The City Dweller’s Guide to a Good Retreat

I am a big fan of retreats. 

In the life of Jesus I see how often he went to get solitude and pray, and it is something I have tried to integrate into my own life. But there is one problem. 

I live in Portland, Oregon. 

Portland is a decent-sized city with a decent-sized city’s amount of noise and distractions which can make it hard to get the silence and space necessary to have a good spiritual retreat. 

When I first moved to Portland I lived in a tiny studio apartment above the busiest street ten blocks from the busiest part of downtown. And since it rains so much during the year, I have had to get creative in the way I structured my retreats.

So here is my list of ways to find your own spiritual oasis in the midst of a big city:

  • Don’t make it more complicated than it has to be.
    All you need for a good retreat is yourself and a place of solitude and silence. If you live in downtown Portland, during the rainy months you may have to come up with some creative retreat ideas, but for many of us that’s simply not the case. Many people forget this, but most cities already have Christian retreat centers that are open to the public for pre-scheduled or unscheduled visits. And as long as the weather is decent or the retreat center is not entirely outside, you can go to these places any time. Search on the Internet or ask around and find one that works for you. I did this not long after I moved to Portland and found a retreat center that I still go to. It was a painless process.
    Also natural environments like parks, reserves, etc. are often well tuned for any retreat-seeker’s needs. You can find a quiet spot at a park nearby and go there anytime—again as long as the weather permits. If weather doesn’t permit and you can’t find a close indoor retreat locale, you may need to get creative, but it’s always good to start with the basics. But if you do have to get creative a good place to start is always:
  • Look for quiet, indoor, public spaces.
    This includes libraries, coffee shops, malls, etc. Anywhere you can be alone and in silence for a long period of time without being distracted can be a good place for an in-the-city retreat. These places can be difficult, however, because they are often a little noisy or busy, and after a while it feels less like a divinely appointed meeting place with God and more like a place you are killing time. This leads to the next important step:
  • Meet God in the in-between spaces.
    Have you ever gone on a prayer walk? What I love about prayer walks is they destroy our idolization of destination. We live in a very destination-oriented society, and this causes us to so often forget that God is with us all the time. Sometimes during your retreat in a public place a noisy group may sit down next to you, or the next shift leader might like loud death metal, or maybe—God forbid!—there may be someone who wants to sit down and talk with you.

    These are common occurrences in public places, and when this happens it is your responsibility to lovingly discern if God is presenting you with an opportunity to engage with something other than your retreat or if this is a time where you need to go elsewhere.

    Most of my best moments connecting with God on these types of retreats have been precisely during these in-between moments when I am hiding from the rain under an overhang or silently praying for a random person walking in the street. These are as God-anointed moments as any you will have in a monastic retreat center spending long hours in silence.

So that’s my guide to a city retreat in three easy steps. 

The most important thing to remember is that it is all about simply carving out the space in your life to meet with God. 

I like to think of it as going on date to catch up with God. I get to talk his ear off. He listens. And every once in a while, he says something back.

Have you had any unique retreat experiences? 


Trevor grew up in a small desert town in Southern California and graduated from Vanguard University in 2013. He moved to Portland, Oregon in 2014 where he currently lives with his beautiful wife, Ashlee, and enjoys of reading, writing, city-life, hiking, and investing in close friendships. Trevor is passionate about bringing the Church to the world and crossing the great divide between Christians and non-Christians that usually leaves both sides scratching their heads. He currently works at a small, Portland-based Christian university named Multnomah University as a Social Media and PR Specialist. He has spent some time in a couple different seminaries but is now getting his master's of English at Portland State University.