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Spiritual Disciplines

April 2017: Retreat

Posted by Eric Livingston on

In movie battle scenes, when one side retreats the other side often cheers in victory. But the real purpose of retreat as a military tactic is to provide an opportunity to rest and regroup before attacking with renewed vigor. The smart tactician does not see an opponent’s retreat as a time to celebrate victory but as a time to prepare for the opponent’s renewed strength.

Throughout the centuries Christians serving on the front in wars have used personal times of retreat to disengage from daily battles for a time of drawing near to God. They knew that in the course of their lives - and especially in the midst of war - they had to nurture their relationship with God in order to continue to grow closer to Him.

From that tradition comes the modern version of the Christian spiritual discipline called retreat. You have probably attended a retreat where well-known speakers offer wisdom on various Christian topics. Your experience at that kind of retreat may have been inspiring, encouraging, and possibly exhausting! Although those kind of retreats can be beneficial, the spiritual discipline of retreat is different than that. It is a time set aside to be alone with God and rest in His presence.

Retreats require carving out time on your calendar so you can be intentional about NOT trying to be productive. Sounds amazing, right? Retreats work best if you can go to a place outside of your normal living and work locations so that you won’t be distracted by the regular busyness of life. Once you have the time blocked and arrive at your designated location, prepare to spend your time praying, resting (even napping), listening for God, and being open and honest with God about how you feel about the direction of your life. You don’t need an agenda, but some who practice retreat find that having a Spiritual Director is helpful for this discipline.

When your retreat time concludes you may feel like you didn’t achieve much. But you should feel well rested and more in tune with the voice of God. The ability to relinquish our normal day to day responsibilities and take time to rest requires faith that God (not us) is in control of the world.

Moreover, the rest allows us to be more aware of how God is at work in our lives. Don’t feel like you did something wrong on your retreat. If you are able to spend the time resting in the presence of your Loving Father, then you did it right!

If you’re interested in locating a spiritual retreat center, check out these sites:

St. Mary’s Sewanee

Abbey of Gethsemani


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