The get-away that can make all the difference
Rodney and I will be married 39 years this July. While our marriage and our journey together has not been perfect, it has been healthy, forward focused, purposeful, and fulfilling. We have a healthy marriage today as we turn sixty, as empty nesters, as grandparents of three, and as a couple still energized by ministry and the opportunities before us. Rodney is still my very best friend and we love doing life, family, and ministry together. One of the keys for us was a marriage get-away retreat we started over two decades ago.
Earlier in our marriage as life, work, family, and opportunities began to fill up our calendars, we found ourselves exhausted and spinning. These were all good things but we felt controlled by our calendars rather than refreshed and focused. We decided to try a different approach than just trying to get everything in that was coming our way. So we started doing personal marriage planning retreats, and here are some tips below to help you plan your own:
Get a time on the calendar now!
We started by getting a time on the calendar for just the two of us to get away. We wanted two nights and three days. We wanted enough time to unwind, refresh, and to plan. The best time for us ended up being early fall because this became the time to review the year and make decisions about the coming year(s).
Bring planning tools!
We brought calendars and planning tools to the retreat. Digital tools are good today but when we started our retreat, it was printed calendars that went out for five years plus a copy of the current calendar we were using. Whatever tools are best for the two of you, bring them. You will review the past year, plan in more detail the coming year, and also mark critical decisions for the next five years.
Start with evaluation.
What is your marriage purpose and are you in agreement about that purpose? Make sure you write this down and keep it in front of you during the entire retreat. You will need to focus on this often as you make decisions for the future.
For Rodney and I, we feel our purpose is to help people find life in Jesus, to teach biblical truth, and to build up the body of Christ through the church. We have felt a specific calling from God to point couples to God’s plan and design for marriage.
We started the first night and first morning just talking and sharing, but no planning. How are we doing? How is our relationship? Are we still on purpose in our marriage? How are we doing spiritually, in our physical relationship, how are we connecting emotionally? Are we experiencing marriage in the way God designed?
Genesis 2:24-25 became the foundation verse for this assessment:
“This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh. Both the man and his wife were naked, yet felt no shame.”
One, unified, experiencing intimacy and openness as a couple spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
This part of the retreat requires open and honest dialogue with the purpose of making the changes needed to make sure your marriage is healthy, vital, growing. Ensuring that your marriage is ultimately a reflection of the gospel to your children first and then to everyone else in your life.
Rodney and I love the mountains, hiking and biking. This first night and morning are usually spent walking and talking often stopping by beautiful creeks and streams. We also spend time in prayer together reaffirming before God and each other our desire to live our lives and our marriage in such a way to bring God glory and to bring others into faith in Jesus.
A one-year review.
The high level evaluation then leads into a one-year review. Your calendar is a great way to test your purpose and your priorities. This is a “how are we doing this year” assessment. Are we making sure we have time together as a couple? Is our family time a priority? How are we carrying out our purpose through extended family, church, ministry, and work? Are we good at saying “no”? Do we have healthy boundaries in place? Saying “no” with grace but with resolve is essential to the health of your relationship.
Five year planning.
Next, we would look at the next five years of our marriage. Rodney and I would literally put up large sheets of paper on the walls of our cabin or hotel room. We would tape up five large sheets, put the year on each sheet, then add our ages, our children’s ages, our parent’s ages, and any other key event that would happen in that year. These became critical issues to consider as we planned our year. If we had specific goals, we would write those in to the five-year plans. I remember a few we added over the years: write a book, do a marriage conference in Europe, celebrate Rodney’s Mom’s 80th birthday, do family Christmas overseas, start a bible study in our home for our neighborhood. This time is more the dreaming, high level planning. This can really be fun as you pray and seek God’s direction for your future. Putting these down will help you calendar them and make these dreams become a reality. No, you won’t do all of them but you will do most.
Next year planning.
Next, we would review plans for the coming year. Rodney and I are often asked to speak, lead conferences or retreats, or to partner with others in ministry. Several years ago, when life was a little out of control with so many opportunities but not enough time, we made the decision we would not give an answer to a request until after we had our retreat. That way we could pray and plan together, making sure we were making the right decision for the right reason. So many good things can come to you but good does not mean it is the right decision for you or the right time. We had to learn to say no with grace. Looking at our purpose, looking at the big picture of life, and looking specifically at our calendar priorities, gave us the ability to make wise decisions for our family.
There is no perfect formula to make life calm and predictable. Plans shouldn’t control our lives but they are guides for our lives. As people of faith, we want to always be open to God’s leading and the direction of His Spirit in our daily lives. We set our course with intentional purpose but also with total surrender to God. When the interruptions of life come (and they most certainly will), we see them a little differently when we have prayed and sought God’s direction. But it is equally important that we don’t let the press of good things crowd out God’s purposes in our lives.
For more than twenty years we have done these marriage getaway retreats, and we are getting ready to plan our next one. These retreats have kept our intimacy with God as well as each other. We live our lives and our marriage looking forward to God’s work, and these retreats have helped us realize all that He has done and will do in the future.
“As for the seed that fell among thorns, these are the ones who, when they have heard, go on their way and are choked with worries, riches, and pleasures of life, and produce no mature fruit. But the seed in the good ground – these are the ones who, having heard the word with an honest and good heart, hold on to it and by enduring, bear fruit.” Luke 8:14-15
What are you doing to keep your marriage healthy, growing, and purposeful?