I read a while ago about a ‘Solo Retreat’ and was instantly intrigued. There was something about setting aside intentional time for resting and writing in God’s presence that appealed to me – deeply, in my heart.
A few weeks ago, while in Sligo with family, I knew that if I ever were to be brave enough to book a solo retreat – I’d do it in Sligo. Several recent trips here have confirmed to me that this is a place where I can and should write. It’s a place that feels like home, but doesn’t come with the baggage that I associate with my own house. I love my home – don’t get me wrong – but when I’m at home I see everything that’s ‘unfinished’, everything that ‘needs doing’ and everything that can and will distract me from sitting down and writing.
There are lots of these same issues in Sligo, but I just don’t think about them here, and they definitely don’t distract me. I accept these same imperfections, yet at home they constantly play heavily on my mind and I can’t settle until I tidy, or clean, or do laundry … and I could keep going! Perfectionism is something I’ve always struggled with and it’s something God and I are working through. But a conversation with Matt just a few days ago helped me be brave, make the move and arrange my very first solo retreat. Practicing obedience is brave and I’m slowly learning how to live a life in surrender and obedience to Christ.
Financially, coming to Sligo for 24 hours doesn’t cost me a lot as I’m blessed to be able to use my in-laws accommodation at Hill House free of charge. The only cost is for fuel for travel and if I were to eat out while here. But obviously there is a personal cost – leaving my daughter and husband. If I were to write a pros and cons list I’d be at it all day and never make a decision. Phoebe and her Daddy enjoyed quality time together and I too, enjoyed my own quality time: uninterrupted and undistracted time to be productive, to hear God’s voice and to come home rested and grateful; more able and equipped to be a better mum and wife.
So what did my solo retreat consist of? For me I needed three things:
- No distractions
I was in desperate need of quiet time to process the myriad of thoughts and ideas swirling endlessly round my head. And I needed somewhere with no distractions. No bums to wipe or juice to refill, no-one yelling ‘Muuuuuummmmmmy’ every 5 minutes. I also needed time - a good, decent chunk of time to sit and process said thoughts and ideas. 10 or 20 minutes when I can grab it just isn’t working for me. Not when I’m in a season of hearing frequent downloads from God, trying to navigate these new waters of being ‘self-employed’ and figuring out what the future might look like for my family including how the heck I might ever make any money again!
I packed my little suitcase, filled my water tank in the Twingo and set off for Sligo - armed with my bible, laptop and several journals. I knew I was doing the right thing but that didn’t stop me feeling anxious about leaving Phoebe and even more so about spending the night solo! Yet, deep down I always knew I was never really ‘that’ far away and if I needed to, I could race back down the road to home.
The journey down felt strange, but good. I only had to think about myself. What did I want to listen to? No nursery rhymes or music picked by Matt. My choice. I pressed play on a series of podcasts I’d been meaning to listen to and didn’t look back. I devoured several podcasts – all very timely, affirming and encouraging. I started to feel more at ease and as I crossed the border and the landscape began to change, I felt peace.
In the 15 years I’ve travelled the road to Sligo, I’ve never once stopped being captivated by the landscape. It’s no wonder Yeats’ found inspiration from this Western isle of Ireland. The ruggedness, the contours of the mountains and the wild coastline all create a special kind of magic I’ve only ever felt here. And as I drove the country lane towards my retreat I stopped for the first time at a lake I’ve passed hundreds of times on route to Hill House. There was no toddler who ‘might wake up’ or husband to ask to ‘pull over’ – it was just me - I took the opportunity with both hands to pull into the lay-by and press pause on this moment in time I was never going to get back.
I can totally see the appeal of solo travel! There’s such ease, speed and a wonderful freedom to explore. Having major life regrets right now! How did I get to 30 years of age and not try to see more of our planet!? Anyway, I stood lakeside in awe of the view and savoured the silence. This was why I did this. Thank you Lord for allowing me opportunity to press pause and enjoy your presence.
After arriving I took some time to make a plan of action and settled myself with my laptop and journal. It felt good to be productive and enjoy writing in a slightly calmer environment! At tea-time I took a drive out to the coast for something to eat (I’d driven up through lunch so was needing some sustenance) and enjoyed some good food and planning by the sea, followed by a nice fresh walk. I wasn’t as productive in the evening as I would have liked (I never am), but took the opportunity to get an early night and a luxurious uninterrupted sleep.
I have to admit that waking up naturally is a pretty nice way to wake up - something that just doesn’t happen to parents of small children! I’m usually jolted awake by a toddler poking and prodding my face, telling me she’s ‘soooo firsty Mummy!’ My solo morning schedule started with a blissful breakfast and worship. This is the way all my mornings should start. Are you like me – full of good intentions but never the follow-through? If every morning started the way today did, my world would be a better place. I’ll not be expecting a blissful breakfast, but breakfast and worship has got to be achievable! Time spent with the Father is never wasted time and like any good relationship, it is so good to talk.
Time was moving on quickly and I’d planned to do some studying and writing at my favourite little French bakery. I’d enough Euros to buy me an hour and a half to sit in the sun and do some much needed prep for a very exciting event that’s coming up. Fuelled by a chocolate cruffin and coffee, I set to work and enjoyed a really productive session - time, once again, where I felt God close, speaking to me as I studied His Word and put pen to paper.
Next up was a swim! I had allowed myself time to go to the beach if I’d been productive at the bakery, and what a sweet, sweet reward. The sun had begun to peek out of the clouds as I parked the car and dawned my swimwear. The beach was almost empty and I plunged into the water with a thankful heart. God you are so, so good to me. The sea was cold and clear, the air salty and fresh. The sun even stayed around just long enough to allow me 10 minutes to lay down and dry off. Total and utter bliss. This simple act is something I completely took for granted before I had a child. I savoured every single second on that sand before heading back home.
I got back in the car with salty skin, sandy toes and a full heart. Even though I didn’t achieve everything on my list, I received everything that I personally needed and more. I queued up the podcasts and began the drive home, thankful and excited to see my family and implement some new processes into home life that ensure that I can be the best mum and wife that I can be, and live a life worthy to be called a follower of Christ.
So would I recommend a solo retreat? Yes I would. It’s not the sort of thing that will suit everybody. It will certainly look different for you than for me. But I can 100% assure you that it was needed for me, at the right moment in my life. It was a time of preparation, evaluation and consolidation of what has gone before and where God is leading me to in the future. I needed this time to be Mary, not Martha. All my life I’ve tried to live a Martha lifestyle when I need to be more like Mary. Will I do another solo retreat? Yes I think I will. Not for quite some time I’m sure, but it is definitely worthwhile.
Have you ever been on a solo retreat or done something similar? I’d love to know where / how / why! Is a solo retreat something you would be interested in doing? Perhaps a small group retreat is of more interest to you? Please get in touch as I’d love to hear your thoughts. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if this is you!