Most of us could use a personal retreat now more than ever. It’s been hard to experience a sense of community and fellowship in this time of pandemic, and a lot of us have felt lonely and isolated. But as winter draws closer and we spend more and more time in our homes, the idea of going on a retreat seems like an impossible task.
But the Lord can still invite us into a place of silence and rest with him, even on our own. If you’ve never considered it before, now might be the perfect time to go on a personal retreat with just you, your family or a small group of friends. With some planning and a little forethought, the Lord could use a few hours of silence to speak big things into your heart.
Making a personal retreat is really as simple as finding a quiet place, giving yourself a couple hours and picking a few things to meditate on. My husband and I have done personal retreats throughout our relationship, and each time it’s been incredibly fruitful both personally and as a couple. We may not have the worship leaders, dynamic speakers and big venues, but God, who speaks in the whispers, simply needs our hearts.
Setting the scene
To make your personal retreat, first decide when a retreat would be possible for you. Maybe it’s a Saturday morning. Maybe take a day off work and go to a holy place nearby. Maybe it’s a series of evenings after the kids go to bed. Carving out a specific time to dedicate to a retreat is an important first step because not only are you able to make a commitment, but you can also plan your retreat around the time available.
Next, find an ideal location based on your circumstances. Maybe there’s a monastery nearby. Here in Kentucky, the Abbey of Gethsemani is the perfect place for plenty of silence, beautiful skies and rolling hills, and a holy presence. Maybe it’s the adoration chapel at your local church or simply somewhere you find rest — in nature, on a hike, in that special corner of your house where you sit and drink your coffee, etc. Wherever it is, make sure it’s a place where you can go uninterrupted for a period of time and hear the Lord speaking to you.
Consider what details would help you enter into a place of true rest, peace and freedom to hear God’s voice. Do something to make this time special and unique. Make a visit to your favorite coffee shop on a break. Take an hour to do something life-giving, such as painting, crafting or going for a run. You could even fast in some way during the retreat and then treat yourself at the end.
Planning your day
For the content of the retreat, prepare a series of questions or topics that you want to bring to the Lord. Maybe it’s a project that’s been placed on your heart. Maybe it’s a challenge that you’re facing in your relationships, friendships or marriage. Maybe it’s a vocational question or something that came up recently in prayer. Whatever it is, list two or three big items, questions or themes that you want the Lord to speak into during this time.
Once you have a time, a place and a focus, it is helpful to pick a few Scripture passages that resonate with where you feel the Lord is leading you. It might take a quick Google search or asking your local priest or mentor for suggestions. For “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb 4:12), and whatever passages you choose, the Lord can use them to speak with you. If you’ve never tried lectio divina (meditating on Scripture), this is a great way to really let these Scripture passages come alive. Dedicate some time to praying with each passage and processing the fruits that come from this prayer.
If silent prayer is not something you’re comfortable with yet, find other materials to provide food for meditation. Some examples include talks from the Fellowship of Catholic University Students “SEEK” conferences, such as “The Hour That Will Change Your Life,” a meditation on the Eucharist by Father Mike Schmitz; “Fearless Hearts,” a talk about womanhood by Sister Mary Gabriel; or “The Gaze That Beckons: Following Jesus Wholeheartedly” by Sister Bethany Madonna, which addresses listening to the voice of Jesus and the invitation of our vocation. Another idea would be to listen to an episode or two of a podcast, such as the Abiding Together and Poco a Poco podcasts. Or you could meditate on passages from spiritual books, such as “Searching for and Maintaining Peace” and “Interior Freedom” by Father Jacques Philippe.
Something else that might be helpful is to communicate with your mentor, spiritual director or a priest that you trust in order to have someone guide you through the things that the Lord places on your heart during this retreat. Show them your plans, ask them for advice and suggestions, and share the fruit of your retreat with them. If possible, make an appointment during your retreat to go to confession with your priest, attend daily Mass, or at least spend some time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. The more ways that you can allow grace to enter more fervently and directly into your retreat, the better!
Run to the Lord
While you might not be gathering in a retreat center with a large group of young women, a personal retreat is a small way for you to spend quality time with God. Leave your phone behind, or at least put it on do not disturb. Tell those closest to you when you’ll be unavailable and what you’ll be doing so that they know not to disturb you.
I’ve heard it said many times that we are in unprecedented times, and I would definitely have to agree with that sentiment. But even in unprecedented times, the Lord is still here, present in a unique and special way in each of our hearts. He is beckoning us to be with him and to allow him to speak truth into our lives. Making a personal retreat is the perfect way for the Lord to remind you that you are his daughter, but he is your Father, and that his love for you is unending, even in the face of fear and uncertainty. He is waiting for you, sisters! Run to him.
Retired FOCUS missionary and theology teacher, Claire resides in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband Andrew and their son Joseph. She enjoys spending time on her screened-in back porch and in conversation with friends over a good beer. You can find her on Instagram at @eclaire_collins.