I perched on the hewn-log bench, looking up into the cathedral of leaves as the sun’s rays filtered through the branches above to create a high and holy ambience. The twitter of birds in the trees and the occasional scampering of squirrels through the leaves were the only sounds around me. My Bible lay open on my lap, but my thoughts were more on worshipping, singing out loud (“Great is Thy Faithfulness”) and lending my voice to the cacophony of creation.
I was at peace, content to spend the next hour or so just sitting and communing with the Creator in his creation of woods, rocks and natural wonders! Just me and God.
This was the first of what I now call Micro Retreats that I had decided to enjoy throughout the year. Alone. This particular retreat—the longest: 2 days—was spent at Green Lake, WI, wandering the beautiful, wooded grounds of the Green Lake Conference Center. And while there, I had stumbled upon the reclusive Hopevale Memorial Chapel in the Glen (a replica of a chapel constructed by 11 Baptists missionaries hiding out in the Philippines’ jungle during WWII). Tucked away amidst the 900-acre grounds, it was the ideal spot to end my retreat before heading back to the Chicagoland area where I lived. And after an hour of singing, praying, and reading, I reluctantly closed my time with tears of thanksgiving for this wonderful, refreshing time of spiritual renewal.
In years past, I used to wait for our church’s one-day retreat when hundreds of women (between 500-800) from around our area—and even beyond—would gather in our sanctuary to worship, pray, and listen to a special guest speaker. While these times are wonderful, and the community environment is encouraging, sometimes I just want to be alone, to get away from the crowds and spend undistracted time with my Father.
That’s why I created what I call the Micro Retreat: a couple of hours (or a sacred weekend if possible) stolen away for a time of personal—and private—renewal, refreshing, and recommitment. Green Lake was my first weekend getaway. Typically, though, I go to a nearby park. Chicago is blessed with a plethora of Forest Preserves scattered throughout the more than 200 suburbs, many of which have lakes, trails, woods, prairies, marshes, and creeks, even small waterfalls. Nature, for me, is the best place to spend solitary time alone with my Father.
This concept of a “micro retreat” is nothing new really; Jesus actually sets the precedence. While He loved being with the crowds, teaching, preaching and healing, He would periodically steal away from them—and His ever-present disciples—to spend undisturbed time in prayer and close communion with his Father. Luke tells us that Jesus “would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (5:16). Another close companion of Jesus, Mark, gives us even more details: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed” (1:35).
These desolate/solitary places included a mountainside (Matthew 14:23), the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), and a garden (Luke 22:41-44). Desolate, eremos, in Greek figurative language, describes “a barren, solitary place that also provided needed quiet; freedom from disturbance (biblehub.com).
Yes, even Jesus, in his humanness, needed a retreat; actually, to retreat from the pressing crowds, the pressures of his ministry, and from his somewhat-demanding disciples for times of refreshing and spiritual renewal. He purposefully chose times too when it was most conducive for quietness: early morning, evening, all night.
While the times and places are important (but not prescriptive), what impressed me most was that the Son of God simply felt the need to get away; he intentionally withdrew from people for a short time, to expressly be alone with his Father.
And he even encouraged His disciples to do the same. “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31). He knew that they too needed times of rest and refreshing. Their spiritual health needed it.
Micro Retreats can be powerful times of personal spiritual awakening and growth, of realigning our godly priorities and purposes, of deepening our worship of and our relationship with our heavenly Father, or just be solemn times of “being still” and listening as he whispers wonderful messages into our hearts, messages of love, grace, healing and hope.
Micro Retreats are more concentrated times of reflection than a regular Quiet Time. Think: Daily devotion on steroids. And the beauty of Micro Retreats is that we don’t have to wait for the once-a-year women’s retreat our churches host. In fact, we should not wait for them. Our spiritual health may need more than the church-hosted yearly retreat.
If this concept is new to you, here are some pointers from my own personal experience. Feel free, however, to alter them to suit your own needs and desires.
- Schedule It
Although spontaneity is great, it does not necessarily work well for Micro Retreats, especially if you have a young and/or busy family. So schedule it. Talk with your husband and tell him you need some time away (2-4 hours, or however long you like) to just get away for some undistracted, one-on-one time with your Father, much like you would make a special date with your earthly Dad. Scheduling also gives your husband time to prepare mentally and emotionally, since he is going to be on Dad Duty with the kids. Lol! My Micro Retreats are usually on a Sunday afternoon while the hubby’s watching golf (or whatever sport is in season) and my three older kids are happily occupied.
Scheduling a Micro Retreat also gives you something to look forward to. Your anticipation of getting some time away will mount as the date draws near, making it that much sweeter!
- Get Organized
On my first Micro Retreat, I took only my Bible and my journal. As I was singing a certain hymn (or trying to), but I couldn’t remember all the words. I wished I had also brought a hymnal. So now I bring one with me every time. Just in case my heart is full and I want to express myself musically!
Think ahead about what resources and materials you will need: a Bible for sure, possibly your journal (if you keep one), a hymnal, the current Christian book you are reading, pens/pencils, highlighters. Think practically too: snacks/drinks, blanket/camp chair, sunglasses, sunscreen, hat, camera, etc. If you plan on doing some hiking/walking, you might want to use a backpack and not a tote bag (I learned that the hard way too).
Also, try, try, try not to check texts and emails. Remember, you’re trying to connect with God, so disconnect from the world—just for that time. But still bring your phone in case of an emergency, or in case your husband needs you—because you know he is going to call and want to know when you’re going to be home. LOL!
- Pick a Place
Plan ahead where you will have your Micro Retreat. I would highly recommend a park rather than a cafe. Again, the idea is to get away to a solitary place where you won’t be distracted by crowds of people. Think about a place that will provide the most solitude. In colder months, consider going to a library and finding a cozy corner tucked away in the back recesses of the building.
When deciding on a place—wherever it may be—keep your timeframe in mind. If you only have two hours, for instance, pick a place close to home so that you’re not spending more time driving there than on the actual retreat. If you have more time, however, consider going to a State Park that offers hiking trails and beautiful, awe-inspiring vistas. No one said you had to sit still on your retreat.
- Set a Goal
Ever heard the maxim: If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time? It’s true with Micro Retreats as well. Make a spiritual target and aim for it. Since you only have limited time, use it wisely. Consider beforehand what you want to accomplish during your Micro Retreat. Do you have a certain Book of the Bible or particular passage that you’re studying and just want some time to dig deeper? Do you simply want time for some soul-searching prayer, contemplation and communion with God? Do you just want to “rest awhile,” to just sit under a tree perhaps and let your soul relax into silence and solace?
The beauty of a Micro Retreat is that you can make it whatever you want, as long as it is time spent with God. The options are limitless. But be flexible too. God may have something extraordinary He wants to show you that you hadn’t factored into your goal. So be open to having your time tweaked by God.
By Denise M. Kohlmeyer