How to Retreat With Purpose


A few weeks ago, I went on a writing retreat. At first I felt guilty for going away by myself and leaving my family to fend for themselves. Funny, since the retreat was my husband’s idea, and I followed through with it only at his encouragement and insistence.

As I thought about the idea of a retreat, and as I realized the deeper meaning of the concept beyond its obvious military application, I began to understand the value behind a focused retreat.

Retreat 2The planning as well as the actual retreat itslef convinced me of the value of making time to retreat. Below are the revelations coming from the planning and execution of my first personal retreat.

  1. Have a very specific purpose. The specific purpose of my retreat was to reach 50,000 words in a rough draft of a book I am writing. I already had 10,000 written but struggled dedicating time to the project. My retreat had no other purpose beyond this.
  2. Set specific goals. While my ultimate goal was 50,000 words, I quickly discovered the need to set smaller goals during the retreat. In the 48 hours I was gone, I set smaller word count goals and rewarded myself (coffee, snack, Big Bang Theory, etc.) when I reached a goal.
  3. Keep it simple. I went to a hotel about 1 1/2 hours from home. No glamourous location. Just a simple location where I could focus with minimal distraction.
  4. Focus. I refused to think much beyond my goal. All I thought about, except during break times, involved reaching 50,000 words.
  5. Plan some variety. While I spent most of the time in my hotel room, I found variety by visiting a Starbucks (good coffee = good writing) nearby for a couple of hours each day. This change-up helped me physically and mentally.
  6. Create a plan of action. Before going on the writing retreat, I developed a project outline. I also brought notes to read through to help generate additional ideas.
  7. Minimize distractions. I brought much of my own food, which saved a lot of time. I turned off the volume on my phone and did not log on to the hotel’s wifi except during break times. I did not bring any books to read either (that’s a big deal for me, btw).
  8. Plan ahead. I made sure I did not have any unrelated tasks hanging over my head to distract me while I focused on my goal.
  9. Work ahead. To prevent coming back to overload, I got as much work as I could done ahead of time. This takes a big of extra work on the front end, but it made a huge difference for keeping me focused during my retreat.
  10. Get enough sleep. One mistake I made was not sticking to my normal sleep routine. I was exhausted the second night just from writing so much, and the lack of sleep the first night caused me struggle a bit toward the end of the second day.

I plan to take regular retreats, perhaps one every quarter or at least twice a year, since this one was so productive. Specific purposes I am considering for these retreats include reading/researching, editing, and generating ideas. I want these retreats to be fulfilling and meaningful to me, which is why I choose to focus on writing.

DISCUSSION: What could you focus on if you took a personal retreat? What are your suggestions for planning and executing a successful personal retreat? Anyone going to do something like this in the near future?

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32 thoughts on “How to Retreat With Purpose

  1. A retreat (noun) is not necessarily the same as "to retreat" (verb). Having spoken to you since you went on your "retreat", it was anything other than a time of rest and recreation. A focused and purpose-filled retreat is an specifically orchestrated and well-defined period of time whereby individually or in a group the intent is to be free from distractions and diversions. It is a preferable setting – our Walden Pond – where our mind(s) can become refreshed, refocused and re-energized by concentrating our time and talents solely upon defined goals. Retreats can become the wellsprings of creativity, inspiration and innovation.

    Your husband is wise – please thank him from me! Now "rock n roll" with the benefits you gained in your retreat.

    • Oddly, though my retreat was a lot of work, I came back more focused on my purpose. I recommend this kind of retreat for anyone wanting to regain a focus on their specific calling, and I hope the advice I wrote about gives others an idea of how to do that productively. Yes, my husband is very wise. God gave me a tremendous gift in him, that I know for sure. It's so good to have encouraging people in my life who believe in me and push me (nicely, mostly) to pursue a specific tract. I thank them for that 🙂

  2. This sounds great, Kari – Did you make it to your goal of 50,000 words? That is a huge goal in two days! I don't think I could ever do it. I love going on retreats – mine are usually one day retreats to spend with God, praying, renewing my mind, and reading my Bible. Sometimes I go with a friend and when I do that, we include walks, lunch, and visiting about what God is teaching us during the time we're alone.

