A Plan for a Retreat Day

Yesterday, I wrote about my decision to take a retreat day ... and all the hesitations that come with that decision. [You can read that post here: Better to Retreat than Collapse].

But when I finally overcome those hesitations and schedule a retreat day, how do I make the most of it? You may be wondering the same thing. You may want to take a retreat day, but not know what to do.

Here's what yesterday looked like for me ...

Set an alarm. This is a work day, not a day off.

Get out of the house. Brush your teeth, take a shower, eat breakfast, pack your bag, kiss your wife/kid/dogs and leave. There are too many distractions at home. You need to get away from chores and television and the internet. Those things are good, just not on a retreat day.

Unplug. Turn off the phone. Don't plan on answering e-mail.

Go to a neutral location. Go to a place where your work won't come looking for you.

Start the day with centering prayer. Centering prayer is the prayer of non-performance. Find a comfortable but not too comfortable place to sit. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. And sit in the presence of God. Don't praise God. Don't confess sin. Don't ask God for help. Don't thank God for his goodness. There's a time for all that praying. Centering prayer just involves sitting with God. It's a prayer of presence, not of performance.

I start my retreat days with centering prayer because so much of my ministry-life requires production and performance, creativity and initiative. My non-productive side, my dependent side, my just-to-be-with side flattens over time. And centering prayer re-rounds it out.

Engage in reflective journaling. I use this model during my retreat days: Back, In, Around, Forward. I look over my shoulder, in my heart, at the ground around me and off to the horizon. I try to discern what God has been and is doing. I search out thoughts and emotions that have been buried under the avalanche of busyness. For me, this exercise takes 2 hours.

Feast on Scripture. Read a whole chapter or a whole book. At my last retreat day, I read Jonah. Yesterday, I read Ephesians. I circled into the first chapter, covered it in honey and set it to memory. I read it and wrote it and preached it aloud and prayed it. God always does something in me as I feast on his word.

Eat lunch. I always try to find a fun restaurant for retreat day lunches. It's good to take a break from rest-work and not just go back to busy-work. During my regular workdays, I usually work straight through lunch. So stopping for lunch is a nice change. Yesterday, I had a great meal at a local diner and finished a book I had been wanting to read.

Take a nap. Seriously? Seriously. Set an alarm. Sleep for 15-20 minutes. Find the time by limiting your lunch break to 40 minutes. Rest-work can be exhausting.

Spend the afternoon in active, restorative activity. Create something just for you. Write a short story or a poem or a song. Go for a walk in the woods. Learn something new. Do something with your hands. Yesterday, I listened to a couple of church history lectures while making an awesome, from-scratch meal for my family. The work of chopping and measuring and watching and waiting combined with hearing the stories of Erasmus and Luther and thinking through how to apply the lessons from their time to our time ... that was good for me.

Say "Thank you" to God. As your retreat day draws to a close, thank the One who watched over your ministry, even while he watched over you today.

Finish by serving. Do something special for your family or a friend or a neighbor. We retreat so we can come back and serve. We want to come back more generous, more compassionate, more helpful and more holy and more human. Look for a way to help someone as your return from your retreat. God's blessings to us should overflow quickly in blessings for others.

That's it. That's my plan for a retreat day. If you ever take retreat days, what's your plan?


  1. Grateful for this. We're required to take monthly "Day Aways" but they often tend to be a burden instead of a gift for me. This is helpful. - Steve Rawls

    1. Thanks, Steve. You actually helped me a lot in my thinking about retreat days. Do you remember our conversation about Michael Jordan at Lex Coffee a couple of years ago?

      You said something like: "Lots of people look at Michael Jordan and say 'I wish I could go to the gym and call it "work".' What good would that do Jordan if that kept him from going to the gym?" And BOOM ... I've felt more comfortable taking retreat days ever since.

  2. Thank you for this post. I'll be keeping this for personal use, and sharing it for others to benefit.

    1. Thanks, Bob. I hope it's useful!

  3. bruce shared this with me steve, and wow - so helpful and inspiring. your passion is contagious! i especially liked your linkage of retreat/receiving time with Jesus pouring back out in service. will also def keep for my own use and to share with others here. grateful for you!

    1. Thanks, Kathy. I find that that service element at the end of a retreat day helps frame the entire experience. I hope it's helpful for you and Bruce and the gang over there.

  4. My staff all got a printed copy of this at our team meeting this week. You were credited.