Summary & What I Learned – A 3 Hour Personal Spiritual Retreat

This is somewhat more formal writing than I normally do, but since it started out as an assignment (like most things that start that way), it was refreshing yet was also still an assignment. You know what I mean? Anyways, I hope it serves and encourages you in some small way today. – Blane

This quote from Dr. Coffelt was the perfect sentiment and guiding framework for my personal spiritual retreat earlier today. "Busyness saps spiritual vitality and may in fact mask spiritual laziness." In the following paragraphs, I will describe my retreat as well as begin to unpack some of what the Holy Spirit was revealing to me through this intentional, holy time.

Before I began describing “the liturgy” of my retreat, as I call it, I want to be honest with where I was coming into the retreat in terms of my emotional and spiritual health. Another quote came to memory during the first few minutes of my reading during my retreat and it is from Martin Luther. He once said, “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” As the father of a toddler and the director / primary leader of a growing campus ministry, if I’m honest, I often subconsciously value my time spent in work for God as more valuable or vital than the time I simply spend with God. Feeling constantly sleep deprived, trying to complete some online ministry training to help me grow, while juggling the desire (and task) of using the summer months to lean into spiritual disciplines (while the normal routine is nonexistent) has been difficult. I think that I’ve used these things, my circumstances, as an excuse to live ‘reactionary’ (even in my pastoral and parental functions) instead of living ‘intentionally’.

I found myself both dreading and looking forward to a retreat of this type, which I have done a few times before. However, as my life stage continues to change, I realize that both the cost and benefits of “extravagant time with Jesus” (to quote Dick Brodgen) have both risen. I disconnected from notifications and my phone (for the most part) and I spent three hours at one of my favorite coffee shops in Washington, DC. It’s outside of our neighborhood and on the other side of town, which helped me feel disconnected from the normal parts of life (and reconnected with Christ). I walked to a bus stop that I don’t often use, rode the bus across the city and I tried to simply ‘be present’ and in tune with Christ and others through my thought life. No music, no podcasts and no ‘doing’. Simply being. I think it was just what I needed, but what I dreaded or avoided for some reason.

I tried to study and savor the attributes of God, the fullness of Scripture and the person of Jesus. To do this, I combined several different types of readings while also journaling. In summary,I  read Psalms 1-3 (MSG), a handful of resources from John Piper about the fear of God, a great blog from Greg Boyd on the infallibility of the Bible and then spent some time both in worship through song and examining my own heart towards musical worship. I also listened to an interview with Dino Rizzo, as he talked through navigating stress as a minister and shared some of his failures. I love connecting with God through the lenses of others, and I find so much joy in reading about God, even (perhaps especially) from authors and pastors outside of my denomination or theological stream.

Below, are three short journal notes from this retreat. Each seem to be pointing to a thread or two that I have found consistent in my readings today and how God has been speaking to me this week through the Holy Spirit both directly and in conversations with other believers.

I am (strangely) comforted by the fact that God is big, mysterious and complex as I read through articles and lean into Chi Alpha’s Summer Bible Reading Plan of the Major & Minor Prophets. That we can and should fear Him. Perhaps the idea that, “There is beauty, not just in simplicity, but in complexity” has taken root in my soul (as opposed to just my mind or mouth). Maybe I like the idea that God is bigger than me, and that I truly want to be following and living (and dying) for something great.

Perhaps God isn’t upset at denomination or theological differences (streams, circles, expressions) but perhaps He is big enough for this when I am not. And perhaps, He is fully known in expressions that seem so unlike each other.

I am falling back in love with the greatness of God, the bigness of God and the comforting, scar-ridden hands of Christ.

I’d like to do a retreat like this (of this length or greater) two to three times per month going forward. I think it’ll only serve me and allow me to continue to rely on God as I get more used to and comfortable in my pastoral voice and the mechanics of ministry. I’m grateful for this experience and I am eagerly looking forward to answering more of the reflection questions during my next retreat, as I was only able to tackle the first one during my retreat today.