The Annual Goals and Planning (GAP) Retreat: A Powerful Tool for Communication and Productivity in Marriage
We have found this annual event is the most important factor in the success of any of our endeavors as a couple.
As a couple, my husband and I have worked hard at communication. That doesn't mean we have always succeeded; we have had our fair share of communication mishaps, like most couples, where we plumb forgot that we hadn't mentioned to our spouse that company was coming, or that we volunteered them for (fill in the blank), or that so-and-so was getting married.
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 Goals And Planning (GAP) 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.
IS IT WORTH IT?
Years ago I worked at a major pharmaceutical company in America, and one of my responsibilities was to help my boss organize and run their Annual Business Planning Retreat. Employees flew in from all over America, taking valuable time out of their busy schedules, in order to gather at a conference center for a few days and plan the direction of the company for the next year. The cost of that week, both in time and money, was staggering. And yet, I have no doubt it was worth it.
When considering your annual GAP 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 GAP 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 GAP 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.
WHAT TO DO ON YOUR GAP RETREAT
Each couple will find their own rhythm when it comes to this retreat, but let me share some of the things we do.
THINGS TO DISCUSS ON YOUR GAP RETREAT
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.
RELATED: The Three-Part Goal Setting Series.
TAKE TIME FOR FUN!
We don't just work on this GAP Retreat. We also take time out to do some fun things together as a couple. Depending on where we are and what we have time for, we will play games, go on dates for meals, spend time doing a favorite activity such as swimming or hiking, or just go out for coffee and dessert.
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.
THE BENEFITS OF AN ANNUAL GOALS AND PLANNING RETREAT
Between you and me, this annual Goals And Planning (GAP) Retreat has been one of the best investments we could have made in our marriage, our family, and our ministry. What are the benefits we have seen?
I'd like to encourage you to consider taking a GAP 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.
How can we be wives who open our mouths with wisdom and let the law of kindness guide our tongues?
We love ancestral lore in our family. It gives me a sense of familial attachment and continuity to know, for instance, that I am a descendant of a Reformation Era martyr, and that one of my shadowy fore-mothers was abducted by Indians and wandered out of the woods several years later with a little half-breed baby. My father's family even has its own form of the "I'm my own Grandpa" story that requires a large whiteboard and several different colors of markers to map out.
But then there are those other stories. The black sheep legends. The dusty skeletons that hang out in ancestral closets.
For instance, from way back in my husband's family tree, the story is told of how one boy's mother came home from serving a funeral dinner at her local church and thus did not have her own family supper on the table at the normal time. His father was so incensed at his wife that he refused to speak to her for several weeks. Scared by the silence reigning in the house, the boy went to his grandmother for advice and sympathy and was understandably perturbed when his grandmother answered airily, "Oh, honey, don't worry about that! There have been times when your grandfather didn't speak to me for months."
Besides the fact that this reminds us that our children will follow in our footsteps, it also illustrates the wrong way to give your spouse the silent treatment.
Recently I experienced a sore throat and lost my voice for several days. My husband and children enjoyed it a little too much, I think, in spite of their professions otherwise. (My kids declared they preferred my normal voice over my hoarse whispers and randomly generated sign language.) But those few days had a profitable impact on me: whilst stranded on my isle of pain without a voice, I gave some extra thought to the power of words, specifically when I should use them and when I should exercise my right to remain silent.
In marriage, for instance, there are seven excellent reasons we should opt to give our husbands the silent treatment.
7 Reasons to Give your Husband the Silent Treatment
1. When we are tempted to tear him down, be sarcastic, or speak unkindly.
2. When we are discontent or ungrateful.
Women who are discontent may drive their husbands to make foolish decisions. Have you ever heard about a man who went too deeply in debt for a house he couldn't afford, because his wife expressed discontentment over their living quarters? Has your husband ever done something special for you and you "thanked" him by expressing your wish that he had done something else? If you can't be grateful, be silent until you can!
Ultimately, the surest way to develop gratitude toward your husband is to be thankful to God. (Eph. 5:4, 19-20)
3. When we are frustrated about a decision he has made. (Ephesians 5:33)
No, his opinions and decisions are not always perfect. Newsflash: neither are mine or yours. I'm blessed to be married to a man who asks for and wants my opinion, but that doesn't mean he always does what I suggest.
A few months ago my husband made a decision that I didn't like (after listening thoughtfully to my opinion). For several months, every time the subject came up, I let him know how I disagreed with him over that particular matter. Thankfully, the Lord convicted me about what I was doing and gave me grace to apologize to him and adjust my attitude. I ended up loving the choice he made. (Go figure.) God blesses us when we let our husbands take leadership in our homes.
