Taking a Personal Retreat: 4 Insights For Leaders To Find Peace In Solitude

Published on
October 28, 2023

We live in a busy society. Our world never stops. There is noise all around us. The news hits us 24/7. We move from crisis to crisis. This constant noise drains our souls. The demands on leaders never seem to stop. Everyone needs something from us. Organizations and families require our attention. Busyness is a constancy in many leaders’ lives.

Have you ever felt the weight of leadership weighing you down, making you yearn for a moment of solitude?

John Ortberg asked Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do… to be spiritually healthy?” Ortberg recounts this response from Willard:

Long pause,

You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.

Another long pause.

"Okay, I’ve written that down," I told him a little impatiently.

"That’s a good one. Now, what else is there?"

Another long pause.

"There is nothing else," he said.

Rhythm of Rest

Last week, I retreated to a place near Lynchburg, Virginia. I took walks in the woods, prayed, read, wrote, napped, and sat in a hot tub.

In August, I retired from 22 years of active military service. Before I retired, our children left the nest of our home. I faced some health challenges, and we purchased and moved to a new home. It seemed that everything about our life changed.

Over the years, going on personal retreats has been vital to my soul. Time away from the regular routines of life, the struggles of my profession, and the struggles of family life.

Retreats are breaks for solitude, silence, reflection, rest, and reset.

Every leader should go on a personal retreat quarterly. It may only be for a couple of days; it may be for a week. Retreating is:

  • slowing down our soul
  • eliminating hurry from our life
  • essential for the soul of the leader

In this reflection, I offer four insights I keep in mind each time I retreat. I’m confident my thoughts will be helpful to you. These insights point us toward a deeper connection with our personhood and God.

Insight 1: The Power of Silence and Solitude

In the fire of solitude, we find our most profound reflection. It is where we can hear the needs of our souls. Solitude and silence are

  • antidotes to busyness
  • answers to the ruthless elimination of hurry
  • correctives to the relentless demands of leadership

Give and Take

I'm an introvert. I love people and enjoy deep conversations. Yet, as an introvert, time with people drains me. Alone time, away from people, is where I gather energy.

One of the offerings during my retreat was an available host who would engage with me each day - but only if I wanted it. I considered saying no. Instead, I said yes. These deep conversations and his ability to ask practical coaching questions were formative for me.

You may not be wired the way I am. You may be an extrovert who gathers energy from being around people.

Whether you are an introverted or an extroverted leader, you need solitude. Leadership requires give and take with people. No matter the characteristics of your personality, times of solitude are essential to the health of your soul. No matter how challenging solitude and silence are for you, it is vital to implement them consistently.

Personal retreats allow us to turn off the noise of our professional and personal lives and tune into the deepest needs of our souls. There is no better place to find solitude and silence than in nature.

Insight 2: The Power of Natural Environment

The tranquil woods have an incredible role in our rejuvenation and rest. As I retreated to the Blue Ridge Mountains region of Virginia, I found solace and peace in the embrace of nature. The serene surroundings, the towering trees, and the gentle rustling of leaves provided a soothing backdrop for reflection and renewal.

Walking amidst the woods, I felt deeply connected with the natural world:

  • the fresh scent of pine
  • the soft touch of moss and pine needles under my feet,
  • the cool, calm wind on my face
  • the symphony of birdsong created

These are parts of a harmonious environment that calmed my mind and invigorated my spirit.

The tranquil woods became a sanctuary where I could escape the noise and demands of everyday life.

Nature reminds us of our place in the world and grounding us in the present moment. It offers a respite from the busyness and chaos, inviting us to slow down and appreciate the simple wonders around us. The woods can restore our souls and replenish our energy with beauty and serenity.

Retreating in natural environments, such as the woods, near a lake, an ocean, or mountains, profoundly impacts our well-being. It reconnects us with ourselves and the solace of the embrace of nature.

Nature is a haven of rejuvenation and rest, inviting us to pause, reflect, and find renewal amid our busy lives. Being surrounded by nature leads naturally to a deeper connection with God.

