Recently my husband pointed a finger at me and gave me an order. This is unusual behaviour for him, and so I took notice. 'Go on a retreat,' was his out-of-character instruction, and I knew he was right (to be totally honest, his real utterance was, 'Do you need to go on a retreat?', but that doesn't make such good copy...).
I went, as soon as I could get a room at a new place (new to me) where I'd been for the first time this summer (my usual haunt involves using Southern Trains so I was understandably wary of going there). As it happened, they also had an Advent Quiet Day that weekend and once I got there (on Southeastern Trains, who weren't on strike), it turned out that a couple of people had dropped out, so I was able to join in some programmed meditation and quiet on the Saturday, which was what I needed along with lots of unprogrammed time. The venue is a C17th stone manor house with a C14th church across the garden, and given that it was winter, they also had an open fire in the grate, with a fireback dating from 1813. What with sitting right next to that, and full sun through the window, I fell thoroughly asleep in the first session, and then in the free time I went upstairs to my room and drafted three poems, one of which I shared in the closing session.
Do you retreat to advance? I need three or four retreats a year, and refuse to apologize for spending my pension on them. At home I have a neighbour with PTSD who needs a lot of support, a son who has unscheduled crises and needs support too, and I'm trying to study for an MA as well as meeting regular writing deadlines (one of which is this blog). Haven't I earned a few two or three-day rests?
Some writers like a writing retreat, to focus on a particular project or perhaps a particular genre they're working in. Writing is my 'day job' so I prefer to get away from it occasionally, although since poetry is my treat, I usually indulge in a bit when I go away. I use my 'treat' time for a lot of reading, a lot of sleep, food I don't have to cook, and the odd moment of prayer. I'm sure God understands. Prayer can be hard work when you're exhausted.
Whatever your style of retreat - organized, preached, silent or with a bit of conversation - it's something we all need at times, especially in a profession that can be very isolating and which 'the world', let alone the church, doesn't really understand. So don't feel guilty for taking time away on your own; the world, the church, and the family if you have one, will get along fine for a couple of days, or even more than a couple, without you. Even if you are a woman and some people appear to think you married a house.
Veronica Zundel is a freelance writer whose latest book is Everything
I know about God, I've learned from being a parent (BRF 2013). She also
writes a column for Woman Alive magazine, and Bible notes for BRF's New
Daylight. Veronica used to belong to what was, before it closed, the only non-conservative, English
speaking Mennonite church in the UK, and is currently churchless. She also blogs at