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.
A Man Lays Out His Battle Plan
Are you a man of courage, determined to obey God's commands? You need a battle plan.
He was the man who, above any other individual in Scripture, is admonished to “act like a man.” Joshua 1:1-9 is a direct charge to him to “be strong and of good courage.” God orders him to act this way in light of his gargantuan task of bringing Israel across the Jordan River and into the Promised Land. His beloved mentor Moses is dead. The weight of responsibility now lies on his shoulders. He is to take courage in God’s command—"Have not I commanded you?"—and face his task.
How does Joshua respond?
He immediately swings into action (Joshua 1:10).
He begins by commanding the leaders, “Prepare because within three days you will cross over the Jordan River.” What we must not miss is that Joshua is passing along the very command he received. God told Joshua to take courage and “go over” Jordan. Joshua has so taken courage that he now turns God’s command into a future tense verb for the people he leads: "You will cross over Jordan."
Joshua then turns to the Transjordan tribes, the two-and-a-half tribes that would receive their inheritance east of the Jordan River, and reminds them that all the mighty men of valor are to cross over Jordan and assist the other tribes in wrestling their inheritance from the Canaanites (v. 14).
If we continue to follow Joshua's actions, we see that right around the same time as his actions in chapter 1, he sends two spies to scope out the situation at Jericho (2:1). Why? Crossing the Jordan River will put the city of Jericho in their cross-hairs. Joshua is strategizing and thinking ahead.
Joshua also moves from the Shittim camp—where they had been for the last several months—by transitioning to the Jordan itself (3:1). He then readies the people (3:5) and instructs the priests (3:6). Joshua moves fast: he takes all of these steps within a few days’ timeframe (regardless of how you interpret the various “three days” of the passage, 1:11; 2:22; 3:2).
Joshua’s actions exemplify what a man does when he faces his responsibilities with courage.
The command had gone out. He had been summoned to courage. His spirit within him rose up to obey. He then proceeded to work through the steps necessary to obey the command—ready the leaders, remind the Transjordan tribes, plan ahead for the battle at Jericho, move the camp to the Jordan, prepare the people, and instruct the priests.
Once a man has determined to show courage and obey, he thinks through the logical steps necessary to accomplish his God-given task and formulates a battle plan.
Perhaps you, too, have made the decision to take courage and obey the Lord's commands to you. What is the very first thing you must do? If you are going to move forward with decisive action, you--like Joshua--must think through the steps needed to fulfill the task at hand.
This can take various forms, but it almost inevitably involves writing something down.
Each day I grab my planner or a sheet of paper and make a list of the things that come to mind that I need to accomplish that day. Sometimes something that needs to be done by tomorrow creeps onto my list, but that is okay too. There is nothing wrong with planning ahead or building a runway for the future. What I find is that making such a list gives me an objective target to shoot at for the day. It's my battle plan for obedience.
When is the best time to do this?
Some people do this at night so they can wake to a battle plan already formed. For me it works best to do it first thing in the morning, right after my personal devotional time with the Lord. Sometimes, to be honest, part of the list forms while I am still having my personal devotional time. While I am reading or praying, various things I need to do that day flit across my mind. I write those things down so that I don’t have to keep wondering whether I will remember them after my devotions. I jot them down immediately and then turn my focus back to what I am doing.
A benefit of making my list at this time is that I can take some additional time to pray through the list or even talk my list over with the Lord while I am making it. Nothing is so helpful as talking over your battle plan with your Commander-in-Chief! It is only in the power of His might that you will carry it out anyway.
This to-do list governs the actions I take throughout the day. What if you have too many things? What if it is impossible to do everything? I have found that having this list actually enables me to accomplish far more than I thought I could because I have a target to shoot at. It also keeps me from frittering away my time until I finally decide to launch into my day. It encourages me to attack my work and accomplish the most difficult things first by adhering to a strategic battle plan.
In addition to my daily to-do list, my wife and I take a twenty-four hour Annual Goal Planning Retreat each year where we strategize and make goals for the year. This long-term planning time enables us to break our large projects or goals down into their smaller moving parts, which we can then complete one by one throughout the year. This helps us to keep our focus on our greatest responsibilities and how God wants us to fulfill them.
Are you a man of courage?
Have you made out your battle plan for today?
