Creating margin in your life is important if you are going to grow in your faith. Taking the time to develop space for God to work on your spiritual growth is a key aspect to maintaining that growth throughout your life.
One of the best ways I’ve found to do this is through a series of Personal Retreat Days.
Let me state this right up front. This is not my idea originally. I wish it was. I would love to be able to claim credit for something that has impacted my life so drastically. But I can’t. I took this idea straight out of Leading On Empty, by Wayne Cordeiro. If you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It is easily on of the most influential books I’ve ever read. You can find more helpful tools based on this book at LifeJournal.cc.
The tenth chapter of Cordeiro’s book is perhaps the most important. This chapter is all about developing the intentional life. Beginning with the daily flow, the chapter gives some incredible insights for creating a cadence for your life. From there, Cordeiro turns to the weekly life, and how to practice Sabbath. Both of those could be examined closely and give a lot of benefit.
But the next section is what changed my life. Looking at life from a seasonal view, one of the main activities is a Personal Retreat Day. My purpose here isn’t to repeat everything Leading On Empty discusses. You can pick up the book and see what Cordeiro suggests on your own. What I would like to share is a brief overview, a look at how I use the day, and the benefits I’ve gained in my life.
Personal Retreat Days, or PRDs, are a very helpful aspect to keeping your spiritual life on track. Quite simply, a PRD is a day out of the ordinary, away from the office, or from whatever hustle and bustle of life you find around you. A PRD gives you the opportunity to gather the scattered pieces of your life, put them back together, and focus on where you’re headed. If something like this is in place in your life, it can save you from falling so far that it becomes a difficult task to get back on track. A healthy schedule like this may even save your life.
A Look At My PRDs
Frequency – I schedule a PRD every other month of the year. This seems to fit my schedule the best. Although if things get super busy, I may look to increasing the frequency to monthly.
Location – I’ve discovered a location not too far from my home and church that fits my needs almost perfectly, but almost any place quiet will do. Find a place where you can get away from distractions. Use a retreat center or campground. Borrow a friend’s cabin or hunting lodge for a day. Get a hotel room for a day if need be.
Devotion – I begin the day with my normal, daily devotional time. I spend time reading the Bible just like I normally do. After a time of journaling and prayer, I’m ready to dig into the day.
Bible – I read more from the Bible, usually from the New Testament. This may be related to things happening in my life, other times, it may be just what I want to take the time to read all together, at once. For example, recently, I read mam of what the New Testament says concerning the church, from letters such as Ephesians and 1 Corinthians. Another time, I read the entire book of Revelation. During this time, I keep my journal handy to jot down any insights and thoughts.
Calendar – I usually take some time to review my calendar during a PRD. I take a high view, looking at the next several months. This enables me to see where I may be overbooked, and where I may need to ensure I have time to relax and refocus.
Life Plan – This is critical. My Life Plan is perhaps the most important part of my PRD. This tool allows me to look at every aspect of my life and determine if I am on track to becoming the person I know God has called me to be. Often, my PRD results in shifts and tweaks to my Life Plan to keep me on track and focused. I look at short range, immediate goals, and I look at five and ten years down the road.
Reading – Most of the time, I will bring along a book or two that I am reading. I typically do not bring fiction, because I want this to be a time of personal growth and reflection. I will usually throw Leading On Empty and a couple of other books that continually help me grow, for reference sake, if needed. I will also spend some time reading books that challenge me, inspire me, or otherwise make me think. Biographies are an excellent resource for my PRDs.
Planning – Often, I will take some time to look forward and plan sermon series or other teaching opportunities that will come in the future.
Dreaming – Another critical aspect of my PRD is the dreaming stage. I’ve found this to often be the time when God speaks to me most clearly. I usually sit with a legal pad, my Life Plan, and my calendar and journal open in front of me. Times such as this have resulted in God revealing visions and strategies for my ministry, goals and dreams for my family, and more.
Timing – My PRDs usually start around 7:30 in the morning. I bring along some snacks, water and simple foods for lunch. That way I don’t have to interrupt myself during the day. I wind things up around 5:30 or 6:00 and head home to share what I’ve gained with my family.
Benefits I’ve Experienced
My habit of taking regular PRDs has resulted in the best, and most consistent, feelings of refreshment and focus that I’ve ever experienced. After a day such as this, I feel rejuvenated and ready to take on the daunting tasks of ministry all over again.
Even though a PRD is a busy day, and often mentally taxing, I walk away from each one feeling rested and refreshed.
A continual habit of PRDs has helped my attitude and boosted my feelings of self-worth and encouragement.
My Life Plan has been created and refined through a series of PRDs, and I know where I want to be down the road in several critical areas of my life. And PRDs help me stay on track.
A Few Tips
Schedule your PRD. I schedule for the entire coming year before Christmas, and get these dates on the calendar. I then back date for each PRD certain key tasks, such as confirming the use of my location, gathering of supplies, and more. I’ve learned that if I don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.
Keep a running list of things you’ll need for a PRD. As things crop up in my life and ministry that I know will be important, I will either set them aside (books, articles, etc.) or make a note about them (relationships, events, plans and dreams). All of this will go with me on my next PRD.
Get away from the normal. I do not use my church or my home for my PRDs. I use either my friend’s cabin, or a retreat center nearby. Getting away from the normal helps me to focus on my purpose for being there.
Turn off the phone. Leave the computer behind if possible. The locations I use for my PRDs get little or no cell reception, so that’s a moot point. But if I go somewhere with coverage, I turn off the phone and ignore the emails, calls and messages. This is not a time to play catch up. Rather, it’s a time to get ahead, spiritually.
Developing Personal Retreat Days as part of the strategy for your personal and spiritual growth will go a long way to enabling you to keep your focus where it needs to be. Outside of my day to day devotional time, this has proved itself to be possibly the most important key to my growth, my health, and even my sanity.
I highly encourage you to give this a try. Plan on doing it for at least three or four times. As you get into your own groove with a PRD, you’ll see the benefits almost immediately. And you’ll wonder how you ever lived effectively without this discipline in your life.
Have you developed the habit of Personal Retreat Days in your life? If so, what do you love about them? If not, what’s keeping you from doing this? You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.