Retreat For One

By Brenda Jank
Photos Courtesy of Camp Lutherhaven

Living in overdrive and well on the road to burnout 20 years ago, I bumped into the idea of personal retreat. This revelation coincided with an unspoken longing. Is this it? Toxic levels of overload left me depleted and hungering for something more. Was personal retreat--a quiet reprieve off the beaten path--the missing ingredient in my life?

Yes. Over time, “Run hard, rest well” has become my motto in life. It's a commitment that began when I was newly married, was sorely tested as a mom of five young children, and became the anchoring feature of what I know to be a wild, wonderful, vibrant life. Running hard is easy. Learning how to rest well has been the most difficult and rewarding work of my life. I'm a classic Type A--efficient, driven, discontented, and productive. Whether one is Type A or B, there is a common thread running through the lives of every 21 st -century American--we are tired.

For more than 100 years, camp and conference centers have been meeting people's needs to “get away.” Until recently, the industry typically targeted groups: conferences, retreats, summer camp for kids, and family reunions. What about solo experiences? Our 24/7 lifestyle and chronic fatigue have people exploring new ways to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. More and more people are seeking a quiet place and slower pace of personal retreat. Is a retreat or conference center prepared to move in this new direction?

1+1=Success?
I live and serve at a camp and retreat center in northeast Indiana. Thirteen years ago, we began an intentional personal-retreat outreach program. We are a Christian ministry that is very busy during the summer and on weekends throughout the year, but are not busy on weekdays during fall, winter, and spring. We decided to open our doors, Monday through Friday, free of charge, to provide easy access to both rest and the splendor of the great outdoors.

During the first year of the personal-retreat ministry, one person signed up; in the second year, two signed up. The program grew by 100 percent! It was not the success we had imagined. Rest is a difficult sell. The world does not applaud when we rest, but rather when we produce and work hard. But we did not give up. We know the need for rest is both real and growing.

Today we serve about 80 people each year. We also equip camp and conference centers around the United States and Canada to launch personal-retreat programs, but there's more. We went into this program altruistically, seeing the great value in offering people a quiet place to rest. We knew it would position people for a greater vitality in their own lives, their families, and their jobs. We were willing to offer the community something unique.

We hadn't planned on the rewards.

Get Started
In this economically challenging time, our “free” personal-retreat program has been the number-one public relations and marketing tool. Each month it brings new people onto our camp property, and each year, these people line up new rental groups. It has allowed us to navigate through these difficult financial times with greater margin and less stress. It’s a win/win situation.

Are you interested in learning more? Here's a set of important principles:

  1. A personal-retreat program invites people to rest, reflect, and be refreshed. There is no right way or wrong way to do this. Our job is to provide an invitation and a quiet place. We open the door, turn on the heat, and get out of the way ... all the while offering permission for people to thoroughly enjoy a guilt-free day of rest. A simple welcome binder can be created, with a map, some conference-center material, and a few relevant articles on rest. A short evaluation will provide valuable feedback ... and possibly a collection of great stories and quotes.
  2. To set the stage for a successful program, you must foster an atmosphere, not add a program. Start by tasting the rewards of rest yourself. Commit to a series of personal retreats ... one every month or two. Get three retreats under your belt. An important part of personal retreat is getting away from the demands and distractions of everyday life. Your own conference center might work for you, or it may not. Call another center and ask if you can come. Most places will be open to the idea, even if they don't have any type of program. Choose a time frame ... 4 hours, 8, 12, or 24. It is truly amazing what 4 quiet hours can do for the soul. For some people accustomed (or addicted) to relentless activity, it may take 4 hours to even begin to unwind, which is an important step. As you begin your time, breathe, hike, nap, read, and enjoy favorite snacks. Give yourself permission to relax.
  3. Extend this gift to staff members--full-time, part-time, and seasonal. Remember, we want to cultivate an atmosphere, not add a program. A staff mandate in 1992 sent me on my first personal retreat, which was a life-giving and life-changing experience.
  4. Create a simple brochure, add this information to your website, post it on Facebook, and pick up the phone. Make cold calls. Most people are open to hear about a “no-strings-attached” offer to get away and rest. Not everyone is, but many people will be very receptive.

More To Consider
What geographic radius do you want to target? Part of that decision depends on what you have to offer. Some centers are only able to offer a bench in the shade and trails to hike. Others might have a room with a view, while others may have hotel-like accommodations. Don't devalue what you have to offer, but be honest. Don't set people up for expectations you may not be able to deliver. And cost? Free might be good for some, but it is not the only option. Nicer accommodations probably warrant, even demand a price. Maybe you'll be able to offer “first-timers” a half-price discount. Be creative to get them in the door.

Who can you target? School districts, counseling centers, businesses, and churches are all great places to start. Christians are pursuing the idea of personal retreat with growing interest, but they need a place to go. Many large businesses are creating wellness programs for employees. Make some calls. Find out who's running the program and invite that person out, reminding him or her of the health benefits of time away, being outside, and having the permission to rest and relax. Create a partnership. The sky's the limit.

Personal retreat may very well be the next best thing. To be prepared, take the plunge yourself. Your own stories of renewal and a new passion will become the best tools to spread the word, plant seeds, and create a culture of restoration. Run hard. Break a sweat. But learn how to rest. It will position you for a vibrancy few know or enjoy in our 24/7 culture.

Brenda Jank is a speaker, visionary leader, and champion of rest. An intensely personal journey into the "Rhythms of Rest" (beginning 20 years ago) turned into a professional outlet in 1999 when Brenda established a Personal Retreat Ministry at Camp Lutherhaven in northeast Indiana. She can be reached at brenda@lutherhaven.org .