Recently I was able to get away for a glorious (and gloriously quiet!!) week alone.
[If you don’t know, I have 9 children, ages 19 down to 2 years old, and I’ve been a stay-home, homeschooling mom for the duration of those years.]
For most of my life, getting away like this has been an impossibility, or perhaps I didn’t care enough to figure out how to make it happen. But for the last two summers, I’ve felt a desperation– a need for quiet and time to sort out my soul.
Last year was my first “go” at this. Over the 5 days I was away, I prioritized:
- No internet
- Fasting for several days
- Reading books of the Bible aloud
- Sleeping as much as I could
- Getting out into nature (in the Texas hill country!)
That time was fruitful in many ways. It gave:
- quiet days for reading and prayer
- uninterrupted time to think my own thoughts
- renewed zeal as I came home to my family afterward
THIS SUMMER’S UNEXPECTED LIFE-CHANGE
Earlier this summer, when our plans to buy a family business in Colorado vanished into thin air, we scrambled to come up with a short-term survival plan. Once we got some initial stakes in the ground, it wasn’t long before I told Doug– “I think I’m gonna need some time away alone with enough quiet to process and pray this through.”
When a friend offered her lakehouse, we knew the plan was taking shape!
FIGURING OUT THE CHALLENGES & GOALS
Before going on the retreat, I talked with Doug, and with my counselor, and considered these questions:
- How can I use this time in a way I won’t regret?
- What boundaries do I need to set in order to make sure my week doesn’t get wasted on other tasks/demands?
- What treats/practical elements will make this feel special?
- How can I guard against devices and screens and noise so I give myself the real QUIET I’m longing for?
So these are the things I prioritized, this year:
- Sleep (early to bed, & waking up naturally each day)
- Time in nature
- Reading a book of meaty sermons about joy
- Copying the book of Philippians
- Steak!!! LOTS OF IT!
- Fasting and praying for my son while he went through a critical point in boot camp
- Listening to a podcast about family, trauma, childhood formation while I was driving (The Place We Find Ourselves <—- LISTEN!!– I recommend starting with episode 1 to work your way through in order. It’s excellent!)
- Not rushing myself… just letting it be a slow, easy week, moment-by-moment
- Working through a spiritual inventory to make sure I was examining my own heart/spiritual life
- Coffee & ice cream
As far as practical details, both years, I have had friends who have graciously shared their vacation homes with me (for free! Amazing!!).
But this year, if I hadn’t had this offer, I was leaning toward a Catholic retreat center where they have a private room, access to their extensive grounds, meals, and familiarity with guests on quiet/personal retreats.
Even though we were going to buy a business this summer, we don’t have heaps of money lying around waiting to be used for anything we desire. But this year in particular, choosing to prioritize time away, so I could process and heal from an unexpected zig in our zig-zaggy life, seemed to both of us like a good investment of our money and effort.
WHAT I’VE NOTICED/LEARNED ON THESE RETREATS
- It’s WEIRD being alone, when you’re never alone.
- It’s GOOD having quiet, when you almost never have it.
- It’s DELIGHTFUL to sleep as much as you want, after 18+ years of not having that as an option.
- Just taking care of ME takes a significant amount of time each day. Doing my own dishes, cleaning up my own pile of books, prepping my own dinner. I can forget this in the hustle of family life, but it’s worth noting– the daily things are a significant chunk of the day.
- Taking purposeful care of my physical body makes a REAL difference in the way I feel and respond in life.
- Setting aside time to examine my soul and see what I find there is valuable, worthy time.
These personal retreats have begun to function like a restoration project of my soul.
Parts of me that were dried out and cracking, are replenished with sleep, good nutrients, and living water from the Word of God. Parts that were angry, broken, weary, and frightened get fully expressed, pondered, and counseled.
My soul gets enough breathing room to remember the big God who made sunsets, roadrunners, plateaus, lemons, and limestone cliffs.
And as I take in the beauty of life and the sweetness of time with God, my soul grows more quiet and more willing and able to trust Him with the zags and zigs of life, whether or not I expect them.
WHY NOT JUST DO IT IN DAILY LIFE??!
I wish I could be like that beautiful old saint I remember homeschooling moms writing about: Susannah Wesley– with 17 children, I believe. She had so many that in order to talk to God, (as the story goes) she routinely threw her apron over her head so she could be alone with God in prayer.
But for some reason, my brain doesn’t work that way. I want to, and perhaps God will still work on me yet, and help me do it.
But for now, this annual ritual has been a beautiful addition to my life.
In the quiet,
ideas form, re-form, and reform me,
sentences bubble out of my mouth, and out of my pen, to my Maker,
problems that have troubled my soul suddenly make sense,
healing comes, in bits and in blusters,
tears and gratitude well up, separately and together.
and my heart gains perspective and settles into a quiet contentment.
If, after reading this, you have a desire to go on a personal retreat, and your life is at a place where you can make it happen, my encouragement is: GO FOR IT!
And please share any questions/insights you have in the comments below!