Letitia Suk, Author of Getaway with God: The Everywoman’s Guide to Personal Retreat shares her experiences and recommendations for a personal retreat.
Many women are desperate for more time with God, but with the demands of modern life, simply getting up earlier in the day to fit in a longer devotion is no longer a viable — or fulfilling — option. Every now and then, concentrated time alone with the Father is just what the soul needs to reconnect with Him and refresh for the journey ahead. Getaway with God provides step-by-step guidance and the necessary tools to enable any woman to plan time away – whether a work day, a weekend, or even a full week – on any budget.
Q: You introduce Getaway with God with a great analogy. How are our spiritual lives similar to a cell phone at the end of the day?
If yours is anything like mine, by the end of the day the battery is running down, and sometimes I wonder if I will make it until the end of the day. My soul feels like that sometimes too.
What if you could plug your soul in for a long recharge like you do your phone every night? If you’re like me, the “juice” on my phone can slide into the red zone without me even noticing. An emergency-like response sets in as I desperately grab the charger to plug back into the power. Staying connected to the source feels critical. And that’s just for a phone.
Our souls work like that too — draining constantly throughout the day, even more during times of crisis. As with the phone, we may not be aware of the energy loss until we are nearly empty.
Q: What was it about the group retreats you had been on that led you to decide to take your first personal retreat more than 35 years ago?
While most of my weekend experiences enriched my relationships with my church, family and friends, time alone with God at these events often seemed minimal and tacked on at the beginning or end of a long day. I loved the girlfriend time and laughing together at the skits. Retreats were always a great opportunity to get caught up and renew friendships, something that seemed hard to fit into our busy lives. Occasionally I started a new friendship too after initially connecting at a retreat.
Those are valuable takeaways yet I sometimes I came away with a longing for more of what I only tasted at the group retreats, entering into the presence of God. I realized I didn’t want just to taste it but hang out there for a while.
Q: At first you had your own questions about what a personal retreat would entail. From your own experience, what exactly is a personal retreat?
I would define a personal retreat as an opportunity to take a simple day away to unplug from stress and recharge your soul. My first one came about in the early years of our young church when I attended a large group retreat at a local convent. While browsing the book area, I picked up a brochure for the facility and noticed “private retreats available” listed among the amenities. Right away I was intrigued, but I was unsure what a “private” retreat would be. The idea suggested an unhurried time to pray, read and just enjoy being with God at my own pace.
I was ready to sign up, but I felt clueless how to spend 24 hours without a retreat schedule in hand. So I stuck the brochure in my bag and took it home. A few months later, while seeking God about the direction of my life and not hearing much back, I pulled out the brochure. Immediately myriad questions flooded my mind:
If I do this, will I just pray the whole time?
Should I fast?
What does it mean to “wait on God”?
What if I get bored?
How spiritual do I have to be to try this?
Then the possibilities began to emerge — time alone, time to seek God truly, a chance to finish that Bible study I started at the beginning of the year, an opportunity to sort out the next season of my life — and I realized there was way too much agenda for one retreat. I called the facility and made a reservation.
Q: How structured does your time away need to be?
Depends on you. Some women LOVE structure, and others feel boxed in by it. I do offer detailed use of the hours at a retreat, but only as a guideline for those who want it.
In my early years of retreats, I stuck to a schedule because I didn’t want to miss out on anything. Now, after more than 60 personal retreats, I have a good idea what each time is for and what kind of flow the retreat calls for.
Many women look at the structure not as a schedule per se but like a menu to see what they want to add to their day. Choosing a walk, a nap, some scripture, some listening and seeing what emerges from those options. At my last retreat, which was for women already familiar with my small group retreats, one of the women decided to go silent for the whole time and did not attend any of the group meetings. She loved it!
Q: The second part of Getaway with God outlines a five-day life-review retreat. How often do you recommend taking one of these long, intensive retreats?
My first life-review retreat came about when I recognized I was no longer in the middle of my life, but closer to the end than the beginning. My grandchildren had started arriving, and I wanted to bequeath to them a solid package of wisdom and influence. I also wanted to see for myself the trajectory of God’s work throughout my life and reset for the next season. Alas, there were a few holes on my epic journey I wanted to go back and fill in. Another overnight retreat was just not going to be enough.
I didn’t have the whole picture at the beginning, just a vision and what seemed to be an invitation from God to come away with Him to sort all this out. A week seemed too long and three days too short, so I settled on five days, which seemed just right. The first and last days were mostly travel days, so the heart of the retreat was the three days in the middle. My initial agenda was a vague “I want to see where I have been, where I am and where I’m going.” That developed into the themes of the three days: the past, present and future.
The second half of the book, which reads somewhat like a memoir, provides the structure and questions to answer these questions for yourself.
My interval is every five years, and this past spring I took my second life-review retreat. I plan to keep that pattern up of every five years. Others might plan them around life transitions, such as finishing school, job change, empty nest, death of a parent or retirement to name a few.
Q: Once someone has taken a personal retreat, how can they hold onto the refreshment upon return to the hectic noise of day-to-day life?
I encourage women to record their retreat highlights and intentions and pray over them often. Creating spaces and places for mini-retreats, even if that is a simple walk in nature, can help keep the flame burning. Always knowing when your next retreat is, even if it is vague, such as “in the fall,” keeps the momentum going. Certainly practicing the rhythms of Sabbath goes a long way.