Insight 3: The Power of Spiritual Practices

Spiritual practices provide a sense of grounding and connection to something greater than ourselves. They offer space for reflection, inner peace, personal growth, and inspiration.

They help us nourish our souls and cultivate a deeper understanding of ourselves, our values, and our purpose in life. They help us connect with the divine while at the same time making us deeply human.

Spiritual practices provide incredible opportunities for making us, as David Benner writes, whole, integrated human beings through several means:

  • Awareness is the intentional practice of opening oneself to the present. It allows us to awaken.
  • Wonder accepts the mysteries of life and responds with something familiar to children but forgotten by most adults - awe.
  • Reality allows us to face the demons in the dark places of our interior selves and live with more intensity, passion, and clarity of vision.
  • Surrender is inner acceptance of what is. Surrender is the most challenging thing for a human being to do, but also the most freeing.

After I arrived at my retreat location, my host made an interesting observation. He said,

Often, the most spiritual thing we can do is rest.

Insight 4: The Power of Physical Relaxation

I came to my retreat with a list of things I wanted to read and write. I shared some of my intentions in a mastermind meeting. The leader reminded me of all the changes I have experienced over the last year (children leaving home, health concerns, and transitioning - moving to a new location and military retirement). He advised taking what I had planned and cutting it in half. Another member offered that I needed to think about taking more time to rest. Both pieces of advice were well advised.

I left for the retreat with a plan:

  • Read a pile of books
  • Write for a couple of hours each day
  • Build out the structure of my upcoming course and book.

Most days, I walked in the woods, engaged in morning reflection time, read for long periods, and wrote when I felt like it.

During my retreat, I enjoyed dinner with my host each evening. Over the meal, we debriefed about the day. All were different. Most often, I did not complete the tasks I had laid out. One evening, my host reminded me of this imperative: 

Leaders should lead from a place of rest.

I needed relaxation, rest, and reflection the most. Throughout the week, I felt permission to nap, sit in the hot tub, and sit outside to read and reflect.

Your Turn

The beat of society is persistent, and the tempo seems relentless. The constant race of life pulls us in various directions, tugging at our reserves and demanding our attention and energy. Amid this ceaseless noise, we need a respite.

Leaders must slow down, breathe, retreat, regroup, and rejuvenate.

Our journey as leaders continuously takes a toll on our spirits, necessitating a pit stop for rest and recovery. That's where retreat comes in. It helps us regain our strength through

  • escaping from the relentless hustle and bustle of life to a tranquil haven where we can focus on our spiritual health
  • embracing the soothing touch of nature
  • engaging in comforting solitude
  • participating in meaningful spiritual practices
  • relaxing physically and mentally

Today, I extend this personal invite to you. Yes, you, who are perhaps reeling under the strain of multiple stresses from life and leadership.

If you need some help in planning a retreat, let's talk. I'd love to help.

Take that bold step to plan a personal retreat. All work and no play, all work and no rest, make tired, inattentive, less effective leaders.

We should lead from a place of rest.

Learn the art of stepping back, not as an act of cowardice, but as strength.

Your soul demands it. Your well-being depends on it. Your productivity rests on it. Retreat:

  • Retreat to progress
  • Retreat to thrive
  • Retreat to lead better
  • Retreat to live better

Take that much-needed break. Embrace the silence. Connect with nature. Practice spirituality. Relax. You'll be surprised at what a balanced rhythm of life can do for your soul, effectiveness, and overall well-being.

Schedule that personal retreat today. It's not an act of indulgence; it’s an investment - a worthy investment in you and a faithful answer to the call of your weary soul. Let’s ruthlessly eliminate hurry from our lives and reintroduce the power of pause.

As we embrace this rhythm, remember, it’s not about 'getting away' from our lives but about 'getting back' to them with renewed energy, revitalized spirit, and rejuvenated resolve. The best is yet to come.

Leader, will you schedule a retreat today?

Tell me when you do.

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After my years of military service, I've opened up time on my calendar to converse with other leaders wherever you are in your seasons of life.

Let's talk. I'd love to walk with you on your journey.

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