Why Take a Mini, Mid-Semester Spiritual Retreat?

The Noise. Life is noisy! Whether it’s scheduling noise, social noise, cultural noise or mental noise, our days are loud and cluttered with activity, demands, stress and distractions. Often, our focus drifts from the Main Thing. Our souls get off-center and our spirits becomes frayed. We may even spend daily time with Jesus, but are we actually drawing near enough and getting quiet enough to hear his still, small voice whispering to our hearts in a replenishing way?

The Need. If mid-semester pressure is getting to you and you’re feeling weary or ready to crumble, this could be the perfect time to plan a mini spiritual retreat! Possibly you’ll need to wait until you’ve finished your mid-term exams or turned in that big project that’s taking all your time. Spring Break could be the perfect time! But don’t put off planning for it just because you’re busy. In fact, that is precisely why you need a retreat. Whether it’s for an afternoon, a 24-hour period or an entire weekend, your soul could use the space.

Biblical Backdrop. It was God Himself who created the idea of Sabbath, which essentially means to cease or rest. The concept runs all through Scripture and is a promise for those who come to Jesus (Matt. 11:28-30). The problem is: we don’t keep coming. Sometimes we run until we’re all out of fuel, physically, emotionally and spiritually, rather than turn to Him as our constant Source.

In I Kings 19, Elijah has literally run himself into the ground. He’s seen the prophets of Baal defeated, prayed for and received a breakthrough to the nation’s perpetual drought and outrun the wicked queen Jezebel. Now he is deflated, depressed and nearly suicidal. God ministers to him in a practical, down-to-earth way through the provision of food and sleep until Elijah is ready to go on. Only after this does Elijah again hear God’s voice speaking to him. Sometimes what we need more than anything is a chance to sleep! God designed us with needs and we are unwise when we overlook our body’s basic requirements.

Mark 6 describes the gory murder of John the Baptist and how the disciples showed up to bury the body, before returning to tell Jesus what they’d experienced. Jesus’ response to such painful, traumatic events is compassionate: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest awhile” (vs. 31). This verse points out that things had been so crazy the disciples hadn’t even had time to eat. “And they went away in a boat to a desolate place by themselves” (vs. 32). Even Jesus (who was clearly God) rested and spent time alone. “And after he had taken leave of them, he went up on the mountain to pray. And when evening came…he was alone” (vs. 46). If Jesus needs to recharge and be alone, how much more do I?!

The Invitation. Could it be that Jesus is calling you to “come away by yourself to a quiet place and rest awhile?” Psalm 23 describes how “he makes me lie down in green pastures…leads me beside still waters [and] restores my soul.” Who is not in need or some soul care and restoration? The basic purpose of a retreat is simply to withdraw from the routines of normal life in order to draw closer to God. Wise and spiritually grounded Christians build yearly, quarterly or even monthly retreats into their lifestyle and find it to be a rewarding, life-giving rhythm. Why not plan your own retreat with the Lord for later this month?

The How-To. Right now, you may have plenty of why nots rattling around in your head. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be elaborate, long or expensive to be meaningful! A weekend at a hotel might be worth the investment, but an overnight in a friend’s unused basement could be just as refreshing. It’s not the where as much as the WHO that matters. When you’re with your King, an unused corner of the library or a park bench in the sunshine can become a sanctuary for His presence. Just nail down a time and place and stick with your plan. Leave your phone behind (or at least plan to set it tangibly out of reach). Bring your Bible, a journal or notebook so you can spend time writing out your prayers, some worship music or a classic Christian work if you want some extended reading. Consider taking a prayer walk and talking to your Father out loud. Maybe you’ll want to write out a list of praises to begin your time, focusing on what God’s been doing in your life. Spend some time in silent contemplation or listening-prayer. The list of possibilities is endless. Don’t feel like you have to account for every minute, remembering that one of the reasons for your retreat is simply to rest. If you’re not used to spending time alone with Jesus, your first retreat may only be a few hours. Eventually you will build up to (and begin to crave) entire days of time spent with Him. Prepare to come back richer, fuller, freer.

The famous and much-respected theologian Charles Spurgeon said it well: “Rest time is not waste time. It is economy to gather fresh strength… It is wisdom to take occasional furloughs. In the long run, we shall do more by sometimes doing less.”