How to prepare for a Retreat

About this time last year I wrote a couple articles about the concept of Retreats, and a couple about spirituality in general leading up to them:

  1. Three Tips on Spiritual Health (which amount to regular worship, moderated free time, and godly company)
  2. A Holistic Spiritual Life (worshiping with your soul, mind, heart, and strength)
  3. The Blessing & Challenge of Retreats (the fact that retreats can temporarily unbalance your spiritual life)
  4. What’s so great about Retreats (warning: retreats can become addictive!)

I still stand by all of what I said in those articles, except for the few grammar and punctuation errors that I’m too lazy to go back and fix.  What I’d like to add now is the answer to a more simple question…

How should I prepare for going on a Retreat?

There are probably a ton of ways to prepare for a spiritual retreat or conference, but here’s one way of breaking it down: prepare your mind, your heart, your soul, and your body.  (Note, this is building off of what I wrote about a balanced/holistic spiritual life last year.)

Preparing the mind
Look at your list of workshops/classes/sessions/etc.  Read up on those topics before you go.  See what you can learn about those subjects on your own first, so that when you’re there your mind will already be active in those directions.  If they teach exactly what you just read on your own, then you’re doubly likely to remember it for the long term.  If they teach or emphasize something slightly different, then you’ve just learned even more!

Preparing the heart
At your typical retreat, you’re going to have a lot of fun around a lot of friends for several days.  Be excited!  But also remind yourself that it does end, and so prepare yourself to treasure the time that you have without idolizing it such that when you leave you feel upset.  There’s always an emotional let-down after leaving a really fun event, but being prepared for it can help transform a crash into a gentle landing.

Preparing the soul
There is going to be a lot of worship, especially if you add Morning & Evening Prayer to each day (or whatever your normal daily spiritual disciplines are).  As a result, the Holy Spirit may be more noticeably active in you and others throughout the event.  One way to prepare for it is to build up your worship life ahead of time and intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to fill your spirit.  This means especially two things: 1) examining yourself to identify sins so you can confess them so that they’re out of the way when the Spirit does come in power, and 2) asking the Holy Spirit to put himself into those gaps where you just scraped sin out from.  Also, it’s helpful to try to maintain the same worship life after leaving the retreat that you had while you’re there… a spiritual crash can be just as paralyzing as an emotional crash.

Preparing the body
For the week or two before a retreat, eat healthily, and get plenty of sleep!  And if you’re going to be more physically active than usual while you’re there (lots of activities, games, swimming, etc) then it would probably help to exercise/warm up in the days ahead so you’re more in shape.

All four of those are really exactly the same: build up towards the retreat, and then work your way down afterwards.  Abrupt changes to the body or soul or heart or mind can be painful, be it starting or ending a retreat, so pay attention to those transitions.

About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about liturgy & spiritual formation, theology & biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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