Returning from a short hike, Pete found his wife, Jenny, relaxing on a bench. He came up behind her and gently massaged her neck.
After awhile Jenny flicked a pile of acorns off the bench and motioned for Pete to join her.
"How's it going?" asked Jenny. Pete and Jenny were on their fourth personal retreat as a couple.
"I'm wrestling," he admitted. "I keep praying for Dad, but I feel like a broken record." Pete's dad was recently diagnosed with cancer, and it didn't look good. The couple talked for a while then walked down to the lake. Over the last few years it had become a favorite place to pray. After a picnic lunch, they each went their own way, but agreed to meet again at 5:00.
Pete and Jenny have discovered the rest, renewal, and strength that comes from taking a couple's spiritual retreat.
As couples, we share bank accounts, bedrooms, and Saturday morning breakfast, but the momentum of everyday life often short circuits our attention to God's presence. There's a natural drift from intimacy to isolation within marriage. Unless attended to, this drift invades all areas of our relationship, including our spiritual lives.
Just getting away from our everyday responsibilities is a great first step to connecting more powerfully with God and our spouse. But once we're away, it's important to enjoy activities that are restful and refreshing, not as an end to themselves, but as a means of quieting ourselves before God.
When many people hear the words couple's spiritual retreat, though, they imagine a couple spending all day together reading a Bible and praying for hours on end, fasting, and singing "Kumbaya" around a campfire. Understandably, this image doesn't bring tingly feelings of anticipation and warmth.
But wouldn't it be great to design a getaway that brings you closer to each other and to God—without the strict scheduling that comes with spiritual expectations of "revival"?
Finding God differently
Pete and Jenny's first retreat ended in disaster. With mismatched expectations, tension bubbled to the surface by the end of the day.
"Despite my best intentions, I blew it," said Jenny. "I actually made a schedule. I wanted us to read a book together, and then take a long hike. My expectations for the day were huge—and all mine: we'd read, pray, and have long talks. I thought Pete would love it."
"She didn't get it," Pete chimed in. "The day was supposed to be about freedom to meet with God alone and together, to focus on the things that really matter in a way that was good for both of us. I was frustrated by midday because it was all about what she envisioned, and when I disagreed with her schedule, I felt she was judging me to be 'less spiritually motivated.' The camp has kayaks, and I was looking forward to trying one out. My best prayer time happens when I'm moving, not sitting. But because kayaking wasn't in her plan, I couldn't win."
Pete and Jenny discovered the first rule of spiritual growth and worship—not everyone worships or draws close to God in the same way. Silence and solitude are inviting features for some, but others are more inclined to hear from God while hiking, biking, fishing, or enjoying the sights and sounds of God's creation.
Nature and being outside was how Pete connected with God.
So what do we do?
Usually, the less structured a spiritual retreat, the better. That gives you a stronger ability to listen to God's voice and to allow your mind to quiet itself. But if you feel more comfortable with structure, consider following this simple "schedule."
Carefully choose which portion of your quiet time will be spent alone and together. Respect, enjoy, and celebrate your time away.
Deceleration: Unwind. Catch your breath. Enjoy the activities you find relaxing and fun.
Preparation: Write a letter to God or take a walk. Ask yourself, How am I doing—really?
Adoration: Recognize God for who he is and worship him with an undistracted heart.
Meditation: Read through a short book from the Old or New Testament. Write down the verses that connect with you.
Reflections and requests: Reflect on the promises of God as you share with God your concerns, anxieties, and desires.
Celebration: Savor this day of rest. Enjoy the activities you find rejuvenating.
A new vantage point
Fortunately, despite their disastrous first attempt, Pete was willing to give the retreat a second chance, and their next experience was completely different.
"We now have a plan that works for both of us," says Pete. "Jenny and I connect over meals and usually a hike. We always pray together, but we also give each other space and time to be alone with God."
"There's something about getting away like this that's been really good for us," agrees Jenny. "It's time to unwind and really relax.
I love sharing the day with Pete. It's given us permission to talk and pray in a way that doesn't always happen."
Extended time of personal praise, reflection, and prayer can be a blessing for everyone, if we allow it to take many forms. Giving God access to a mind that's rested and not racing prepares us to receive gifts we are typically too busy to receive.
When the stage is set for couples to embark on a day of personal retreat—together, where each one honors how the other best meets with God—we share in something powerful and transformational.
A day set aside for rest and renewal allows us to pause, focusing our attention off ourselves long enough to get a glimpse of God's mighty hand at work in each other. Personal retreats transform our shared understanding of restoration, vulnerability, and perspective. They remind us that together, we're invited to attend to the rhythm of rest.
Brenda Jank is an author and speaker who leads personal retreats at Camp Lutherhaven in Albion, Indiana.
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