Why You Should Go on a Retreat
COMMENTARY: Seek the blessings of a time of holy rest with Our Lord, for ‘There is no one gentler than God in revealing ourselves to ourselves.’ Every retreat we take is a kind of practice for what we will be doing for all of eternity: worshipping and resting in the Lord.
“On my second day, God healed my marriage in the hermitage.”
Given that her husband wasn’t present, this female retreatant’s statement confirmed for me not only that miracles still happen, but that one potential blessing of retreats is healing — whether physical, emotional or spiritual. Some of the blessings that result from a faith-based retreat are tangible; others are perceptible only in the soul.
When most people are asked why they don’t go on retreat, they’ll respond that they just don’t have the time. It’s an interesting response, given that God has given us all the time that we have. When we take time for a faith-based retreat, we are really giving back to God that which already belongs to him. The blessings that flow from that conscious engagement with God are plentiful.
The foremost blessing of a retreat is the recognition that God is God, and we are not. Going on a retreat demonstrates a posture of humility. We approach the Holy Trinity, on our knees, acknowledging our place in the universe before God.
During Lent, we are already predisposed to encountering Christ and growing closer to him. All of Lent is a reminder of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. Through devotions, almsgiving, acts of service, prayer and penance, we are drawn ever closer in union with Our Savior. If we desire authentic friendship with Christ, we must spend time with him. A retreat is a wonderful, uninterrupted way of doing so.
A retreat offers the blessing of getting to know Christ better. Whether a silent or guided retreat, we are giving back to God the gift of time. The spiritual movements, stirrings, communion and prayer that happen during that blessed time are a conversation that can last a lifetime. The Holy Spirit is our primary spiritual director, and through our time of contemplation, we come not only to know God better, but also ourselves. One retreatant once told me, “There is no one gentler than God in revealing ourselves to ourselves.”
We are a wounded people. Each of us has been hurt in life, and we carry these wounds with us. A retreat offers the opportunity for a soul to be nourished and tended to by the Divine Healer. Repeatedly, as the executive director of a retreat center, I encounter guests who describe how God has provided healing during their time of retreat.
One guest described the emotional healing she experienced from the ravages of breast cancer and chemotherapy while on retreat. Another guest described how the beauty of God’s creation outside her hermitage window reminded her of a similar view from her childhood and provided some level of healing from previous abuse. Others have described God’s assistance in helping to overcome addictions. Others describe a kind of healing that comes in the form of clarity or direction, or the removal of anxiety, as the Holy Spirit reveals God’s will in profound, new or interesting ways.
Our ways are not God ways.
Another blessing of retreats is that they offer a time of holy rest. In Mark 6:31, Jesus invites his disciples, and us, to “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Amidst the pace of our often-hectic, overscheduled, hyper-connected lives, retreats offer an invitation and an opportunity for a reset. We often live under the illusion that all that happens is because of our doing. We invert reality. It is precisely when we are busiest and believe we cannot withdraw that we should. It is then that we need a reminder that we are not the center of all things.
Retreats offer a pause from technology, social media, schedules, screens, work, shopping, even interacting with other people. Every retreat we take is a kind of practice for what we will be doing for all of eternity: worshipping and resting in the Lord. Like the white space in art, or the pause in music, retreats offer us a space for reflection and renewal. They allow us to be transformed by Christ.
It’s good to remember that we “retreat” because God did so first. On the seventh day, God rested. Christ routinely went off to a solitary place to pray and told his followers to do likewise. If Jesus did so regularly, who are we to think it’s not necessary for us? Only one thing is necessary. In Luke 10:42, Christ tells Martha that only one thing is needful: to sit at Christ’s feet and listen to his word. There is no better place to do that than on retreat. It is there, before God, where we experience Christ’s tender mercy, peace and love.
Just as exercise is a way to form our bodies, and remain healthy, a retreat is physical exertion for our souls. Retreats are how we work on the interior life, the life of the soul. They are vital for our own spiritual growth, renewal, transformation and development. Psalm 46:10 tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God ...” What better way to spend some time during Lent?
Ultimately, though, we do not go on retreat for ourselves alone. While we do go to better ourselves, and strive for sainthood, we should leave our place of retreat and reenter the world better: better wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, friends, co-workers and parishioners. We should take the peace that God provides on retreat and bring that peace to our families, communities, churches, states, countries and world — for it is only through our own holiness, reflecting Christ, that we can leave the world a better place.
Tim Drake serves as executive director of Pacem in Terris Hermitage Retreat Center located near St. Francis, Minnesota. He previously worked for the Register.