What are the blessings and benefits of going to a silent retreat? I have been to many silent retreats from one day to over thirty days and I have always experienced many benefits and blessings through them. I have listed those that I can recall here, although not all of them are experienced in every retreat. The benefits and blessings are like a fountain and what it dispenses are abundant, life-giving and multi-faceted. Here are seven blessings I have experienced.
First, physical rest. Like most Singaporeans, I am often unaware of how much I needed rest and sleep. I was so caught up with the church work, family commitments, unticked boxes in my “To Do” list, and meetings that I often failed to attend to my body’s plea. I push my body and prop it up at night to its brink. In a silent retreat, I quiet myself and slow down. Quickly I begin to hear my body’s sigh. I embrace my limits and have my naps and unbounded sleep. Imperceptibly my body would rejuvenate, and the joy and sparkle would return.
Second, processing of past events and experiences. Being proactive and productive is drilled into us by our culture, but being reflective has to be learned. There is no better place to learn this than during a retreat because it offers space for God to be with us as we reflect on past events and experiences, both the blessings and the burdens. This conversation with God about past painful and happy experiences helps us to go back in order to go forward. It facilitates a healing process, adjusts our assumptions and perceptions, empowers us for reconciliation, and roots us in the peace of God in the midst of unchanged circumstances and ambiguous issues. I always leave the retreat house with deep peace and joy.
Third, knowledge of God and self. God reveals himself to us as we intentionally seek him in silence, solitude and prayer. “Seek and you shall find”, Jesus promised. Mostly, I find God revealing himself to me, and more of myself to me. This knowledge comes through scripture meditation and other ancient ways of prayer, through reflection of how God is present in my past experiences, through the Lords’ Supper, and through what I observe and experience day by day in the retreat center.
Fourth, transformation. The knowledge of God and self often led to repentance, trust, commitment, directional change, worship and praise. It is not mere head knowledge but formational knowledge born out of illumination and truth encounters. Many years back I was going through a burn-out and a lengthy retreat restored me completely. You can read about this HERE. It was a transforming experience that convinced me that set apart times of seeking God in solitude and silence are vitally important for all followers of Christ, particularly those in the front-lines of the Lord’s service.
Fifth, learning to seek and know God. Free from all earthly distractions and duties, I find myself having the space and time to learn to be intimate with God. The many hours devoted to prayer, whether regulated or spontaneous, individual or together with others, in your room or in the chapel or outdoors, lend itself to intensive training and learning of what it means to pray. Most Singaporean Christians hardly pray – they are bombarded every day with a hundred things! The retreat gives you an undisturbed space to form a deeper connection with God and to form a habit of daily prayer and reflection, however small the beginning may seem. Armed with this success, one is more assured when one goes back into the fight of the daily grind, because he or she now has a stronger connection with God and is more confident about praying through life.
Sixth, patient hope. Retreatants often come with burning questions or issues. The felt need has to be strong for a Singaporean to sacrifice precious annual leave and money which could be used for a vacation or expensive device. They seek God with an intense expectation of a clear answer from God during the retreat, preferably by the middle of it. Sometimes God does address the issue concerned and answers or direction is graciously granted. Other times, in fact, most times this expectation of a quick satisfactory answer is met in a different way from what is expected by the retreatant.
The biblical Job demanded an answer from God for his “unjust” suffering and got nothing God’s revelation of his glory and greatness. No intelligible logical answer was given to the mystery of why a righteous man like him had to suffer so much. God drawing near to him and revealing his greatness is deemed sufficient to root Jobs faith in the sovereignty of God. This often happens in retreat: we want an answer to help in decision-making but God simply draws near and reminds us of who he is, and invites us to trust him. God beckons us to wait without worrying. God invites us to hope.
Seventh, learning discernment. Spiritual discernment is a neglected gift, one we should all pray for and develop. I have found a growth in my ability to distinguish the thoughts, desires and feelings that comes from the devil, or my old self, or from God. I learn to discern the idols in my life: those things that I need to be freed from, so that the choices I make are glorifying to God. I learn to detect the devil’s specially designed tactics of attacking my specific weaknesses. I learn to be more sensitive to the Spirit’s movements in my heart.