I’ve never taken a trip by myself. I mean, I’ve traveled to meet up with friends and spent the night alone in a hotel room along the way. My passport has plenty of stamps, too, but there’s always been at least one person there with me when I was getting those stamps.
Not too long ago, I found myself with nothing on my calendar for the weekend and a deep need for respite. I desperately wanted to get away from all the noise and be quiet before the Lord.
But if I’m being honest, the thought of going it alone made me a little apprehensive. On a scale of 1 to The Shining, I was about a 4 on the matter. Just somewhere south of actually being scared. If I’d just go somewhere alone one time, I told myself, I’d be far more relaxed about doing it again in the future.
So I set my travel parameters, did my research, and pulled the trigger. I now know the enemy was using my nervousness to try to keep me from going. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I could see it clearly once I was in the midst of my retreat.
I’m not sure if you’ve ever considered taking a spiritual retreat, but if the idea interests you, I learned a few tips to help a newbie brother or sister out:
Selecting a Location
Once I decided to go, I started looking for locations within 3-4 hours of my house. Since I live in Nashville, I looked west towards Memphis, east towards Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge, and south towards Chattanooga/Atlanta. I know not everyone has the scenic Smoky Mountains in their backyard, but surely there’s somewhere within 3-4 hours you can go to.
I checked for places to stay on VRBO as well as Air BnB and HomeAway, my go-to sites for travel. The thought of an isolated cabin in the mountains made me even more nervous, so I focused more on condos or places in civilization. Ain’t no shame in baby steps.
I found an adorable guesthouse behind someone’s home in the beautiful, historic area of Memphis. I could even pray while swimming in their pool. But there were all kinds of religious artifacts around the place, and the owner expressed how she was into New Age stuff. I didn’t have time for more spiritual warfare this weekend so I moved on.
Eventually I stumbled upon the Christian Hospitality Network, a site for Christian-run bed and breakfasts, inns, and hotels across America. I ended up reserving a room in a B&B about an hour from my house. This was a win-win for me because they had plenty of places around the inn where I could sit in quiet and read or pray throughout the day.
Plus, breakfast was served downstairs every morning from 8-9 am, so it forced me to get out of bed, get dressed, and be productive with my day—even if productivity meant sitting on the front porch swing in yoga pants and doing my Bible study.
What (Not) to Do
I’m a planner. I read several articles about personal retreats and talked to a few friends who had been on them before. I was searching for a game plan that someone else had already developed, but I didn’t find that. Thank goodness.
Every single piece of advice came back to the same thing: Practice being quiet before the Lord.
My friends advised me to leave my agenda at home. I could easily get disappointed if I didn’t get some life-changing word during my weekend. It was good advice because a life-changing word was the very thing I’d been hoping for. They challenged me to not plan every moment, but to keep it loose and free as the Spirit led.
I took a few books, as well as a journal. I also took some art supplies to see if I felt like using them. I’m not an artist at all, but sometimes you just want to create something in response. I was glad I brought them because I found myself hand lettering Scripture, worship lyrics, prayers, and quotes from books.
As it turned out, the time spent in quiet—praying, listening, reading, drawing, even napping—was so cathartic. Their advice helped me to focus more on just being in His presence instead of searching high and low for the word He was going to give me.
Be a Tourist
I toyed with the idea of taking food for all of my meals and never leaving the B&B. But I found out there were some really cool places I wanted to check out in the town—a national park and an historic college campus. Both were places where I could still be contemplative, even if I bumped into an occasional person.
I think getting out of the B&B on Saturday afternoon for a few hours was good for me both mentally and spiritually. Going to an amusement park or even a place like Walmart might not have had the same effect, you know, so if you go out, choose your tourist spots wisely.
Figuring Out Technology
Since there was no tv in my room, that solved part of the problem of technology. In the future, I would always choose a location with no television. It was a gift.
But my phone was an even bigger problem. The inn had wi-fi, and social media and texts were tempting, not to mention that my music was on iTunes and Spotify, and I wanted to listen to worship music all weekend. So I turned my phone on “Airplane Mode” and was able to still listen to the music I’d downloaded to my phone without the notification distractions.
I wish I could say I often practice just sitting in the Lord’s presence, but I don’t. The weekend ended up looking nothing like I originally thought it would, and I’m so grateful. Because in my Type A, need-to-plan-every-moment brain, I really underestimated how sweet that respite weekend could be.
Have you ever taken a personal retreat? Share your tips in the comments below.