In recent years I have written in this space about study retreats and their value to my ministry. There has been a good deal of development to this process over the few years in which I have employed it. I would like to share with you some of the important factors to study retreats that I have discovered and that I would recommend as you consider scheduling such an event.
Choose a good site for solitude – As I am a terminal extrovert, I know I need this sort of solitude, but I find it terribly difficult. Having a place to study, pray, and to create that is free from distractions is of paramount importance. My son’s in-laws own a lake house in rural Missouri. It is relatively simple, but has enough creature comforts to make it very well suited for retreats. It has no Internet connection, which is helpful to eliminate distractions. The homes that surround it on the lake cove are usually vacant when I am there as they are mostly weekend or vacation homes. This leaves me mostly all alone in the area with lots of solitude for walks, sitting by the lake, watching the sun rise or set, and for outdoor contemplation. Choose a site with a strong measure of privacy for your retreat.
Take productivity tools with you – Music, videos, books, and other materials that may fuel your creativity and productivity are invaluable for such a retreat. I play music that stirs my heart, and this time I took a DVD of U2 videos for visual images to supplement the music’s inspiration. I take my computer for writing. I take my favorite Bible for reading. I take my notebook with a good pen for writing outlines. I take other books that inspire and fuel creativity. Take whatever you need to make you most productive.
Eat, drink, and sleep well – There are probably particular foods and drinks that fuel your creativity and productivity. Take them with you. I take foods that are easy and quick to prepare so I don’t lose a lot of time. I take good coffee. I need a good breakfast to work well, so I am most particular about that meal. I take some simple snacks and drinks. I seek the best place for sleeping and prioritize this as an important part of the process. I find that long periods of concentrated thought, writing, planning, and analysis is even more fatiguing than physical exercise. Be sure to rest well as it will restore your energies for the coming hours and days.
Take a break to let your brain rest – In April, I went to the retreat with a good deal of preparation already in hand. I had done some idea incubation for several months, and when I arrived at the retreat I could jump right into writing. In August, I was not nearly as well prepared. I had hoped to jump into writing, but I had not done the work to be at that stage. That required me to spend eight hours of the first day writing more detailed outlines. I took a break or two during the day to walk, to make lunch, to go out for dinner, and then to sleep overnight. My brain needed the rest to finish the task. When I got up on day two, I was fully prepared and spent thirteen hours writing. I took mind breaks a few times during those hours, to walk, to eat, to snack, to read, and even to reply to a phone call and text messages. I was able to complete the project with clarity of thought, primarily because I took the necessary breaks throughout the day to rest, to refocus, and to resume the deep work of writing.
Learn how your mind works best and schedule to be at your best – When I first did these study retreats I used a friend’s lake home. It is about thirty-five minutes from my home. It was convenient, but maybe a little too close. I could plan the retreat, but it was also pretty easy to cut it short or to simply not go. The present location for my retreats is about two hours from home and requires more planning to accomplish. I set aside particular days well in advance and I protect those dates on my calendar. I make plans to leave my home in the morning, arrive prior to noon and eat lunch. This is my time for adjusting from normal, fast paced life, to a slower, more contemplative speed. That process used to take me a whole day, but I can make the shift in about ninety minutes now. I schedule that first day as primarily for preparation. I schedule day two for maximum productivity, and I schedule day three for review, editing, relaxation, and for anticipation of returning home and reentering the normal schedule and work.
Please take a day, three days, a weekend, or a whole week for a study retreat. Engineer your environment, your menu, your schedule, and your heart for maximum productivity, amazing creativity, and inspiring contemplation. Your heart and your ministry will be greatly enhanced.