May I tell you about something that has been helpful to me? Once every three months or so I try to go on a 24-hour spiritual retreat. I just get away by myself somewhere. In the spring and fall I often go to a state park and camp. In the summer and winter I tend to look for something a little more climate-controlled. I used to go to a Benedictine monastery when I was in North Carolina and loved it there, chanting with the monks in worship five or six times a day and eating with them in their refectory. I loved the little room they gave me—my “cell”—with just a single bed, a comfortable chair, and a desk in it. One of the first things I did then and one of the first things I tend to do on every retreat is to make out a new weekly schedule. I just draw a grid on a piece of paper, dividing it up into the days of the week and the hours of the day. But over on the right hand margin I write the words heart, mind, soul, and strength, and then I try to make a place for each of those things in my weekly schedule.
In the heart category I think about the things I love, and try to make sure I have some time for those in my week: spending time with my family, going to the art museum, walking in the woods, watching a good movie. I often use Thursday, my day off, to do those very things. In the mind category I try to remember that if I’m not taking in something new from time to time I won’t be able to give anything out. In years past I’ve scheduled Tuesday afternoons for reading and regularly worked through a big stack of books at a local coffee house. In the soul category, again, if I don’t take anything in I won’t be able to give anything out. Recently I decided to give up an hour I wasn’t using in the evening and instead use it for prayer in the morning. It’s been hard to go to bed earlier, and hard to get up earlier, but I’m beginning to get the hang of it and I can tell that it’s making a difference. And then in the strength category I just try to make sure that I schedule time for regular exercise, and if I can do that it also seems to affect what I eat and how much and helps me feel better overall.
It’s been a good system for me, and it helps me focus on every aspect of my being, but if I’m going to tell you that then I also need to tell you this: that I have to make out a new schedule every time I go on a 24-hour retreat because inevitably, in three months time, my old schedule has been compromised. For example: I may decide that I’m going to exercise at 6:30 three mornings a week—Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. For a while everything goes like clockwork, but then someone asks me if I can come to a breakfast meeting at 7:30 at Perly’s on Friday and I think, “Well, not unless I run to Perly’s, have breakfast, and then run home. But maybe just this once wouldn’t hurt. It is Perly’s, after all, and I love their pancakes.” And so I make an exception, and then another one, and then another one. By the time I get to my next 24-hour retreat I have to start all over again, drawing new lines on a clean sheet of paper and taking back some of the precious time I’ve given away, making sure that I have what I need to nourish my heart, mind, soul, and strength. Doing it once every three months, and not only once a year (when I’m making New Year’s resolutions), helps me stick with it.
Give it a try!