Are you thinking about planning a retreat, but perhaps you are worried that you will be too distracted or have too many things to think about outside of the retreat, such as work or family, to get much out of the retreat?
This is incredibly common. While there may be no way to completely remove any distracting thoughts, here are a few suggestions that may help:
Write Them Down
Let’s say you are preparing for a weekend retreat, Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. When you have many items on your mind, bouncing around in your head, such as to-do items and problems in relationships, they take up a lot of brain power and prevent you from quieting your soul in prayer.
On Monday of the week leading up to your retreat:
Set aside fifteen or twenty minutes of quiet time to just sit with a notepad and make a list of EVERYTHING on your mind. This includes everything you need to accomplish before the retreat both at work and around the house, any anxieties in your life that just need some attention, and anything else that comes to mind.
After you have written down everything try to sort through the list and note the “to-do” items. From these, make a checklist of tasks that need to be accomplished before retreat, and cross them off as you complete them in the coming days. The sense of completion with each item will help to eliminate it from the clutter of your thoughts.
Any heavier items or anxieties that are on your list, such as maybe a relationship struggle with a friend or family member, write down on a list to bring to prayer during the retreat. These are the items that you do not want to eliminate from your thoughts – they are the ones that you likely need to focus on heavily during your time of quiet and prayer during the retreat.
On Friday, before leaving for your retreat: Do the same exercise as Monday. Write down everything. Any to-do items can be set aside as a list for Monday when you return from the retreat. This way you do not have to worry about forgetting about a task. You can let it go from your thoughts, knowing that you can pick up the list when you return on Monday.
Again, any heavier items should be added to your prayer list for the retreat.
- Cut off Communication
This has become the most difficult part of making a retreat over the past decade or two.
The urge to check your phone, email, and social media accounts can be enormous. On a given day we might check each dozens of times. On retreat they are going to ruin your focus and quiet. In all likelihood, they are going to fill your head back up with all of the worries and concerns that we worked to remove by making the lists in step one.
The obvious concern (or excuse) is that we want loved ones, or in some cases work, to be able to contact us in case of emergency. This is easily solved by providing the retreat center’s contact information to anybody that might need it. If there is a real emergency the retreat center can be contacted, and the staff will know where to find you.
- Pray about It
This seems like a no-brainer, but few of us do it. In the days and weeks leading up to your retreat, simply pray for the ability to have a calm mind during your retreat so that you can quiet down and get the most out of your time of prayer and silence.