However, when it comes to the basics of family life, we have managed pretty well. This, in spite of living increasingly busy lives filled with ministry, mission trips, hospitality, homeschooling, furloughs, and other travels.
And I can tell you exactly the reason why.
We call it our Annual Goal Planning Retreat. Once a year, usually in January, we put our lives on hold for 24 hours in order to get away as a couple for the explicit purpose of planning and prayer for the upcoming year.
During that 24 hour retreat, we hole up somewhere quiet and discuss all the issues that we face as a couple and as a family and plan ahead for everything that needs to happen that year and in the future upcoming years. We do both long-term and short-term planning, making individual, family, and ministry goals.
Since we started doing this, we haven't missed a year. We have found that this is the single most important factor for success in all of our ministry and family endeavors.
When considering your Annual Goal Planning Retreat, you may wonder if it will be worth the cost in both time and money for you and your spouse. I can assure you that if you do this properly, your investment in this one day each year will be more than worth it.
Couples with young children, especially, may have trouble finding a babysitter and wrangling this time alone. Don't let that stop you. You probably need this more than anyone else! You who are so immersed in diapers and pacifiers often find it hard to poke your heads up for air and make time for your spouse or for life planning. It's easy for you, especially, to get lost in the trees and lose sight of the forest. The long-term welfare of your family can easily get drowned out by your short-term, sleep-deprived need to survive.
I understand. There have been years where the first thing on our agenda for our AGP Retreat was a good nap.
Maybe, on the other hand, you are empty nesters and don't feel a need to leave your home in order to find some time alone. You may find time alone while in your normal daily surroundings, but will it be distraction free? Investing in a one-night stay at a nearby hotel or bed and breakfast will ensure that your focus can remain on your spouse, God, and the necessary planning you need to do.
As a couple, the two of you are yoked together. In order to accomplish the work God has for you to do, you must be pulling at the same load, pulling at the same speed, and pulling in the same direction. Otherwise that yoke is just slowing you down and messing you up. This Annual Goal Planning Retreat will give you a vision, as a couple, for how you can help each other complete the work God has commissioned you to do. It will help you live with a shared mission, a shared ambition.
The twenty-four hours you spend with your spouse nailing down your goals and activities for the upcoming year will be an investment that pays dividends. Yes, it is worth it.
- We review the last year. We pull out our goals and see how many we accomplished. We try to follow up by asking ourselves which goals we want to keep and which ones have been fulfilled or need to be jettisoned.
- We pray about the upcoming year. We want God's blessing and help on all we do. We also want His guidance. We don't want to forge ahead on any path of action that He isn't directing us to.
- We talk about any issues that need to be resolved. Are there any parenting flops that we want to address? Any couple-type issues? Any financial updates we need to take a look at?
- We set goals for the upcoming year. This is the most important part of our 24-hour retreat. This is where we nail down all the various things that we wish to accomplish in the year. We dream big. We share our most heart-felt aspirations. We try to inspire each other to accomplish more for Christ and more for His kingdom by acquiring more self-discipline in key areas and by nurturing our children so that they can also have a mission. Here are some of the areas we address. . .
We each get our own list. This includes things like health and fitness, Bible reading, other personal reading goals, writing goals, and random stuff like taking online courses in modern Hebrew or Ugaritic. (Bonus points for you if you can guess which one of us wants to take the Ugaritic course.)
This includes all the things we want to do together as a family or want to incorporate into our parenting. We include Bible reading and memorization, reading out loud (we are currently working through the Sugar Creek Gang books), any specialized skills we want our children to learn, music lessons, and any specific homeschooling goals. We often discuss gift possibilities for the year because we are intentional in our gift giving for our children, always seeking gifts that promote their education, physical fitness, skills, or spiritual growth.
We sometimes discuss our financial situation or financial or budget-related goals that we wish to set. We take a look at the projects we are giving to, and what we might want to give to in the future. Sometimes we set goals about how we can increase our giving.
We have our ministry at BJMBC and all our goals associated with that, but this section also includes other ministry endeavors. We list any requests for us to speak or teach in other places in the Philippines or in other countries and the preparation we need to do for those events. We also try to prioritize our children's ministries, like their Children's Choir at church and the neighborhood Bible Club our children minister in. Often we try to plan for ministries of hospitality or small group gatherings of one sort or another.
This is exactly what it sounds like. Surprisingly, we usually have many miscellaneous goals. We are both life-long students, so there is much we want to learn and accomplish.
It seems like our prayer and discussion times often result in a family or ministry theme for the year. One year we were burdened about strengthening marriages and families. That informed our acceptance of speaking events. When we were asked to do two separate weekend events on two separate islands, we knew right away that the one we were supposed to accept was the one that would further our goal of strengthening Filipino families. God led clearly through the theme He had already given us.
That same year we also hosted small-group events at our house for couples from our church to gather and watch a DVD series on the topic of marriage.
Another year our burden was for encouraging believers to plan their lives God's way. This resulted in a book and a seminar that Tim has taught in many places.
I cannot overemphasize the power this retreat has had in pushing us forward in our goals.
This isn't just about work. It is about reconnecting as a couple and taking a break from the world in order to focus on each other. It should be the most romantic, wonderful day of your year as a couple. We find this is often the highlight of our year as a couple.
- We have a concrete set of goals and a list of actions we can take to fulfill those goals. We print it out after our retreat and try to take some time each month to review what we have accomplished and what we still need to do.
- We aren't chasing other people's carrots. We can say no to certain activities because even though they are good and valuable activities, they aren't God's specific will for us this year. We are focusing on the goals God has given us.
- I, as a wife, am able to prioritize my husband's priorities because I know them. Men are really good at assuming their wives can read their minds. Sometimes we can. But sometimes we need to hear the words!
- Tim, as a husband, is able to dwell with me according to knowledge. He knows my plans and aspirations for the year. He can support me in them by giving me the time I need to accomplish them or by encouraging me in my work.
- We pull together as a couple. We aren't working against each other when it comes to ministry or finances or child-rearing. We have already discussed ongoing issues and how to handle them. We are truly a team.
- We get twenty-four hours alone with no children. Although we truly love our children, we also need time to focus on each other. We come home with immense gratitude in our hearts toward those dear people we have asked (begged/bribed/blackmailed/paid) to watch our children.
- The time we spend in prayer fuels our work and gives us confidence in pushing forward with our plans and goals. We take great courage and hope from Matthew 18:19-20, "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
I'd like to encourage you to consider taking an Annual Goal Planning Retreat with your spouse. It will be life-changing for you as a couple, as you take the time to plan out your year and your future, examining your life from all angles and making both long-term and short-term goals.