Spiritual Practices

How to Craft a Spiritual Retreat

In December of 2014, I called up Adventurous Backwoods Retreats in Ironwood, MI, rented a cabin for a night, packed up my car and drove north. I was on my way to my first spiritual retreat.

I can’t remember when I first heard about doing a spiritual retreat. I do remember thinking it sounded like a cool idea… but also intimidating. What if I did it wrong? When would I do it? And what exactly IS a spiritual retreat?

In my research I found that a spiritual retreat is a way to re-center our relationship with God by slowing down from the fast pace of life and to simply be with God for an extended period. It’s a way to remember that God is in control and that when we wander, it is God who pursues us. I deeply wanted that, so I finally decided to give it a try.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I would want to have with me or how to prepare, so after some packing and unpacking, I ended up with my Bible, a journal, a book, my cross-country ski gear, a sleeping bag and food. I prayed that God would help me know what to do, but other than that, I really didn’t have a plan.

What followed was so good for my busy and hectic soul. When it was light out, I skied. As I was skiing, I prayed and I wondered at the fresh laden snow on the pines. I noticed snowflakes and sun through the trees and how good the cold felt on my skin.

As the sun began to set, I went back to my cabin and prayed for God to show me the next steps. I got my journal and began writing without expectation. I read my Bible and book. I read previous journal entries and was amazed at how God was working. I watched the fire dance in the wood burning stove that kept me warm.

I was beginning to slow down enough to learn more about myself and I realized that when I took away distractions, I like spending time with myself and realized God does, too! I woke up feeling refreshed, recharged, and re-centered. I was hooked. Since then, I’ve gone on a retreat in every season (winter, spring, summer and fall) in some location. Each time the retreat morphs into something a little different.

When people ask me for guidance on planning their spiritual retreat, I encourage them to figure out how they connect to God and make sure that’s a part of the retreat. We all connect with Him differently, so how our retreat is shaped is going to look reflect those differences. I have one friend who abhors the outdoors, and so the idea of being outside all day skiing would make her miserable.

Interested in trying one out? I’d love to offer you a few more tips that I’ve learned along the way:

Tips for crafting your spiritual retreat:

  • Try not to have expectations or specific questions you want God to answer. You may be surprised at what God wants to reveal to you instead of what you want Him to answer.
  • Mix up the day with different activities. Do you like crafts? Bring them! Do you like to play an instrument? Pack it in the car! Do you like to run? Run!
  • Listen to your body. Do you need a nap? Sometimes a good nap helps you get to a place where you can better connect with God.
  • Pray and plan. I’m all for being spontaneous, but plan food and pray for your time. Decide if you’re going to do a day away or an overnight, If you’re someone where this wouldn’t happen without a plan, put dates on your calendar.
  • Reflect and grow. When doing retreats on a consistent basis, consider reflecting on the last season to see if there are any themes God is trying to teach you.

The rhythm of spiritual retreats has helped remind me God is in control, and He is working in and through me. Slowing down from the fast pace of life and simply being with God for an extended period has helped me to re-center on Him throughout the year. 

“The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

-Exodus 33:14

About the Author: Ashley Mellenthin
Ashley Mellenthin has been attending Blackhawk for 12 years and is happy to call Blackhawk home. She has had the joy of working in and serving Elementary Ministry for the last six years. Practicing spiritual disciplines has helped her grow in her relationship with Christ. Simplifying what she's learning (without cheapening it) for kids to understand has grown her relationship even more. Want to grow spiritually? Spend time with kids! She's convinced we can learn a lot about who God is through their eyes.