Getting lost: four steps toward spiritual renewal

I remember the first time I went on a personal retreat. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just knew that I needed to spend some time alone with God to get some spiritual resources to keep up with my preferred pace of life. I went to Cranaleith, and shared dinner with some of my favorite Sisters of Mercy.  My second time was actually harder. I went to the hermitage at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. I’m not sure I even had a cell phone at the time or a laptop, but there is still bad phone reception and no wifi. I was alone.

But wasn’t that the point – being alone? I took off my watch. I found time to journal, nap, drink tea, read books that I’d been putting off. There was time to walk through the forest and enough space to try to get lost. When it was dark I was a little lonely. It felt like 11pm and when I checked it was only 8:30. What more could I do? That was a good moment to get my proverbial burger flipped and find out what a deeper spirituality could mean. Spirituality is not just a collection of practices, values, beliefs, and ceremonies – it is a process of transformation. 

If you are experiencing the edge of your personal resources, if your lifestyle is outpacing your interior stuff, if you feel a longing to sharpen what you’ve got or gain some more tools – I think it might be time for you to get lost. It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s way easier to be found than you might fear.

Make a move. 

When you feel under the pile, added demand is a hard thing to accept. Other people and circumstances will make their moves, which often include you doing more. If your spiritual edges are frayed, take your self serious enough to clear out some room on your calendar. If it’s only a few hours – that’s a start. If it’s an eight hour shift, even better. I find that 32hrs away (9am-5pm the next day) is splendidly disruptive yet not too much to recover from.

For people without the regular retreating discipline, booking the time is the hardest part. Add kids and a seemingly inflexible work situation and you might have a bit of arranging to do. You are worth it.

Make a plan.

Your plan will change depending on how much time you have and where you are going. Some people are able to stumble into active rest space without much of a strategy and still get found by God. Most of us do better to have a little idea for what we’re going for.

Create some boundaries for yourself. Will the phone be off? Can you survive without internet? Do you want to fast from food or at least stimulants like candy and coffee?

When you have the time set aside, find a place to go that matches your slot and budget. We made a list of places to go on a personal retreat. You can download a suggested outline for going with another person (or a few) here. The Circle of Hope pastors have been making a list of book suggestions on Goodreads.

Take care of the path.

When Rachael was talking about our divine hardwiring for the neurobiology of spiritual disciplines at the Public Meeting last week, it was in talkback I believe when someone (probably her) brought up an image of two trails in the forest. [I’m paraphrasing and embellishing on it now] One looked like it was used only by deer. The other was well worn and maintained. Even though they both lead to fresh water for drinking, swimming, and washing – one is significantly easier to travel on. Making a new spiritual discipline is like doing some bushwhacking on the deer path. You’ll always find more opportunities for that. When you are going to live in the proverbial spiritual forest, you need access to clean water every day. Make your camp close enough so you have fast access in an emergency and easy access so you can do it a lot.

Your regular silence, solitude, and prayer habits help you get to the Living Water on the regular. Especially for the person who wants to do a lot (deep relationships, family, meaningful work, mission, service, hobbies, etc) you are going to need to do more tending to the path(s). 

Get lost.

One of my favorite retreat activities is getting lost. Whether I’m walking a labyrinth, spending more than two hours straight in a book, or walking in the woods – getting dialed in enough to the moment helps shed some of my routine anxieties and preoccupations in order to be found by Jesus in a new way. Maybe because I live in a huge city in a household that includes both children and internet I have trouble getting lost on the regular. I need to make some moves in order to get there.

I hope you find encouragement to see the opportunities that are available to you and avail yourself to God in those opportunities. May you get lost enough to be found again soon. We are getting filled with the Spirit to help Jesus with his world redemption project. Let’s be as healthy as we can.

5 thoughts on “Getting lost: four steps toward spiritual renewal

  1. This is such a helpful post, Joshua. I love the image of the deer path.

    When I first started practicing periods of silence (on retreat or otherwise) I became really disoriented. Literally. The darkness behind my eyelids would make my head swoon and I’d get out of balance. I really helped me to set a timer on my phone. I set the countdown at 5 minutes to start. Something about knowing the timer was there helped ground me. And what’s the worst that could happen? It’s only 5 minutes… From there I was able to meet God in the space of my thoughts and when the timer went off, I’d want to go back to the silence to meet God there again…because I found so much to talk about with God.

    It also really helped me to remember that God really wants to meet with me. God is present and communicating through everything. Taking time to realize it … and remember that God really loves ME and WANTS to meet with me helps me want to meet with God.

    A lot of the retreats I take are during my work week. For a time I was tempted to think the personal and vacation days I get from my job are MINE and should be used only doing things that I want to do – as if meeting with God is an obligation or something unpleasant that doesn’t fall in the category of “things I want to do for me.” When I realized retreats are actually one of the best things (and started to enjoy God) for my true life in Christ, it doesn’t even register that I take days off of work to do the REAL work of having a life with the Giver of Life.

    • These attitude shifts are so crucial. God wanting to be with us – that’s a better starting place. I also appreciate how you view vacation. Many people I talk to get jammed up because any time they aren’t on the clock for a job feels like a liberating “me” time that is constantly getting robbed from them. You turned it into a beautiful, proactive way for a deeper me! Wonderful.

  2. Thanks for this Joshua! You are making me want to blog, too.

    I love your steps: Make a move, make a plan, take care of the path, and then get lost. Sounds like just the odd combination of intentionality and surrender that have characterized my retreat times :). And maybe that sounds like I have worked out this tidy equation for how to retreat – not at all! I just mean that each retreat had elements of “successful” planning as well as spontaneous diversions that sometimes felt like failures in the moment. In fact, one of my first intentional retreats involved more wild animal encounters than “revelations,” and I was going for the latter (and, ok, it was a grasshopper, a groundhog and a woodpecker, but it felt wild). You captured this well though in the end point about getting lost – ultimately that’s a very good thing for me. Brennan Manning calls it “consciously wasting time with God” – that helps me, too.

    Similar to your steps, I came up with a little acronym for myself to keep in mind on retreats, since I find myself getting a little worked up before them, and then all judge-y during them. It’s related to the main point (for me) during retreats which isn’t to talk to God, like I put pressure on myself to do, but to listen. Just listen. It’s EAR:

    1. Establish
    2. Allow
    3. Receive

    Establish for me is about remembering what I most know to be true, which is that God is good and trustworthy, and therefore that I’m safe to explore feelings and ideas, or even “boredom” during my retreat. Allow is that experimental part – having a plan but being willing to give it up for a longer walk, a nap, drawing, writing – whatever comes up as I’m trying to listen. And Receive for me is what I try to do on the way out, or “down,” from retreat – to try to name and receive whatever Jesus did give me, even if it was different than I expected. Without actively “receiving” the gifts I was given (which sometimes takes some reframing and reflection), the retreat feels incomplete. Plus, I love shoring up my stories with God – being able to say in a few sentences what I got, this time. Other people like to hear them, but I need to retell them to myself all the time, too.

    Whoa, longer comment than I meant. Sorry, but not. Thank you!

    🙂 V

    • You are my favorite acronym-maker. Not too long at all, I think this gives so much more about what’s happening when someone retreater actually gets there. Looking forward to next weekend’s retreat even more!

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