You have decided to make a retreat. Congratulations! You read our post on the main retreat types and decided that a private retreat is best for you right now. You will be renting out a hermitage at a monastery, or a room at a retreat center, or just some place quiet that allows for plenty of quiet prayer time. Now, how should you use that time?
We discussed the structure of private retreats with several priests and religious who have directed retreats. Through those discussions a framework for a private retreat structure came together which seems to be suited for most people in almost and retreat situation. Here is how it works:
1. Spend time before the retreat in regular prayer, and get some rest. Do not try to take your prayer life from 0 to 60 miles per hour when you get to retreat. You will get some rest during the retreat, but don’t sleep through the whole thing.
2. Do not schedule anything rigidly during the retreat. Let the experience be open to the movements of God in your life.
3. Commit to several daily periods of prayer. Make it the same number of periods each day, and make the periods last for a pre-determined minimum duration. Find the frequency and duration that are right for you by experimenting with your prayer in the time preparing for the retreat. If in doubt, commit to shorter sessions and let them go longer if you feel so-inclined during the session.
4. Bring some type of notebook and journal after every prayer session. If you decided to commit to five periods of prayer that are each 20 minutes long, then every day during the retreat then you should journal five times for twenty minutes also. It is best for the journaling to take place immediately after the prayer session. More on this in an upcoming article.
5. Try not to plan anything that has to happen between the periods of prayer. Remain open. A nap may feel necessary after an especially-rigorous prayer session, or there may be an urge to read a book or go for a walk. Remain open to whatever may happen on the retreat. Exceptions to this might be making time to attend Mass or meet with a spiritual director.
6. Optional: choose a theme for the retreat. Sometimes on a private retreat there are major life events that need prayer, but other times we need a focus to keep our prayer directed. Some suggestions for topics are themes from Scripture, great spiritual writings, or forms of prayer like the rosary.
Forthcoming articles will dig deeper into keeping a prayer journal on retreat, where to make a private retreat, and themes for retreats. The basic structure set out above is a good start if you are looking to get away and pray for a weekend (or a week or a month) and don’t know what to do with yourself for that time.
Do you plan to make a private retreat soon? If so, where?