Three Things I Learnt About Myself After Three Nights on Retreat

For the last several years, I’ve gone away on a retreat at the start of January. What started as a relaxing time with friends has now morphed into three nights completely alone. Since we started homeschooling, I’ve found I crave that alone time more, as I have plenty of social time during the week.

I use this time away to relax and unwind; to reflect on the year that has passed; and to plan and set goals for the year ahead. I sit and pray; I go for bush walks; I spread my coloured pens across the table and write at my leisure.

I’ve just come back home from my 2023 retreat, and over the course of those three days, the Lord brought to light some important things in my life. Let me share them with you now:

three things I learnt after three night retreat blog post

1. I’d Rather Be at Home

Yes, this was a surprising revelation, especially since I usually spend the last few months of the year excitedly preparing and getting ready for my retreat. I buy my planners, and I think about how I’d like to spend the time, and plan my meals, etc.

But for all the peace and quiet and time to finish a thought uninterrupted, in those still moments, I realised that if I had to choose, I’d rather be home with my family. And indeed growing as a woman, a wife and a mother is my main motivation for spending this time away.

Yes, the solitude is nice. Sitting for three hours to work on a painting is nice. But if I spend my whole year counting down to a retreat that lasts three days, what kind of life do I have? What kind of attitude do I have?

Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “create a life you don’t need a holiday from”. I like the sentiment of this, but the reality is, this is not always possible. We’re just not in control of that much about our lives!

But I think it is important to create the kind of life that is sustainable, as much as it depends on our choices. For me, that means not signing my kids up to a different sport and musical instrument each, because that would involve epic amounts of ferrying children around during the week. 

So I am very thankful for the time I get to go away on retreat each year – it truly is a blessing and a refreshment to my heart. But I always remember that the “real life” is not found in the times I’m on my own, enjoying my hobbies. It’s back here at home, in the (sometimes boring) day to day rhythms of work, love and repentance.

watercolour painting australian bush farm hill retreat

2. For All My Plans, God is in Control

One of the things I like to do on retreat is reflect on the different areas of my life, and make goals and plans for the year ahead.

As I’ve looked back on the previous year, each time I can see specific events or changes God brought into my life that were completely off my radar at the start of that year. One year it was an unexpected pregnancy, followed by a miscarriage and then a planned pregnancy. Last year it was getting chickens.

From this I’ve learnt to hold my plans loosely, and remember that the Lord is the only One who sees and holds the future. As much as I might intend to do certain things, I can’t always make them happen. 

So I set my goals for the year, but always remember to welcome whatever God brings that year in His Divine providence. Whether it gels with my plans or not.

The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.

Proverbs 16:9

3. Time is Valuable

While I was on retreat, a strange thing happened to time. It slowed down and sped up all at once. It felt, at the same time, both scarce and unending.

I had this strong sense about how limited my time on retreat was, and I felt a responsibility to make the best use of it – to wring out every drop of relaxation that was available. Even if it meant putting on some classical music and lying down on the lounge for half an hour. Or going off on a rambling walk through the bush (and, ahem, nearly getting lost…). I felt desperate to “use my time wisely”.

But then I realised how silly – how utterly futile – it was to treat my time away with such reverence and carefulness, but to throw away countless hours back at home on meaningless things. To think my time alone is special, but my time at home is ordinary.

My retreat gave me the perspective that all my time is the Lord’s. It’s all valuable, and I should consider how I can use my time wisely every day, not just when it’s my time alone.

Home Again

When I came home from my retreat this year, my husband and kids were out of the house. So I had another hour or so of unexpected solitude while I waited for them to come back. As I looked around my imperfect (yet cleaner than when I left) home, I thought about how good it felt to be back. I felt re-energised to serve and to love and to use my time here well. And most of all, thankful to God for the way he used this time to refresh, rebuke and encourage me. 

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