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My Monthly Trip to the Monastery

by | May 4, 2021 | Church Leadership, Pastoral Burnout

I’ve found that if I don’t get away about once a month and “clear my head” by refocusing and reprioritizing what’s on my plate, I go nuts. I mean that. With all the demands I put on myself as well as the things thrown at me by others, I’ve learned that if I ignore this monthly spiritual discipline I tend to become distracted, eat way too much Mandarin Orange chicken, and begin hurling my daughter’s lacrosse sticks at the dog.

Here’s what I’ve been doing now for almost twenty years:

 

7:00 am

Arrive at a local monastery. Try to avoid the eighty-year-old nuns who immediately ask me if I have lunch plans (for some reason elderly nuns think I’m hot). For $15-20 most places give me lunch and a small hotel-like room for the day complete with a small bed, table and lamp. You can find places like this around where you live by Googling “Catholic Retreat Centers.”

 

7:00-9:00 am

Pull out a yellow pad of paper and do a “data dump.” I write down everything that is swirling around in my brain. Things stressing me. To-do lists. Things I’m putting off. Persistent sins. Books I want to read. I write down anything and everything about my family, my work, my finances, etc. The goal is to clear everything out of my mind and put it on paper. I keep that tablet with me the rest of the day. If any idea or question or sin pops into my mind I quickly write it down and let the tablet “hold” the stress or weight of that idea.

 

9:00-10:30 am

I’m exhausted. I go for a long hike in the woods behind the monastery. I try really hard not to talk to God during this time, I just listen. Most of the time I simply watch deer, skip rocks in the creek, or throw another idea that just popped into my head onto that tablet. Sometimes I’ll flip open a Bible passage that comes to my mind.

 

10:30am-noon

I meditate on one small passage of scripture. Sometimes something will hit me and I’ll spend the rest of the day studying that passage. Other times I’ll yawn and start playing “Bible Roulette.” Some of my greatest spiritual insights have come during this hour and a half period of time.

 

Noon-1:00 pm

I eat. Monasteries are known for plain but plentiful food. I usually sit with a nun or two and ask them about their lives. They’re usually more interested in serving me than in finding out what I do and why I’m there. Marianist sisters are wonderful. So are Sisters of the Precious Blood.

 

1:00-2:30 pm

I take a nap in my room.

 

2:30-4:30 pm

I pull out a list of “refocusing” questions I stumbled upon years ago from executive coach Bob Biehl. I meditate on each question like it fell from the lips of a beloved rabbi. I tell the Senior Pastors I coach that this is one of the most helpful exercises of the day. Here they are…

 

10 Questions To Refocus Your Life By Bob Biehl

“A leader knows what to do next, knows why that’s important, and knows how to bring the appropriate resources to bear on the need at hand.” Bob Biehl

1. What is my single greatest strength? (What do I “do” the best?)
2. What three decisions are causing me the greatest stress?
3. What is overwhelming me?
4. What impassable roadblock has me stuck?
5. If I could only do three things before I die, what would I want to do?
6. What should I resign from or drop out of? (Peter Drucker said, “Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things.”)
7. What can I postpone?
8. What things on my to-do list can someone else do at least 80% as well?
9. What are the “elephants” in my schedule? (Pareto said, “If you’re Noah, and your ark is about to sink, look for the elephants first.”)
10. What are the three things I could do in the next 90 days to make a 50% difference?

 

4:30-5:00 pm

I take my scribbling, reprioritize what goes back on my plate, what goes on someone else’s plate, what gets postponed, and what gets forgotten. All my other pieces of paper get trashed.

 

5:00 pm

I walk through the monastery chapel one last time and take a long, deep breath. I stand there, drink in one last moment of the place, and then duck my head out the door and head home.

 

5:45 pm

I arrive home a little more refreshed and I’m immediately welcomed by a less jittery dog.

Do you take spiritual retreats? Where do you go and what do you do?

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Brian Jones

Brian Jones

I am the founding Pastor of Christ’s Church of the Valley in Philadelphia, a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, and the author of four books. I’ve been married to my wife Dr. Lisa Jones for thirty years, and together we have three beautiful daughters and a lovable chubby orange cat named MAC. I love hiking, fishing, and backpacking. Our family loves to travel and have become passionate advocates for the rights of the poor and oppressed in developing countries. I’m an INTJ, 5w4, and D/I on various personality tests. I also write practical articles on church leadership and preaching at Senior Pastor Central.

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