More than ever, it is imperative for leaders to take time away for thinking and reflection about where we are and where we’re headed. Even though intuitively we know this would be good for us personally and beneficial for our ministry, these times alone rarely make it onto our calendars. I would argue that in order to maintain emotional health and some semblance of spiritual health, you have to make time for personal retreat.
If you’ve ever watched the Indy 500, you know that no one wins the race without making pit stops. Pit stops allow the tires to be changed, adjustments to be made, and the tank to be refueled. In ministry today, we have to learn how to take personal pit stops so we can consider where we’re headed what mid-race adjustments need to be made.
Ruth Haley Barton, in an article on personal retreat, says,
“One of the most important rhythms of a leader’s life is a constant back and forth motion between times when we are engaged in the battle—giving our best energy to take the next hill—and times of retreat when are not ‘on’ and we do not have to be any particular way for anyone. Time when we can be in God’s presence for our own soul’s sake.”
I once saw an interview with Gary Haugen, who heads up the International Justice Mission. They’ve built an advance-and-retreat rhythm into their daily routine. Every day at 11:00 their staff gathers for prayer. At just the time most people would be cranking out work, they stop. They stop to pray for the enormous needs facing IJM worldwide. But they also stop to pray as a reminder that they can’t do this work without God’s power.
Another intriguing part of their rhythm is their 8:30 stillness. The staff day begins at 8:30, but the doors don’t open until 9:00. Haugen says, “The first half hour of every day at IJM everyone is paid to sit and do nothing. That is, to sit still and to prepare spiritually for the day with thirty minutes of solitude and reflection. The first half hour of every day is set aside for us to personally be present with God, consider the day and prepare spiritually.” They begin with daily retreat so they can be spiritually prepared to advance.
Leaders who stay spiritually healthy long term are those who learn this sacred rhythm of advance and retreat. There are times when we’re focused on the mission and taking the next hill for Christ’s kingdom. But you can’t stay on the front lines forever. You have to rest and regroup. In fact, the more fierce and intense the battle, the more often you have to retreat.
For me, times of personal retreat have had two powerful benefits.
1. Replenishing my soul.
When I’m on retreat, something happens inside me that’s hard to explain. When I first started practicing this, being alone and being quiet was not enjoyable. Even though my body was on retreat, my mind was full throttle. All I could think about was what I needed to do. But over time I have learned to slow my spirit, and I now realize the world can get along just fine without me for a little while. I am learning to “be” with my heavenly Father, and my soul is replenished in the process.
2. Recalibrating my perspective.
As I ponder and pray, God regularly shifts my outlook by reminding me of what is really important. He regularly convicts me of getting so worked up over things that just aren’t eternally important. On retreat I have removed most of the white noise from my world, and I can be quiet enough to hear God’s voice.
Solitude invites God’s voice and perspective into my life.
The goal of solitude is not so much to unplug from my crazy world as it is to change frequencies so that I can hear my heavenly Father. Richard Foster has said “Solitude doesn’t give us the power to win the rat race, but to ignore it altogether.”
And Andrew Bonar has wisely said “In order to grow in grace, we must be much alone. It is not in society that the soul grows most vigorously. In one single quiet hour of prayer it will often make more progress than in days of company with others. It is in the desert that the dew falls freshest and the air is purest.”
So, how about it? Pull up your calendar right now and schedule a twenty-four-hour personal retreat. I promise, it won’t kill you, the world will manage without you, and you will be healthier for it.