A day-long personal prayer retreat can help shine the light of God’s Word onto a shadowed soul.

I shield my eyes against the sun, squinting and maneuvering between visor and door-frame to keep the brilliance from blinding me as I drive my car. I wonder where my sunglasses are. They aren’t sliding in a mad carnival ride along the dashboard, or wallowing in the seat, or scraping around underfoot. Then, in my mind, I see them sitting near the front door at home ? a reminder of the weeks and months this winter when the sun warmed the backs of the clouds but nothing closer to earth.

The sun’s brilliance follows me home like a lost pet. Blessing my work hours at the computer, sunlight streams through the naked branches of the maple and pours a hearty welcome over my soul. In the face of the sunshine, my heart is buoyant.

At times I wonder if I have Seasonal Affective Disorder, where depression fills the shadows left in one’s life by the lack of sunlight. A friend self-diagnosed his problem, and rigged up a special lighting system so he could treat himself to some extra moments of light each day.

And I question, as I stagger out of bed in the morning and fall back in at night: why don’t I treat myself to time in the light? Not a home remedy lighting system, but the Light. And not just a token squint in God’s general direction, the “Good morning-Lord-Bless-this-mess” sort of moment, but real time in the Light. Like a concentrated half-day, or whole day, clustered away by myself on a friend’s sun porch. Or tucked into a retreat house, basking in Scripture, reveling in journal-prayer, lifting my face to the Son on a walk.

Because of my tendency — as a mother, wife, PTA board member, writer, speaker, church worker, neighbor, friend — to become haggled and frazzled and short-tempered, this Light Deprivation Disorder (my own term for it) has to be treated. So yesterday, I called a retreat center and booked a weekday for myself-a time when I can turn the Light on my shadowed soul. Maybe it will turn into an overnight, and I can throw logs on the fire and pull a table in front of the flames.

An article recently touted the virtues of a day-long personal prayer retreat. I’ll admit, the thought of praying for an entire day is hard for me to contemplate; in fact, I’ve never found it easy to pray for extended periods of time. But I don’t beat myself up with a spiritual ruler anymore. I’ve learned to use personal retreat days for a mixture of helpful disciplines.

Clean the Windshield
One of the first things I do on a retreat (after making coffee and moving the table so I have a view) is to get out my journal. There are no rules for this time; here is where I scrape all the bugs off the windows so I can see the Light better. This is where I dump all of the toxins that accumulate in my soul; the clean white pages of my notebook become a metaphor for Jesus, pure and sinless, receiving my spots and splatters and wiping the windshield clean.

Sometimes I just write whatever comes to mind, so that all the anxieties and angers and aggravations can clear out. At other times, I think back to conversations, attitudes, and relationships and bring them out into the Light. Regardless of how I use a journal, it can be an instrument for confession, a place where I leave the uglies at the foot of the cross. Then I’m free to soak up some rays.

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Basking in the Light
When I was a teenager, most people I knew coveted a tan, except my own father and the doctor-dads of my friends.

Soon after college, the lure of a tan wore off and I found better, busier things to do with my time. Who has spare hours to lie around outside? A better question, who wants to lie there sweating voluntarily? Besides, by then I had things to do for the Kingdom.

Now, knowing that tanned skin is damaged skin, I warn my children against the ultraviolet rays, following them around with SPF100 lotion, suggesting long-sleeved white shirts, and cramming visors on sweaty heads.

I find that I still sometimes avoid the Son, finding better, busier things to do. But on a personal retreat day, I remember Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light for my path.” One of my favorite retreat versions of Scripture is Eugene Peterson’s The Message. He renders this Psalm, “By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path.”

As that beam of light pours over me, I take time to soak up each verse, meditating, journaling, free-flowing between confession and praise and petition. The words fill me, and my heart dances out of the dark like the airport spotlights circling the night sky. I don’t have an agenda for this time in the Light, choosing instead to let the Word and the Spirit highlight important things.


Copyright © 2003 Jane Rubietta. Used with permission.

Jane is an award winning author and speaker. Her latest book is Grace Points: Growth and Guidance in Times of Change. She and her husband Rich operate the not-for-profit, Abounding Ministries, which helps people experience the life-changing love of God in Christ through writing, speaking, music and retreats.