Yesterday I started into a series of reflections, after I returned from my own personal retreat. Today’s topic is what not to do. These posts come both from my personal experience and from good reading of people like Richard Foster, Ruth Haley-Barton, Henri Nouwen, Eugene Peterson, Howard Thurman, and Dallas Willard. They’re great writers and they point me to other insightful practioners as well.
Now, on to what not to do during these personal times you set aside for reflection, pause, and listening to God–in no particular order of importance.
- Don’t crowd your time. If you do, you’ll inevitably end up being busy and hearing nothing. A friend told me a year or so ago that his spiritual guide told him that it was perfectly acceptable to sleep during his 24-hour retreat. Doing nothing is much better than doing too many things during a retreat.
- Don’t check email. In fact, don’t do anything that you’d normally do. If your retreat is compacted down to the size of less than a day, why would you check email and texts during that small frame anyway? Leave those contacts for later. Pay attention to contacting Someone else.
- Don’t rush. Eat carefully, tasting your food. Try to walk with more patience. Turn your head and see the neighborhood. It helps you develop gratitude when you’ve resisted the speed and pull of any and everything. It’ll be unsettling because you’ll hear that little person in you screaming about how fast things are going around you, how far behind you’ll get if you don’t take it up a notch. But close your ears to that voice, and try to hear another.
- Don’t go without a goal. You need to expect something. You need to have something in mind, some thing before you. It’s good to go with questions that you want God to answer, decisions you’d like to make or be closer to having them made after your time. Because these spaces are so spacious, you’ll likely come away with some clarity. Your head may be clearer. You just may hear God’s voice in that half-day retreat or in those fifteen minutes of silence.
- Don’t wear ear plugs. I thought about wearing ear plugs on my Amtrak ride. But I resisted. I really did want to hear and see things that I wouldn’t generally see. I think it helped. It opened me to those little things I take for granted. I saw the faces of the coach attendants when they came and asked for our tickets. I heard the guy snoring when I kept reading that same paragraph six times because I couldn’t concentrate until I laughed at him. And trust me, there are ways to get people to leave you alone without wearing plugs in your ears.
- Don’t set your alarm. Whether it’s your alarm in the morning or your clock signaling you to get to the next thing. You need room at a retreat. Obviously if you only have 30 minutes for your mini-retreat, you need to be aware of time, but you’ll set your expectations accordingly in that case. Otherwise, give yourself space. Don’t feel pushed by the requirement to be somewhere else at some other time. Try to be right where you are.
- Don’t do what the woman in this video did.
Would you add anything?