4. When our words or tone of voice will convey disrespect. (II Samuel 6:16-23)
Ask Michal if disrespectful words are worth the consequences. When King David came back to Jerusalem with the Ark of the Lord, his uninhibited worship in the streets struck his wife as undignified and she despised him in her heart. When he came home to bless his house, she met him with a gush of pent-up criticism that their relationship never recovered from. Listen to the way you speak to your husband. Do your words convey reverence or disrespect? (I have found this resource very helpful when it comes to hearing a man's viewpoint on what comes across as disrespect.)
5. When we are angry.
Maybe he hurt your feelings with some unkind or angry words of his own. Or forgot your birthday. Or made a poor financial choice. Take some time to cool down and control your spirit. Don't immediately blast him with your anger.
Proverbs has some choice words to say about anger:
6. When we have an unholy urge to blame-shift.
Blame-shifting is as old as the Garden of Eden. "But the woman You gave me. . ." "But the serpent. . . " We wives are not immune to the temptation. Just like Eve, when our husband blames us for something, we automatically want to respond by passing that blame on, either back at him or towards someone or something else. Instead, we should look honestly at our lives, evaluate the blame that is ours, own it, and confess it.
7. When we are tempted to ask a leading question.
Are your questions a test to see if he can get the right answer? We all know what this is like. "Does this dress make me look fat?" (My father had a droll answer for that one: "No, dear, that dress doesn't make you look fat.")
Maybe, like me, you start conversations by asking for advice you have no intention of heeding. "Do you think Junior should sign up for Little League?" (Because you don't want him to, and when your husband innocently says, "Sure," you plan to give him a bulleted list of all the reasons it is a bad idea.)
Just. Don't. Do. This.
We women are good with our tongues. We wield them with all the zeal of a warrior sometimes. It would help us to remember that "when words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Proverbs 10:19). Sometimes, in order to nurture our relationship, we should instead choose to give our husbands the "silent treatment."
Did you like this post? You might also like When True Love Doesn't Wait.
Ephesians 5:22-33 describes the beauty of modeling Christ through marriage.
Singers croon these words. Novels portray them as if they were a proverb. Whole movies are produced with this one piece of bad advice as their theme. And yet, it is quite possibly the worst advice ever given about marriage: "Follow your heart."
"Follow your heart."
Follow my heart?
That is all I need to do to end up in a marriage marked by commitment and fidelity?
My heart will constantly give me good advice about whatever decisions I need to make today?
My heart, which is wise beyond words, will always lead me in the right path?
This kind of thinking is radical nonsense.
Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
Is that the kind of compass you want to use? A deceitful compass that snickers as it points southeast instead of north?
Don't follow this advice. It is dangerous advice for any realm of our lives but especially dangerous in the realm of marriage. We are already predisposed to heed the deceitful compass of our hearts when it comes to the emotional area of relationships. Following advice like this can send us right over the edge of a cliff like a herd of naïve lemmings.
In no other area of life do we tell people, “Just follow your heart, dearie, and everything will work out.”
And yet, when it comes to marriage, we are inundated with books and movies and songs instructing us to ignore everything else in life and follow our heart.
Please don’t follow your heart. Not if it contradicts the teaching of Scripture in any way.
The Word of God gives you wisdom to follow. Follow that. Ignore your deceitful heart. It will only get you into trouble down the road.
I know the objection that plagues you when you read about this: “If I don’t follow my heart, will I marry someone I don’t love and live in an emotionless marriage forever?”
Highly unlikely! God is not a malicious Father who gives you stones instead of bread or a snake instead of a fish. He is a loving Father who knows what you need and what will ultimately please you even more than you do.
Wouldn’t it be nice if God spoke from the sky directly to you and told you who to marry? And then promised you a love-filled and fulfilling marriage of the sort that has you holding hands and kissing in corridors when you are seventy?
He doesn’t do that, specifically, but He does give signposts to follow. They are found within the pages of His Word.
(You aren’t reading His Word? That’s the problem right there.)
Jeremiah 13:10 talks about people who refuse to hear God’s Words and who instead stubbornly follow their own heart. Their heart that, a few chapters later we are told, is deceitful and desperately wicked. A wacky compass.
"Follow your heart” is possibly the worst advice ever given about marriage, but here is the best: follow the Words of God. You can’t go wrong when you do that, because God’s Word is a lamp for your feet and a light for your path. It will keep you from stumbling over obstacles and it will show you where the correct road lies.
Don’t follow your heart. Guard your heart. Follow God’s Word.
If you liked this post, you might also like:
Six Very Important Questions to Ask About a Potential Mate
and the Will of God series:
Part One--Sometimes We Ask For A Stone
Part Two--Why Did God Say No?
