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Five Ways to a More Soulful Retreat | by Terri Conlin

Retreat.

What happens when you hear that word?

Do you get excited and sign up immediately? Or cringe, hoping no one asks if you’re going? Are you already crafting your excuse? Perhaps you remember that left-out feeling from the last retreat when you vowed never to go again.

Retreats can make our hearts flip one way or another. That made me consider how we can approach retreats in a more soulful way.

Last fall, I attended a retreat where I didn’t know a single woman except through a few Zoom calls leading up to the weekend. I was excited to meet new friends, but I had the usual insecurities about what I had to offer, how much I had to learn, and that deep one: what in the world would I wear?

Somewhere between packing my kicks and a little black dress, I made a few decisions. They helped my prepare my heart for what was coming, and I believe they can help yours too.

. . .

1. Lower your dukes.

 We often enter into new situations with guards up, a natural response to our confidence taking a dip when we listen to the whispers of doubt and insecurities. Let’s remind ourselves to take deep breaths, loosen tense shoulders, and relax.

Arriving at a retreat with walls around our hearts is counterproductive. No one likes to feel vulnerable — in fact, we usually do everything we can to avoid it. But it disarms others and invites true intimacy when we allow ourselves to be open-hearted and authentic with our sisters.

2. Bring a small offering to share.

This can be as simple as a supply of kind words and compliments, or, more creatively, little notes of encouragement secretly tucked into other attendees’ bags.

Everyone needs encouragement, and kind words reflect God’s love. So why not bestow them lavishly?

3. Listen and rest well.

These two skills require intentionality and practice.

When I was a mama to littles, I was so hungry for interaction with big people that at retreats I would sometimes forget to take time to listen to others and rest my weary bones. As a result, we mamas would talk until the wee hours of the morning, and then then return home hoarse and tired — not at all ready for re-entry into the outside world.

It took years for me to realize that I needed to use fewer words during the retreat and include a nap or quiet walk to restore my soul.

4. Speak more questions than answers.

This goes along with developing the skill of listening. What is it about asking good questions that makes a difference? It means we are paying attention. It means we care.

Jesus was a great asker of questions: “What do you want me to do for you?”, “Who do you say that I am?”, “What kind of father, when his child asks for bread, gives him a stone?”

Likewise, our questions can be just as simple: Where did you learn that? What’s your favorite book? Where can I get one of those? What do think about that? What are you working on?

Questions invite the possibility of change.

5. Re-arrange yourself.

I enjoy finding my favorite spot and my people and getting comfortable among them. Most of us feel more secure when we know we have a chosen place waiting for us. I can be that girl who likes to sit on the same side of church every Sunday.

Yet, the very idea of a retreat is to get of out of the everyday for a small bit of time and see things differently.

Take a retreat as an invitation to re-arrange yourself, to surrender your comfortable viewpoint and build courage.

Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and founder of a contemplation center, has hosted many a retreat. He says,

“If we bring to a retreat all the baggage and mentality of business as usual, we aren’t really making a ‘retreat.’ So, nothing new or transformative can happen.”

Leave room in your soul to take something home you did not arrive with.

. . .

The next time you’re invited to a retreat, I hope you will first pause and consider these suggestions. Practicing even one will enable you to attend your next retreat with more grace and more grit — more of your whole heart.

~ ~ ~

Terri Conlin is a writer, creative collaborator, and wholehearted encourager for living a soulful life.

 Terri has a degree in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. She thrives when creativity, social justice, and gritty faith flourish together with all of the qualities of home.

You can find her sipping dark roast coffee in a thrifted mug while writing at www.whitepitchers.com or on Instagram @terriconlin.

Terri and her husband, Mike, live in Oregon and have four grown children along with three feisty grandkids she calls the Wonders.

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