One of the great benefits of being on staff with InterVarsity is the expectation that you will take a monthly day of retreat. I don’t know of any other organization or church that has this benefit built in for their employees. Why do we in InterVarsity think monthly days of retreat are so important?
Your life as a staff worker is full of activities that are important both on the chapter level, as well as in the spiritual realm. For most of us, it is easier to be aware of the work that contributes to accomplishing our strategic goals, and the current influence we are having in student and faculty members lives, than of our ongoing partnership with God in establishing God’s Kingdom. When we take a Day of Retreat we step back from the rhythm of our daily work to reflect on, and talk with the LORD about, God’s current movements in our chapters and in our own lives.
You know from your study of the gospels that taking time away from the activity of ministry for prayer was a pattern that Jesus followed. Luke makes special note of this. In 5:16 Luke tells us, “But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray.” (CEV) For Jesus, going away for uninterrupted time with the Father was crucial. In those times he was nourished by the Father’s love, received direction for his ministry, and grew in self-understanding.
Why don’t we follow Jesus’ model in this? If you seldom go on a day of retreat, stop now and ask yourself why this is the case. Does it stem from a lack of planning? Do you have anxiety over how the day might go? Emotionally and mentally do you struggle to justify taking a day a way from active ministry? And what price do you pay for not taking these days; burnout, confusion, lack of balance, weakness in temptations?
Day of Retreat, Sabbath, or a day off
One point of confusion for staff is the difference between a Sabbath day, a day off, and a day of retreat. The Sabbath is a day of rest. It is given to us by God as a day to worship and celebrate the goodness of God and the creation. When practiced regularly, it grows our trust in God’s care for all of our life.
A day off is free time. You get to do with it whatever you want or whatever you need to do for your own life maintenance. We need days off because our agreement with InterVarsity results in the majority of our time and energy in a given week being used to fulfill the purposes of the movement. But the laundry has to get done sometime! Also, we are made for more than work. During a day off we get to pursue other desires, interests, and pleasures that we don’t have space for on workdays.
A monthly day of retreat in InterVarsity is a day to step back from active ministry and to step in to prayer and reflection on God’s work with you, in you, and around you in your ministry context. Sabbath is meant for worship and to restore us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. A day off is for whatever purpose we want. The monthly day of retreat helps us connect with the Lord regarding our spiritual life and work in the context of our ministry.
Shaping a Day of Retreat
The first step in taking a day of retreat is to determine where you will go. I’ve found it helpful over the years to go to the same location, a retreat center not far from my home. Going to the same place helps me settle into the day more quickly. You might use the space in a local church, a coffee shop, or the home of a friend who gives it to you for the day. I advise against staying in your own home or apartment. There are too many distractions there for most of us! I normally plan to be on retreat from 9:00 to 4:00, with 30 min. on each end for travel.
You might shape a day in this manner; begin by spending an hour or so reading some Scripture and prayerfully reflecting on how you are entering the day. This is similar to the Arrival Reflection that we used at the Regional Retreat. (Joe Moore has several Arrival Reflections he can send you if you’d find that helpful.)
After this, take out your calendar, journal (if you use one), and your annual goals and look back over the previous month. You shouldn’t rush this process.
- Not only remember the events, meetings and activities of the past weeks, but also how you were feeling, or what you were thinking about over this period.
- Pay attention to any patterns of which you become aware.
- Where have you seen the Lord at work?
- When did you feel in close partnership with Jesus and the Kingdom?
- When were you lonely or discouraged?
- Have you been through any trials or noticed any particular temptations?
- What obstacles have you encountered? (These barriers can be personal internal, relational, structural, or spiritual warfare.)
- In what ways have you responded to the obstacles?
- How have your activities helped you meet your annual goals?
- Have any new goals arisen out of the events and circumstances of the work?
- Have any Scriptures been recurring in your life or ministry?
- What and how has God spoken to you over the month?
- If God has been silent, what might the Trinity intend you to learn or experience in the silence?
- On months when your quarterly report is due, write it during your day of retreat and use its questions to guide your prayerful reflection.
This review may take you well into, if not all the way through the afternoon. As you are doing this, talk with the Lord about what you are seeing. Again, this is meant to be a prayerful reflection.
Your spiritual health has a huge impact on your students and your broader ministry! All of us have areas of healing or a need to mature in various areas. If you have time remaining in your day, hold these before the Spirit, seeking God’s ministry to you. My pattern on days of retreat recently has been to quietly present myself to God and confess that most of the important points for healing in my life are deeper in me than I can reach. My greatest hope and encouragement is that Jesus sees them and can easily reach and heal them.
Do not feel that you need to fill all of the space with words or even reflection. It is good to just be silent in God’s presence and allow God to be present to you. This might not feel like you are “doing anything,” but like some mature relationships, you can have long periods of being together without conversation.
Finish your day by offering your life up to God again, as fully as you are able to in this moment.
Let me encourage you not to neglect the gift InterVarsity gives you of a monthly day of retreat. It is a wonderful opportunity to sink your roots down deeper into the LORD.