, how much more do we, too? It may surprise you, as it did me, that Jesus actually encourages times of retreat. “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile,” He told his disciples (and us) in Mark 6:31.
Come away. By yourself. To a deserted place. Rest awhile.
Hence, my practice of micro retreats was born.
My micro retreats (some call them spiritual retreats or silent retreats) are powerful times of personal, spiritual growth and awakening, of realigning my priorities and purposes, of deepening my worship of and relationship with God. They are solemn, sacred sojourns of just being and being still, of listening as my Father whispers wonderful messages into my weary, sometimes hurting heart. Messages of love, grace, comfort, healing, and hope.
From my years of doing micro retreats, here is a sampling of what they offer and their blessings therein.
This is not a problem for me since I’m a natural introvert. I love solitude. I derive energy from being alone. But I realize that that’s not the case for everyone, namely extroverts. The mere thought of spending hours alone causes them to panic, and, therefore, they tend to automatically dismiss ever doing a micro retreat. But let me encourage those of you in this category to give it a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what solitude does for you and to you.
When pursued by choice, as in a micro retreat, solitude strips away everything that distracts and disrupts: the phone, the media, the spouse and children, life demands, work demands. Solitude compels you to focus solely on the here and now. More importantly, of being present with the Presence. That alone is worth spending time in solitude.
A self-imposed time of solitude compels you to take the energy you would normally devote to everyday interactions and endless conversations and instead direct it inward and upward, which you may not feel comfortable doing with others around, even as an extrovert. Solitude, therefore, is the best environment in which to accomplish this.
Further blessings of solitude:
- Opportunity to have focused, unadulterated time to read and study the Bible, to read a spiritually inspired devotional or book, to pray and meditate, to confess sins, to journal, to praise and sing (even out loud).
- Opportunity to unburden your mind, heart, and soul. Retreats are a time to be refreshingly “honest with God about how imperfect we are, how disillusioned we are about our life and inabilities to live holy and wholly [for God] this side of heaven,” says author Jane Rubietta.
- Opportunity to narrow your perspective on your spiritual priorities and life purpose.
- Opportunity to get clarity in your thinking regarding a problem or decision.
There are said to be therapeutic benefits to spending time alone, as well. Studies have shown that people who spend time in self-imposed solitude tend to be happier and even experience lower levels of depression, anxiety, and blood pressure. Sleep has also been known to improve with practicing solitude.
“Choosing to spend time doing things by yourself,” writes Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist and blogger at The Guidance Girl, “can have mental, emotional, and social benefits, but the key to reaping those positive rewards comes from choosing to spend time alone. In a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. In fact, getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout.”
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One of my favorite sayings is, “Let us be silent that we may hear the whisper of God.” I actually cross-stitched this saying and framed it as a reminder to myself that silence is more often than not how God communicates with His children, not necessarily through shouting and ravings, but with a calm, quiet murmur.
And how better to hear His “gentle/low/soft whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13, ESV/NIV/NASB) than in moments of silence, when we are mute, mum, wordless? Solomon, the wisest of all men, even knew there was “a time to be silent and a time to speak” (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
Writes author Philip Yancy, “God finds ways to communicate to those who truly seek Him, especially when we lower the volume of the surrounding static.” (“Prayer: Does it make any difference?”)
Through silence, we concede the floor, so to speak, to God. In the silence, as our mind and heart settle, we become attentive, aware, anticipatory, and ready to receive.
“We can be tempted to fill our Christian journey with words and noise,” says Greg Thornton, former interim president at Moody Bible Institute. “and there’s a time when we should speak and praise and make a joyful noise. But we must also carve out time to be still and listen for God’s voice…we can devote some moments to silence. Allow God to speak to your heart and be prepared to hear the message He has for you!”
I can’t tell you the sense of serenity that comes over me in solitude and silence during a micro retreat. It’s that “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:6). A calm enfolds me. I feel untroubled, peaceful. At rest. And, honestly, I’m remiss to leave my micro retreat. I don’t want to go back to “reality,” to my job, my family, and my house, with its never-ending need to be cleaned. I want to stay cocooned in the Divine calm and companionship I’ve experienced in those quiet moments.
But, alas, I must emerge from these sacred times and re-enter life again.
Sometimes, it is this sense of serenity and wanting to experience it again that propels me to do more micro retreats. I love that all-encompassing feeling of contentment that comes from having been in God’s presence, of having communed with Him one-on-one, of having had Him all to myself for an extended period of time (and not just during my regular, everyday morning devotions).
These times of personal, private retreat are when my cup most definitely overflows. And I want more of that!
Practicalities of Doing a Micro Retreat
Micro retreats don’t have to be days long, although it’s wonderful if they can be. If all you can get are a couple of hours, that works, as well. The idea is simply to steal away to whatever space offers you privacy: a park, a library, a forest preserve, an arboretum, a beach, a hiking trail, a mountain cabin, or a lake house.
While spontaneity is great, oftentimes a micro retreat needs to be planned, especially if you’re going away for a couple of days and your family will be impacted. Talk to your spouse and schedule a time that works for both of you and your schedules.
Scheduling a micro retreat also gives you something to look forward to. Your anticipation of getting away with God will mount as the date draws near.
Before the date arrives, think through a goal you’d like to achieve while on your retreat. Is there something specific you want: guidance from God on a certain issue or situation, to grow closer to God, or just “rest awhile” and let the retreat take its course?
Disclaimer: as good as goals are, hold them loosely. Be open to having your time tweaked by God. He may have something extraordinary He wants to reveal that you hadn’t factored into your goal.
“One should not be overly anxious about when God might show up and how, and while an ecstatic experience might be wonderful, putting God to the test of how and when and what he might do boxes God in and reveals our own need to control,” advises Jeanie Miley, author, spiritual director, and retreat leader.
Prepare for It
Whatever your goal or timeframe, prepare accordingly. Obviously, you’ll want to bring your Bible, a journal or notebook, and pens. You might also want to bring a spiritual book or devotional, a hymnal, or a catechism. In case you’re going away for a couple of days, don’t forget these things, as well: a camp chair or blanket, sunscreen and sunglasses, good, sturdy shoes, snacks and drinks (unless you plan to fast during your retreat), and a backpack to carry it all if you go on a hike or walk.
The beauty and blessings of a micro retreat are that you can make them whatever you want, as long as it is time spent alone with God. The options are limitless, as is our heavenly Father. He just wants to be with you, in a deserted place, alone, to give you rest and refreshment
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