Today, on Top 10 Tuesday, I’m welcoming Shannon Hale, from Distracted by Prayer, to talk about creating a do-it-yourself marriage retreat–that’s meaningful!
Have you ever paid top dollar to attend a marriage retreat? My husband and I have gone that route several times, with mixed results. Sometimes we come home renewed and refreshed, other times we return to our same stressors plus more issues that were dredged up during the getaway.
Don’t get me wrong, there are some great marriage retreats out there, but after twenty years of marriage, we’ve we probably have enough information about becoming spiritually closer. Our challenge is finding time and energy to put all that knowledge into action.
Last summer, in a moment of rare insight and focus, we stumbled upon a revolutionary idea.
Why not create our own retreat?
We could take all the elements we loved about church events we’d participated in and add our own touches.
If the idea of a self-guided marriage retreat sounds appealing to you, read on and learn from our mistakes and successes.
1. Start small
Keep your budget and expectations very reasonable. We left on Friday afternoon and returned on Sunday morning. This experience will be quite different from a vacation, so keep it manageable.
2. Be specific
To borrow a popular advertising slogan, “Just Do It.” If you keep putting a marriage retreat off until the perfect time and place present themselves, it will never happen.
My husband chose the location and booked the arrangements while I set up a loose schedule. We agreed ahead of time to divide the responsibilities this way and graciously accept the other person’s decisions.
3. Prepare your heart
We arrived at the retreat center fresh from the fray of parenting two middle schoolers. My husband’s parents had graciously agreed to watch the kids, but that meant a road trip in order to drop them off.
Life seemed to come to a screeching halt when we entered the doors of the retreat center, and it took us several hours to adjust. Next time, we’ll plan in some “prep” time to decompress on the way to our destination.
4. Expect obstacles
On the final stretch of our journey, we got in one of those fights. You know the kind, when you remember feeling really annoyed but you can’t for the life of you remember what all the fuss was about. As we pulled into our parking space at the retreat center, my husband turned to me with a strained smile and said, “Let’s not start this way”.
It took Herculean effort on my part, but I decided to put away the argument and begin again. Had we kept that little tiff going, it could have cost us a weekend full of blessing.
We found this retreat practice much more powerful than we expected. The enemy knows the effectiveness of united marriages, and he’ll probably throw a curve ball your way.
5. Agree on a schedule
Set out to fill your time in chunks, rather than hours and minutes. Plan to sleep in or stay up late if it fuels your soul. Buy two copies of the same book or leaflet and read it simultaneously or aloud, and plan for times of silent contemplation.
If you’re like most married couples, one of you will be stuck to the clock more than the other. Don’t let your differences derail you. Agree on the elements you’d like to include in your time together and fit in as many as feel comfortable.
6. God is your “spiritual director”
Don’t try to direct or convict each other, none of us responds well to that kind of manipulation. Ask for God’s help focusing on yourself during this retreat and give God complete freedom to speak separately to your spouse.
I must confess, this point was the most difficult for me. My husband seemed to sail through the weekend without a care, while I wrestled more to enter God’s presence and feel His love.
7. Prepare for surprise
On the heels of #6, open your heart for whatever God may want to say to you. I entered the weekend with a laundry list of questions and unresolved issues to wrestle over with God. But, during my time of solitude, God brought to mind a completely different topic- body image.
He impressed on me the difference between the way I see my body and the way He created it. I realized I had bought into the world’s values in this area, and it was affecting my witness and even my intimacy with my husband.
Remember that God’s idea may be completely different than yours and open yourself up to it.
8. Spend time apart
Saturday was our only day without travel, so we mapped out a simple schedule of eating breakfast together and then going our separate ways. We agreed to meet up again at lunch and talk about the morning.
We had about two and a half hours to explore the retreat grounds, read Scripture, listen to music and pray. After living with a hectic daily schedule, that time alone felt like a luxury.
9. Schedule time to share
We met each other for lunch and took about an hour to share what God was saying to each of us. I’ll have to be honest, there were no earth shattering revelations, except that we returned to find each other more peaceful than either of us had felt in quite some time.
10. Make a memory together
Our retreat destination was a secluded, woodsy area with several walking paths. One our last day together, the two of us decided to hike to the top of the longest, steepest trail. At the end of the exhausting trek, we were rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a sight neither of us will forget.
Look for an activity you both enjoy- maybe something you ordinarily wouldn’t get an opportunity to try. Perhaps you can pick up a special souvenir along the way to remind you of your time together.
If you’re hungry for a breath of fresh air in your marriage relationship, but looking to try a new approach, perhaps a self-guided retreat is just what you need.
It very well may be the most memorable decision you’ll make for years to come.
Shannon Hale has been blogging for five years at Distracted by Prayer. She is the author of How to Pray When You Can’t Sit Still, and she’s been featured in The Upper Room devotional and Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family magazine.