A good deal of the time, I run through life. Picture Fred Flintstone doing what he does to get his car started...how he runs so fast you can't even see his feet anymore...that's me. However, I am not always in high gear. I seem to have two other shifts...there is the contemplative side of me, and then there is the slothful aspect, which we don't need to touch on right now. It's not black and white for me. Because of my quieter side --- or perhaps, because of my Type A tendencies, a few months back I could tell I was in need of some alone time with God. So I made plans to spend four days at a spiritual retreat center...just me and God.
But how do I know if I need to get away?
I guess I was waiting for an extended amount of alone time to just fall into my lap. What was I thinking? I have a husband, two young children, a house to take care of, a part-time position at my church, not to mention my writing and speaking ministry. Days with nothing going on just don't happen for me. So I knew I had to plan it. It really started to hit me when I began noticing some character issues --- either ones I hadn't noticed before or ones that were surfacing more frequently.
Here was my particular list:
• I need rest. I seem to say that I'm tired a lot.
• I am simply tolerating motherhood these days.
• I watch too much television.
• I have lost the desire to journal.
• My creative well has run dry.
• The other day at church, when Susan didn't pick up her baby from the nursery right after the service was over, and Joann asked me where the plates were, and Kim talked my ear off about something I don't even remember, and Scott didn't turn in his information to me on time --- all in a matter of about ten minutes --- why did I snap at each one of them? In other words, my fuse is unusually short and my compassion level unusually low.
• I seem to be saying I'm sorry a lot. Not because I'm growing in humility, but because I'm messing up more.
• And of course --- the biggest issue that I've been stifling for six months...how can I trust a God I don't understand anymore?
So, basically, just a few things to kick around.
Now, you might not have a list like mine...but here are two questions that author and pastor, John Ortberg, uses to gauge how his soul is doing that he was given by Dallas Willard to consider...
• Am I more easily discouraged?
• Am I more easily irritated?
Now don't get me wrong. Every time you feel discouraged or irritated does not require hauling yourself off to a monastery. I believe firmly that Jesus is our "ever-present Teacher," as Richard Foster calls him. I know he could have worked with me on my big issue at home...and I know this because it didn't take four days for us to crack that case...it was within the first 15 minutes that he and I settled it. However, there are just some things that can't get through in the noise and rush of daily life. And for that, going away may become necessary.
I think all my issues probably could have fallen under one of those two categories that Ortberg mentions. So I scoured my schedule, and my husband's, and my kids', and booked four days at a spiritual retreat center close to my home. However, booking it was just the beginning.
How do I prepare?
Well, for one thing, I kept adding to my list of 'things I want to talk through with God' that I felt needed a significant period of time to work through. I also began praying that I would use the time wisely and that God would do in me what he wanted to do, as well as asking a few close friends to pray for my time away.
As to what I brought along with me...that will, of course, vary depending on:
• Your personality
Do you have to be doing something every minute of the day, or can you handle sitting and looking at squirrels playing for minutes at a time?
• How far along you are in your journey
Do you need to begin reading the Bible for the first time or are you planning to tackle the Old Testament prophetic books in one sitting?
• And what, if anything, do you hope to work on with God on a personal level
Do you need to wrestle through a heady faith issue or are you hoping to just enjoy God's Presence for awhile?
Here is what I packed, along with my goals for those four days:
• Seven books
I absolutely love to read.
• Two Bibles
One that I'm reading the Bible straight through in, and one that is smaller for me to take on walks.
• Four journals
Two that are mine, and one each for my kids' that I've been writing in since they were born (I hadn't written in awhile and wanted to catch up.)
• Stationery and stamps
I knew I'd be spending time in prayer for some of the people that are really special to me and I wanted to be able to write them a note if I felt so led.
• Four cd's
I can't go four days without music.
• My computer
I'm a writer, and I planned to spend one full day working on some projects.
• A bag of Starbursts
I couldn't expect myself to be spiritual without candy nearby.
Your list will obviously look different depending on your needs at the time. I hope to take a retreat sometime where all I bring is my Bible and a journal, but that's not where I was at this time around.
...My retreat adventures will continue next month...but in the meantime, do you need to get alone with God?...
© Elisabeth K. Corcoran, 2004
Elisabeth K. Corcoran is the author of Calm in My Chaos: Encouragement for a Mom's Weary Soul. She is wife to Kevin, and mom to Sara, 7-&-1/2, and Jack, 6. Her passion is encouraging women and she fulfills that through heading up the Women's Ministries on staff at Blackberry Creek Community Church in Aurora, IL and writing and speaking as much as she can. Calm in My Chaos (2001) can be purchased directly through her publisher, Kregel Publications at #1-888-644-0500 or www.kregel.com, at amazon.com, or through your local Christian bookstore. This article is original and not excerpted from her book.