    Interestingly, sometimes God seems to bring ME on retreats! This happened just last week. My daugher called at 11:30 Friday morning and said, "Mom, you should come visit me this weekend." I through a bunch of stuff in the car, took off and was there in time for dinner. (She lives 4 plus hours away."

    I was thinking of how boring it would be to drive all that way by myself, but I listened to a couple of podcasts and then God started talking to me and I had a big breakthrough in the area of perfectionism. I honestly think He planned that trip because He wanted to talk to me.

    And interestingly, even though I was a bit reluctant to go because I was overwhelmed with finishing up my book, the things He taught me about perfectionism along the way were far more productive than staying home writing all day Friday and Saturday. Plus my daughter and I had a great time walking on the trails all over and around town and just a fun, relaxing visit.
    My recent post 16 Help for Depression: Part 2

  3. I used to take 3-4 day get-aways and usually fasted during that time. Haven't done that in several years because I haven't felt God saying he wanted me to. I slept, read, prayed a lot, planned, rode my bike, and just enjoyed an unhurried time.
    My recent post Brother

    • Great example of another type of retreat, Bill. It's definitely important to do it at God's leading. For me, God spoke through my husband to encourage me to go. Not sure when I'll do another, but I know God will let me know, and it may end up being one like you describe here. Got to be open to let Him move how He will!

  4. This is a very intriguing idea, Kari. I know that CJ Mahaney has talked about how he would watch the family once or twice a year so that his wife would be able to go on a spiritual retreat. However, I think there's some individual variance to it: I know that my wife would benefit more from an afternoon biweekly rather than a long stretch of time.
    What was the reason you went to a hotel? Do you think you could have accomplished just as much staying home but maybe going to a local coffeehouse or setting up shop in your basement or something? Just curious what your thoughts were.
    It also seems to me that the main effort here was working ahead of time to insure that this break could be taken. Using that principle, you might be able to set yourself up with big blocks of writing time on a regular basis.
    My recent post The Time Management Version of the Prosperity Gospel

    • Individual variance definitely comes into play, Loren. I went to the hotel because I wanted to get rid of all the distractions I have while working from home. I actually get a lot of work done at home, but I work in shorter sections on the various projects I have going on. Going away allowed me to focus on one project for a longer period of time, so I can now go back to it and make better progress with shorter periods of time. I also go to the coffee shop sometimes for a specific purpose and get a lot done that way too, but I just needed a longer period to focus on this larger project. You're right about the principle applying on a regular basis because it's something I actually do quite often at home. I just went the other direction and applied it on a bigger scale, if that makes sense. I also apply it to when my family and I go on vacations, which are also a type of retreat for me to which I apply the same approaches mentioned here. Thank you for taking this up a notch because it made me describe how I use this approach on a variety of levels.

        • What's funny is that since I work from home too and have a home office, I do stay at home most of the time and follow this basic premise. This is why I need to get away every so often and dial in on a larger project in a way that allows me to work on it in my regular routine. I could live at the local coffee shop too, but I'm pretty sure that much caffeine (I can't help myself) would not be helpful 🙂 Seriously though, you helped me see that I really use this process on a smaller scale regularly already and that I just expanded it for my retreat. I didn't see that before. Good discussion.

  5. I think when you see a retreat carried out in movies it seems one done in chaos. While I have never been in the military I would think that you would prepare on how you would retreat; the path you would use, the point where you would assemble at; what would be the steps you would take when you retreat; how the retreat would be called; ie under what circumstances; Would the retreat to be another point to wage the battle or would it be such a point where you would take rest and regroup.
    So I think all the prep work you do prior to a retreat is great and makes the retreat purposeful not just a place to crash. Sometimes I am sure a retreat may be to rest and relax but even when we do that we must do it in a way that works well. Rest without restraint can led to a worse condition.