Part Three--Open Doors and God's Will
Being the wife of a pastor is a life besieged by the expectations of other people. How can you handle these expectations in a way that brings God glory?
They are the superheroes of the church. Piano player, flower-arranger, church secretary, Sunday School teacher, librarian, punch-maker, casserole-baker, children’s choir director, hostess for out-of-town guests, and often the janitor.
Woman, thy name is Pastor’s Wife! Stand up and take a bow (before you flop on the floor of the lobby in sheer exhaustion).
Pastors' wives have the dubious privilege of being in one of the professions most pierced with the unrealistic expectations of other people. (I’m sure being the wife of a president or prime minister carries some of the same challenges to an even greater degree. I’m so glad I’m not called to that, aren’t you?!)
Quite often these expectations are completely contradictory.
If you are the wife of a man in the ministry, you are expected by some people to hold down a full-time secular job (to support the pastor since the church can’t) or never to make money on the side (since you should not need money when God provides all your needs).
You are expected to both oversee the nursery and teach the children’s church, even though they take place at the same time.
You are expected to make all the meals for the church fellowships and yet allow all the other women to make their specialty foods.
You are expected to keep your own house absolutely glisteningly clean so that you can have company at any moment and yet always be at the church in order to meet secretarial or janitorial needs.
You are expected to rear your children in such a way that they will be angelic examples for everyone else, and yet be prepared to desert your family at a moment’s notice in order to meet everyone else's urgent needs.
These expectations from everyone around you could lead to stress, discouragement, irritation, or apathy. Instead of giving in to these natural responses, free yourself from the expectations of others and focus on God’s expectations for you!
The truth is, God made every pastor’s wife differently. Some are piano geniuses; others can’t carry a tune in a bucket. Some are natural organizers; others struggle with making their beds in the mornings. Some have secretarial skills that would make a Fortune 500 executive’s office manager blush; some can’t type and have to beg their teenagers to turn on the computer for them.
I like to think of pastors' wives as a bouquet of flowers in the hand of God.
Pastors' wives, like flowers, are lovely in their variety: all different colors, all different types of flowers, with all different beautiful scents. Some are tall, elegant, and reserved like a Calla Lily. Others are as cheerful as a daffodil. Some have the vibrancy of tulips; others have the delicacy of roses.
Each one is unique, with different strengths and weaknesses. And each one adds to the beauty of God’s Kingdom.
If you are a lay person, take a moment to look at your pastor’s wife this way. Don’t judge her by your expectations. Ask yourself instead what her God-given strengths are. And then watch the way she uses those strengths for the glory of God and the church. And thank God for her.
If you are a pastor’s wife, don’t be weighed down by the unrealistic expectations of others. Understand that people pay a high compliment to your role when they magnify all of the potential ways in which that role can be fulfilled. But filter those expectations through two things:
1. Your knowledge of God and His will for you.
2. Your husband’s needs and desires.
When God first made Eve, He gave her a high calling: to be a helper fit for her husband. That, my dear friend, is your true calling. . . just as it is for every wife.
Yes, there are many other ways of fulfilling your role. I have met pastors' wives all over the world who are fulfilling their roles in beautiful, unique ways. But don’t forget these two most important things: God and your husband. If you get those right, everything else will fall into line.
Live with that mission.
Before the wedding, true love waits. But after you are married, there are a few things that true love doesn't wait for. . . Read this guest post at Rooted Thinking.
In honor of Mother's Day, I would like to share a present with all those mothers who look well to the ways of their household!
I did a little math this morning.
If I have 8 people in my household and I serve each of them 3 meals a day, that equals 24 meals that I serve each day. (That part of the math was simple.)
Multiply that times 365.
24 x 365 = 8,760
That is how many meals (approximately) that I serve in one year. Wow.
Why am I mentioning this? Because all of that meal-serving takes planning. We mothers need to PLAN to serve healthy, delicious meals to our family. Whistling our way though our day expecting it to just happen is kind of like believing in the Big Bang. Wishful thinking.
Moms, we are the prime ministers of our homes. Meal planning is one way of serving our families on a daily basis. Let's do it well.
And this year, let's do it pretty with this weekly menu planning sheet. This will be available for download this week, in honor of Mother's Day! Download it for yourself or for a mother who is special to you.
Happy meal planning, Moms!
(If you will excuse me, I need to go make 8 breakfasts!)
So, you have met THE ONE.
Or you think they may be THE ONE.
Or you hope that they are.
But how can you know for sure?
This checklist of six very important things is a start to determining God's will for your marriage.
Tim and Laura
Timothy and Laura Berrey are missionaries with Gospel Fellowship Association. They share a passion for missions which has taken them to several countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe. They currently minister in the Philippines.
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