My friend Jen Manglos is a writer, a spiritual director, and a retreat expert (at the end of this post, you can learn a little more about her and her work). She has created and led retreats in a variety of settings, for many different groups and individuals. And she has generously created a personal retreat for us, to help us leave the old year behind and step into the new with trust and purpose. I hope you’ll try this and enjoy it. And may this new year be one of meaning and peace for each of you.
I have a friend who goes away on retreat every year during the Christmas break. She invited me to join her this year and although I couldn’t go, it reminded me of the value of acknowledging the end of a year and the start of a new one. I hesitate to use the term “resolution,” because it always comes with a lot of perfectionist ideals for me. However, I do appreciate setting aside time to remember what has been, while looking on the horizon to see where God might be calling me. This time of reflection has become a treasured tradition in my life. Perhaps you feel a similar pull to acknowledge this transition.
For those like myself, who are unable to get away for multiple days, I have created a retreat that can be done independently. No retreat center is required. All you need is to find a quiet spot for a couple of hours, and bring a pen, highlighter/marker, and a journal. If you tend toward the creative side, you may want to bring some colored pencils or markers too.
Tips for Going on Retreat
I wish someone had given me these tips when I first went on retreat. I fumbled through my first experiences on retreat.
– The times listed are just suggestions. Feel free to spend more or less time, as needed.
– Do yourself a favor and silence/leave your phone. This can be a challenging suggestion, but as a person who’s led and attended multiple retreats, I’ve seen how much of a distraction a cell phone can be while on retreat.
– Sometimes retreats can be peaceful and relaxing. Sometimes retreats can stir up anxiety or result in a growing list of all that needs to be done. Both experiences are normal. When these experiences occur, remember that you haven’t ruined your retreat. This leads to my final tip…
– Sometimes during times of self-reflection, it is easy to move into a place of self-condemnation. If you find yourself there, remember Romans 8:1-2 (NIV), which says:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
You may want to write that down somewhere visible, especially if you tend toward condemnation.
The Bible is rich with stories of journeys; however, one of the most significant ones is found in Exodus, as God leads his people out of Egypt and into the wilderness for 40 years. The image of a trek is a helpful way to consider our own walks with God. More often than not, our lives are not straight paths but are full of unexpected twists and turns. Yet God holds our path and is our guide.
Today, you will be considering the journey you have been on this past year and then begin to look ahead to the path God has for you in 2018. As you enter into this time, remember that God is not surprised by your journey, nor by your responses to the various curves along your path. He welcomes you with open arms as you reflect on 2017 and look forward to this new year.
Identifying Your Path (20 minutes)
Reflect on your life throughout 2017. Beginning with January 2017 and moving forward, remember your experience of this past year. As you remember, begin to write down any significant moments for you. Use your journal to write down these moments and for any reflections.
Now, with your mind full of all these memories, take a piece of paper and begin to draw a road or a path to represent this year. Leave about an inch at the top of your page. Is your path very straight, or is it very curvy? Is it wide or narrow? Is it dusty or paved? As you draw your path, take your significant moments and mark those on your path with either a symbol or a word or two.
Look back through this map and identify the moments you were aware of God being at work in your life. Designate these moments by highlighting them.
As you look at your path, what name or title sums up your experience of 2017? Write this at the top of your map.
Go for a Walk (25 Minutes)
Take your map of 2017 and find an open space. Begin to literally walk your path. Pay attention to what you are feeling and thinking in the midst of this exercise. What do you notice about your path as you walk it? Use your journal for any reflections.
As you finish walking your path, pause for a moment. The 2017 calendar year has finished. You are in a new year, which means saying goodbye to this current journey. How do you feel about saying goodbye to 2017? Are you reluctant or tentative? Perhaps you feel eager? Maybe you are still exhausted from the previous year? Share these feelings with God. Remember, he has journeyed with you this past year and knows intimately the twists and turns of your path. Feel free to use your journal for your reflections.
Find a place to sit down for a moment and say goodbye to 2017. Fold your map in half and close it. Then take your shoes off for a moment. Your feet have taken you many places this past year. Pause and give them a rest as they prepare to step into a new year. Take this moment to thank the Lord for the path he has led you on in 2017. Then just sit for a few moments in silent gratitude. As you close this section, let Psalm 139:1-6 (ESV) be your prayer:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
Stepping into 2018 (20 minutes)
Now that you have said goodbye to 2017, begin to look ahead to 2018. Put your shoes back on to symbolize stepping into a new year, a new path.
What does your path look like in this moment? Draw a snapshot of the path below your feet right now. Like you did before, pay attention to the width, shape, and texture of your path.
How do you feel about this new path in 2018? Do you feel hopeful about the year to come? Maybe you feel scared or unsure? Can you trust that God holds this path in 2018? Share your honest reflections, hopes, and fears with the Lord, using your journal as needed.
In light of where your path is today, are there any rhythms that might be helpful along the way? Think of it in terms of shoes. If you’re hiking a mountain, you don’t want to be wearing sandals. Yet sandals are great if you’re walking on a beach. What shoes might be helpful for you in this year? Perhaps the Lord is inviting you into a different way of prayer with him? Maybe he is calling you to shift when you spend your quiet time with him? He might even be directing you toward a new spiritual discipline or renewing one you used to practice. Remember, you do not have to pick up a handful of new practices. It might just be one new practice. Use your journal to write out your reflections.
Close your time by reading through Psalm 139:23-24 (ESV). Let this be your prayer of trust to God, who holds you in his hands and guides your path:
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
Jen Manglos is a spiritual director, retreat planner, and writer based out of Pasadena, California. In addition to regularly blogging on her website, JenManglos.com, she is currently working to start a nonprofit organization, Oak House Ministries, which provides care and resourcing for pastors and church leaders through retreats. As a writer, she values examining human flourishing through the lens of spiritual formation, culture, and beauty.
© 2018 Amy Simpson.