    • You hit exactly on what I wanted to express, Mark. Except I think you did it better. The more planning & parameters involved, the more successful a retreat is. I actually do these things for our vacations too and have found them to be much more rejuvenating that way. Thanks for the succinct summary and additions!

  6. Kari, that is awesome. It sounds like your retreat was incredibly beneficial toward accomplishing writing your book. This is a fantastic idea for all of us, and I applaud your husband for his encouragement to take this retreat.

    I have not taken a writing retreat like this, though I have taken a couple of hours here and there to write at a coffee shop. In 2013, I took a guys' trip out to the midwest to hike and hang out with a close friend. I plan to do something like this every year moving forward, though I had to put off this year's trip due to us having a baby. It's a different kind of retreat, but one that is extremely refreshing.
    My recent post While We’re Waiting on God, God is Waiting on Us

    • It definitely was, Chris. I've done the couple of hours here and there too, and while that works great for many reasons, it just wasn't getting my book written. Now that it's written, I can more easily work on it in a couple of hours here and there. Your rip to the Midwest is another great idea for a retreat. The idea is that whatever goal you set is accomplished and you feel refreshed in some way. I was exhausted after my writing retreat, but I also felt refreshed in that I felt renewed in moving forward with my book. Having a baby does kind of alter these plans a bit, but in a good way for sure. Plus, I'm sure you'll get back to the retreats soon enough (and possibly encourage your wife to take one too :-)).

  7. What a wonderful idea Kari. Rev takes a retreat every six months to a year where he plans and works on personal goals. It's a time of prayer and reflection and has always blessed him personally. It's blessed our family too! I'm trying to get better about turning off distractions when I write. With a quiet house these days I don't really need to get away, but I need to do a better job of staying focused. Love this Kari! Thanks for sharing it here.
    My recent post Practical Ways to Find the Strength to Keep Going

    • Good for him! I am in a quiet house much of the time too with my kids at school and working, but the change of scenery and leaving behind all other projects really helped me make progress much more quickly. It actually made my regular routine more efficient too by giving me something much easier to work at in bits and pieces.

  8. That's great that you got a retreat! And that your family was supportive.

    Honestly, right now I'd love just to get away and have 8 straight hours of sleep. I need some rest. I can't think beyond that right now. But once I got some sleep I'd love to simply immerse myself in God's Word.

    I'm guilty of GO, GO, GOing all the time.

    • I understand where you're coming from, TC. I firmly believe in the importance of getting enough adequate rest plus staying hydrated as essentials in us being able to function well mentally and spiritually. There are even stories in Scripture where these are taken care of first before getting to the mental and spiritual issues. Take care of yourself, my friend. Get rest and stay hydrated. You'll be much more effective in your GOing if you do these two things.

  9. Wow, it really does take some intentional planning and discipline to pull that kind of a retreat off well. I can see how useful it could be. I've talked with my wife for some time now about going up the mountains in Western Ukraine for a few days, just to write, read and reflect on God's work in our life. We haven't set any dates yet though.
    My recent post A Shocking Answer to Prayer in Eastern Ukraine

    • Yes, it does, Caleb, and it it\’s immensely useful. I encourage you and your wife to start planning for it now even if you don\’t have a date set yet. The planning helped so much!

  10. Great idea Kari. Great tips for a writing retreat too. Something like this has been on my mind for a while, someplace with the beauty of mountains around me. Mountains inspire me the most. Looking forward to reading you book.
    My recent post The Family of God expanded.

  11. What a great experience for you and many lessons we can learn from it. My schedule has caused me to spend less time writing so I can focus on my job and family. However, my goal is to make progress on my next book every week. Slow and steady wins the race, right?:) I wish I could take a couple days for a writing retreat, maybe someday.

    Did you reach your word count goal? What is your book about?:)

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