Jerome and Kellie Daley haven't always lived in Boone. There was a time when the two of them, along with their three kids, were running circles off the mountain. Eventually, the frantic pace wore them out. And during a year spent rediscovering the ancient practice of rest, the Daley family retreated into a life more in rhythm with God.
Kellie and I sat across the table from one another at a greasy-spoon diner outside the Asheboro, North Carolina, retreat center. I had just finished leading worship for the opening night of a pastor’s conference, and it was the first chance I’d had all day to slow down long enough to eat. But suddenly eating ceased to interest me.
“We’ve got to get out of here,” Kellie said unexpectedly, and I knew she wasn’t talking about the diner. She was talking about our life.
It was a good life in many ways. As associate pastor of a growing church in Chapel Hill for the last 10 years, I loved the people and I loved the job. But in my more honest moments I had to admit that neither my marriage nor my three young children were getting the personal attention they deserved and needed from me.
What’s more, I felt my intimacy with God growing shallower by the year. My desire for God and family was strong, but the cultural priorities of Bigger, Better, Faster, Shinier had slowly bled my soul dry.
"Truth was, my life was in a quiet crisis...and I barely knew it." — Jerome Daley
Escaping the Absurd
But sitting there listening to my wife, I somehow knew she was right. We had to pull the plug on life as we knew it in order to rediscover our marriage, our souls, and our deeper calling. So we did. I quit my job, rented out our house, loaded a U-haul with the bare necessities, and pointed the minivan west.
We stopped in Colorado Springs—without a job or a friend—and spent the next year there rebuilding the most important parts of ourselves. It was the best year of our lives.
We learned many things that year. And one of them was how to know when to stop running on the gerbil wheel of frantic activity and how to step off into solitude and silence.
We learned how to get back in touch with our hearts and with the heart of God.
By introducing margin back into our lives, clarity and perspective are easy to come by. And the absurdities of life are easier to recognize and step away from.
Retreating into Renewal
Now 20 years later, life still gets hectic and complicated, but we know better how to recalibrate. In fact, we have built fairly consistent rhythms into the fabric of our life to make that recalibration predictable and effective.
In my role as an executive coach, I am regularly helping other leaders create their own healthy rhythms. Here are a few things I have learned:
Plan ahead. Especially if you’re going to use a retreat facility, the earlier you can get dates on your calendar, the easier it is to schedule other activities around this priority.
Expect pushback. Life will actively try to thwart your best intentions, so expect it and hold strong to your commitment to consistent retreat rhythms.
Be brave. Sometimes the vast space of unallocated time is daunting. Don’t be afraid—God will guide you into exactly what needs attention in your soul and life.
Retreating With Regularity
There are five specific types of retreats I often recommend to Christian leaders. These are not magical timeframes nor a legalistic requirement; I have simply found them to be effective.
One hour a day. Sometimes we call this “devotions” or “quiet time.”
One day a week. You might know this as “Sabbath,” a gift God gave to the Israelites.
One day a month. In addition to your Sabbath.
One weekend a quarter.
One week a year.
If you don’t want to do all of these, then start with something that feels good to you—and grow your practice from there.
So what do you do on retreat? It's not vacation although you need that too; retreat is about pulling back from normal activity to listen—to your heart, to your life, to God.
I have adopted a very simple, flexible pattern for my retreats, and it looks something like this, divided roughly in three equal parts and scaled to the time you have carved out:
Phase 1: Refresh. Start by sitting or walking quietly. Let your mind’s “hard drive” spin down and go idle. Go empty and just be. Receive the gift of a quiet mind, an open heart, and a grounded presence. Let your senses reconnect you with nature and with your own heart.
Phase 2: Reflect. Next, look back on recent weeks or months and look for the learning. Now that you’re awake and refreshed, present in your own skin, consider your recent past. As your mind scans conversations and experiences, good or bad, ask yourself, "What am I supposed to learn from that?"
Phase 3: Refocus. Finally, look ahead to the upcoming week or month and position yourself to thrive. By this point your soul is renewed and you have taken much in; it’s time to give out...or at least plan to give out. This third phase is about discerning how to reengage the world from a thriving posture to help others thrive.
When Kellie and I returned to North Carolina from Colorado, we were profoundly different people with a revitalized marriage, a renewed connection with our children, and a fresh vision for our lives. I was writing my first book and preparing to start a new career in Greensboro.