What To Do When You Have Too Much To Do
Do you ever wake up in the morning with massive overwhelm, knowing that your To-Do List for the day is much longer than the amount of time you have to finish it? How do you respond to this kind of stress?
Here are four things to do when you have too much to do.
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU HAVE TOO MUCH TO DO
1. Give Thanks.
Give thanks for your long list of things to do? Yes. You can thank God that you have worthwhile responsibilities and relationships in your life. Imagine if you had nothing to do all day? It's not as fun as it sounds. There are people in this world who just stand by and wish for a job, for a spouse, for children, for worthwhile activity, or for a goal to pursue. For whatever reason, they don't have that. Maybe they don't have the skills to do a job like yours. Maybe they don't have the education. Perhaps they are aimless, with no goals and no purpose. Or maybe their ill-health prevents them from being able to work. The first thing to do on a very busy day is to thank God for the privilege of responsibility!
2. Spend time with the Lord.
George Mueller addressed this need for busy people when he said:
I look upon it as a lost day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God. Friends often say, ‘I have so much to do, so many people to see, I cannot find time for Scripture study.’ Perhaps there are not many who have more to do than I. For more than half a century I have never known one day when I had not more business than I could get through. . . but I have always made it a rule never to begin work until I have had a good season with God and His Word. The blessing I have received has been wonderful.
Reading the Word of God and spending time with the One who made you and gives you work is the best way to start a busy day. It will prepare you for your work and give you the strength you need for the demands you will face.
What if you don't?
Just as God has dealt with people who didn't tithe by allowing them to put their money into pockets with holes, He sometimes also deals with us regarding our time. Because we haven't spent our first and best part of our day with the Lord, we make foolish decisions that end up sucking even more of our time. Of course, God is gracious and He often helps us accomplish things even if we haven't given Him the first part of our day. But how wonderful it is to go into your day knowing that, although you may have a lot to do, the most important thing in your life has already been accomplished.
3. Ask yourself these Four Important Questions about your To-Do list:
Martin Luther is often quoted as having said, "I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer." In other words, prayer is the key to a truly productive day. Once you have asked yourself the four questions above and thoughtfully deleted, delegated, consolidated, and procrastinated, again take the remainder of your list to God and ask for His guidance in accomplishing the things He wants you to do.
Yes, life can often be stressful and our lists of things to do can be overwhelming. If you find yourself reacting blindly to this kind of pressure in your life, take a little bit of time to step back and look at the big picture. Give thanks. Spend time with the Lord. Ask yourself the four important questions. Then pray and ask God for supernatural help. Continue to pray as you move through your day. You are not omniscient and have no idea what your day holds. But He is, and He is very good at prompting you to do certain things at certain times.
When you take the time to do these things, even though you are very busy, your day will undoubtedly be more productive and less stressful.
Are you failing to meet your goals because of a long list of excuses?
This one simple mental adjustment will help you to banish excuses and accomplish your goals.
My Exercise Excuse Script
Laura to self: I need to go jogging.
Internal Excuse Maker: Experts say you only have to do that 3-4 times a week in order to see results. Do it tomorrow.
Laura: You said that yesterday, and the day before. I'm running out of days in the week.
IEM: Well, it's looking kind of overcast out there. It might rain. And you wear glasses without windshield wipers, so when it rains, you can't see. What if you step in a pothole? You have children to care for. You shouldn't do that to your family. Better stay home today.
Laura: Yes, I have children to care for and I want to be alive to see them grow up, so I'd better go today.
IEM: Speaking of which, they are probably going to wake up from their nap any minute. You probably don't have time to go jogging.
Laura: Well, then, I'd better go now, huh?
IEM: Remember the dog? He followed you up the street the last time, barking ferociously. You were terrified and if that nice man hadn't chased him off, you might be in the hospital right now recovering from rabies shots.
Laura: But maybe he won't be there today. Maybe I can carry a stick.
IEM: That will look cool. Go ahead. Do that. And then those construction workers will really stare when you jog past.
Laura: I'll take a different route to avoid the construction site.
IEM: Oh, and don't forget: your shoes are at the repair man, getting glued back together because they are five years old and falling apart.
Laura: Aack! I forgot about that.
IEM: So, see, you can't go. Told you so.
It's called ego depletion. After arguing long enough with your Internal Excuse Maker, you run out of mental energy to make the right choice (exercise) and decide instead to raid the freezer for a Dove Dark Chocolate Bar and drink a coffee or two.
