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My journey with personal retreats began as a new youth minister seeking to prepare for the upcoming year. The ultimate goal was to plan a schedule and spend some time with Jesus to give me the confidence to take on this new season of life. I rented a hermitage (basically your own tiny house) at a local retreat center for an overnight. I brought a calendar, a prayer book, some mac and cheese (this hermitage didn’t provide meals) and my eager, new youth minister heart. The time was about business and a to-do list. Halfway through, in a woodsy-smelling chapel in the woods, I realized the beauty of spending time with Jesus with no agenda.  

I put down the calendar, opened my hands in front of the tabernacle, prayed from the heart, and spent more time in silence than I ever had before. It ended up being one of the most fruitful things I could have done for my ministry — and honestly, myself. We can’t give what we don’t have ourselves. The details and planning are important, but a heart close to Jesus is what makes us the best version of ourselves and the most effective ministers, in whatever capacity that is (as a mother, father, coworker in the secular workforce, friend, neighbor, classmate, church worker). I now go back every year for this time with Jesus. Time set aside for prayer and connection reminds us that God is in control and wants to spend time with just us. 

How do you prepare for a personal retreat? Here are some common questions and answers. 

How much time do I have to commit to a personal retreat?

It takes some time to build up to a 4-day personal retreat. Maybe consider starting with an overnight and build up from there to 2 days, then 4 days, or even a week. 

Pick a place to go. 

Contact a local retreat center. A place with nature for long walks and peaceful solitude helps clear the mind and lifts your spirit to more deeply experience God’s presence. 

Here are some options to consider in Michigan. Many of these retreats offer guided weekend retreats as well if the thought of self-directing your own seems too daunting.

Or, you could ask a friend to borrow their cottage. Though, I will say, there is something about finding a place with a chapel that makes prayer time sweeter.

What do I need to bring to Jesus?

Maybe you have a particular intention on your heart: a struggle, a challenging relationship, work stress, things you are grateful for, etc. On the first day of the retreat, bring that all to Jesus so you can set those aside and focus on time with him.  

Would it be helpful for me to set a rhythm? 

I like to plan ahead of time when I plan to wake up (of course I sleep in because rest and sleep are holy too), when I want to go on a walk or run, times I plan on going to the chapel and when to eat meals. Be easy on yourself and allow for flexibility if Jesus leads you in another direction mid-retreat.

Do I need to bring along a book to guide my prayer time?

Unstructured time with Jesus is really important! You don’t want to fill all your time with set prayers and books. 

But if you would also like to do some reading, here are some suggestions: 

It’s always great to bring a journal to write down what Jesus is saying to you or to process aspects of your retreat. My spiritual director constantly reminds me to journal, even if it is only a few words, to help strengthen my faith by rereading my journal in times of desolation or dryness in prayer. 

Do I need to have someone to check in with during my retreat?

This isn’t necessary, but some people find it helpful. Think about asking your spiritual director, a priest or a friend with whom you share your faith to FaceTime or video chat with you at one or two points during your time away. Some retreat centers offer spiritual direction for personal retreats, you just have to ask. 

Make the decision about electronics.

One option is to turn off your phone completely if your different phase of life gives you the ability to do this!

You could also put your phone on airplane mode for a time to still be able to listen to downloaded spiritual podcasts or videos.

I highly recommend turning off your phone, at least for a few hours, if you are able!

Do I need to bring my own food?

Some retreat centers provide meals, others don’t. If making food stresses you out, find a local restaurant (or get carry out). Treat yourself! Or maybe Jesus is calling you to a time of fasting, which is beautiful and holy too.  

Finally, Relax.

Don’t put pressure on yourself. Ask Jesus what he wants your time to look like and trust in his providence. You won’t be disappointed. 

Regardless of if you work in ministry, personal retreats are a beautiful way to unplug, reset your mind and heart and be with Jesus. As a Carmelite priest once told my mother, unmu est necessarium, one thing is necessary, from Luke 10:42, Mary (the friend of Jesus) has chosen the better part, to sit at the feet of Jesus.