By Alison Smith

How to Plan a Retreat of Silence

A student studies the Bible at Cedar Campus.One of my favorite things to do during the summer, besides lie by the pool, is to go on a Retreat of Silence (ROS). Before all of the extroverts quit reading because I used the words “retreat” and “silence,” relax and keep reading because I, myself, am an extrovert. In extrovert language, I prefer to call it “Spending the Day with God,” but InterVarsity refers to it as an ROS. It’s an extremely helpful way to reflect on the year and see how God has been present and what things he has taught you.

I call mine “Spending the Day with God” because I’m not always silent during mine. And you don’t have to be either. The point of an ROS is to set aside an extended period of time to engage with God and rest in him. It does not mean that you have to check yourself into a monastery and take a vow of silence all day (although you can if you’d like and I bet that’d be fabulous). But it is an experience that you plan in order to intentionally connect with God in a more intimate and private way than you normally might.

Here are 3 tips for planning a great ROS:

  1. Set aside time. It doesn’t have to be a whole day. When I do an ROS, I plan for 3 to 6 hours. If this is your first time doing an ROS, start with 2 to 3 hours.
  2. Figure out what the best atmosphere is for you to connect with God. When I do an ROS, I like to start the morning by going to my favorite coffee shop. I eat breakfast, sip some delicious coffee and journal about any thoughts, concerns, anticipations, etc., that could distract from my experience with God. I tell those things to God, set them aside, and ask him to help me to focus on him and what he wants to teach me.
  3. Choose activities that help you connect with God. After breakfast, if the weather is good, I head to my favorite park and grab a spot in the shade. Sometimes I like to read a Christian book; other times I like to create something artistic with chalk pastels. I also like to engage with the Bible during that time. I read a story from one of the gospels and meditate on that. Sometimes I go for a long hike, praying and worshipping God through nature. If you don’t naturally connect to God with nature, you can head to a public library or a favorite spot in your city. The point is to put yourself in places that help you connect with God and hear from him. 

Here are some journaling questions to start off your ROS

  • What has this summer been like for you so far?
  • What has been good? Bad?
  • How has it been for you spiritually? 
  • How do you feel about where you are spiritually right now?
  • In what ways have you experienced God lately?
  • What areas in your life is God working on? What has he been teaching you lately?

If you would like something more guided with Scripture to study and questions to respond to, check out the following resources:

Use the ROS guide, which you can download at the Resources section on my website.

Sign up for Greek InterVarsity’s Summer Devotional Guide: 10 weeks of Bible study sent to your email each week.

Check out Bible Study Guides through InterVarsity Press. I recommend the series, Spiritual Disciplines Bible Studies by Jan Johnson, particularly Prayer & Listening.

What helpful tips or resources do you have for planning an ROS? Leave a comment below about an experience you’ve had on a ROS. What things did you do? Where did you go? How did God meet you? At the end of the week, we’ll randomly select a commenter to receive a FREE copy of Contemplative Vision by Juliet Benner from InterVarsity Press. So include your name and on Monday check back here or on Facebook for the winner!

Alison Smith is on staff with Greek InterVarsity at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and is a member of Pi Beta Phi for women. She loves reading, singing, rocking out in her car to cheesy pop music and NPR, and going on adventures with her husband.




Great tips Alison. I find being outside, in nature, is really helpful. Turn off the cell phone. Don't be afraid of silence. Brad

I've never done a ROS per se (though I am definitely going to have to!), but I had a great experience with journaling and reading the Bible my senior year of high school. I had decided to do one of those "read the Bible in a year" charts to guide my quiet times with God. I used journaling afterwards each day to make sure I was actually paying attention, not just doing it to say I did. Whether inside, outside, early, late, in total silence, or with music playing, I would read, write, and pray each day for however long it took to connect with Him. I really cherish that year, and now I have the memories written down if I ever want to look back at all that He did during it! I've recently started journaling again because it's one of the best ways for me to slow down and have a complete, uninterrupted conversation with God. ~Holly Browning

Great post Allison! Solid advice. I love to give God my first fruits by spending time with Him every morning before I do anything else. I love to read the psalms and just sit in His presence. -Chris P

Everything I ever needed to know about planning a Retreat of Silence I learned at Cedar Campus. :) Bible in one hand, hymnal in the other, notebook and pencil, thermos of coffee, and an attitude of expectation and I'm set. In my more urban life as a wife and mom, I am learning to find moments of retreat and silence along the way, as the opportunities for full day or even several-hour escapes are few and far between. God has been faithful to meet me when I have set aside time to hear from Him. steph seefeldt

I am praying about a call I feel to start a retreat ministry. There are so many obstacles, like the place itself, but am trusting God to provide if it really is a call from him. I want to offer a close, affordable place for people to come.

I have found including time for a nap helpful. If I have had a hectic schedule leading up to to the retreat, sometimes starting it off with a nap ensures that I can spend my time with God without my mind being so fragmented and wandering from fatigue. Cindy Kelly

I am just returning from a month long retreat at the Benedictine Monastery in Pecos, NM. While I realize that not everyone can carve out a month of their life for a ROS, even a couple of days can be incredibly profitable for the soul. This is a discipline that is often overlooked and one of the most needful in our busy and noisy lives. Thank you for reminding us and posting the tips. Jeff Borden

A short journey is my version of the retreat...praying ahead of time for leading for which article or book to read during the experience and taking along several candidates if I haven't had a leading of some kind by the time I intend to start. A trail of some kind is the usual site of the doesn't need to be a wilderness or exotic environment, just somewhere that has beauty, some quiet, and a destination of any kind. Generally about 1/2 the 6-8 hours is spent walking and praying and a half reading and journaling. I like to take the trail off to some more isolated place...pause a while and journal and then return and reflect on the trail experience as I compare it my own life. It's somewhat like a labyrinth in a journey toward a focus time with God and then a journey away, mirroring the day to day comings and goings of unity and closeness and distance and trust. I find each time to be refreshing and restorative, not always profound, but often coming home more whole and hopefully holy than when I left. Randy

Retreats of silence are things I love and hate simultaneously. I get so caught up in wanting to "get something out of them" but so often, the point of such a retreat is just silence. And what God chooses to fill with that is His prerogative!

Thanks for a great ROS guide, Alison! In planning my ROS' over the past few years, I've come to realize that doing things that help you connect with God is one of the most important things we as Christians can figure out. I remember thinking as a student that every silent time I spent with God needed to include an hour of Bible Study, a half-hour of prayer and an hour or so of silence and listening before God. All of these are good things, but it wasn't until I read a book, "Sacred Pathways" by Gary Thomas and "Sacred Rhythms" by Ruth Barton that started to give me a better idea on what ROS' can include! I learned that I connect with God the most in nature and so now during my ROS', I'll talk a walk or spend the day in a park. For others, it may mean writing poetry, composing a song or sitting in a church. The more we learn about ourselves and how God has wired us, the more we can live in the freedom of who God has made us and receive (and give back to God!) the most out of our times spent with Jesus. Don't be afraid to get creative and do things that may seem atypical for a spiritual discipline that sometimes is portrayed as needing to be a solemn, serious time. If playing your guitar helps you connect with God, do it. If it's painting, do it. :) ~Brittany Small, campus staff at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign


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