At least that's what happens to me.
My No Excuse Policy
Something had to give, if I was ever going to succeed at my exercise goal. So I decided I would turn the excuse script off. Instead of listening to my obnoxious Internal Excuse Maker, I instituted a personal No Excuse Policy. I decided that I would not tolerate ANY excuses at all when it comes to exercise.
With my new policy, the Exercise Excuse Script doesn't even start running.
You and I both know which excuses truly are valid. All the rest are just a version of the "lion in the street" and should be sternly banned.
What are your goals for this year? Did you want to read through your Bible in a year, start a new exercise program, pay down a debt, or finally pursue a long-standing dream of yours?
More importantly, what spiritual task has God asked you to do for His kingdom that you haven't even started doing yet because of your Internal Excuse Maker?
Are you allowing your Internal Excuse Maker to run roughshod over you? Or have you found a way to turn off the Excuse Script?
Maybe you--like me--need a No Excuse Policy.
My new policy has enabled me to exercise six days a week (except when truly valid excuses come up, like sickness), and now exercising has become something I actually look forward to every day. Imagine if succeeding at your goals became that fun?
Oh, and by the way, that day that my shoes were in the shop? I borrowed my son's sneakers. They fit great and are much newer and cushier than mine. My IEM flipped out, but I jogged on air, not pavement, that day.
Try this one simple thing. Institute a No Excuse Policy for just one of your goals today.
Silence your IEM and start jogging on air.
PS--If you haven't yet formed a habit of reading the Word of God daily, may I personally encourage you to make that area your first venture into a No Excuse Policy? You will be amazed, as I have been, by the way the Lord personalizes your Bible reading to the challenges you face throughout your day.
If you are like many people, you made a list of New Year's Resolutions at the beginning of January.
How's that going?
Many of our resolutions are doomed to fail. 88%, in fact, if Wikipedia is correct.
We can try really hard to come up with ways to succeed . . .
All of these things can help.
But there one thing you cannot accomplish goals without: discipline.
I can have all the desire in the world to complete a marathon, but unless I lace up my sneakers and actually hit the jogging trail, I'm doomed to failure. You may desire a healthy body, but unless you exercise faithfully and eat properly, you are doomed to failure.
Discipline, not desire, determines destiny.*
My husband says that often. But he doesn't just talk it; he walks it.
I should know. . . I live with the man.
Discipline gets him up in the morning to read his Bible. Daily.
Discipline aids him in reading the Bible aloud to his family every morning at breakfast.
Discipline sits him at his desk in a pool of tropical sweat so he can study for sermons and classes.
Discipline requires him to reject fried chicken and eat its bland counterparts instead.
Discipline allows him to sigh instead of rant when a careless child breaks a window pane.
Discipline. Discipline. Discipline.
I tilt my head to one side and watch him. I was not born a naturally self-disciplined person. So I observe and learn from him. Since being married to him I have radically increased in my own self-discipline. This is all the Lord, actually. All grace. But I am amazed at what the example of one man has done in my life.
And my children's lives.
Because they are watching us, those little people that cling to our skirts and wipe their runny noses on our suit coats. They watch us and learn. From some of us they learn that church attendance is negotiable and that the Bible is the book to search for and dust off on a Sunday go-to-meeting morning. From some of us, I hope, they learn that the Bible is the treasure of our lives. To be delved into and lived by. To swim in and to drink up.
Maybe you have a goal to read your Bible this year. Maybe you want to read it all the way through. Or maybe your goal is just to read it daily. Maybe you have already failed in your goal, not because of a lack of desire, but because of a lack of discipline.
Well, get up. Dust off your knees. A just man falleth seven times and riseth up again. (Proverbs 24:16) So don't stay where you fell. Rise up again. Start fresh.
Today is a new day. So it's a new chance.
God's mercies are new every morning.
And all around you, there are people watching and learning from you.
So live a lifestyle of discipline.
Because discipline--not desire--determines destiny.
Other helps on this topic:
Do you need a Bible Reading Plan?
It's not too late for you to read through your Bible this year! If that is one of your goals, don't give up. Try out one of these six Bible reading plans.
Have you made goals for this year?
If not, it's never too late to make some. These goal planning worksheets can help you in your endeavor.
Are you determined to follow through on your resolutions or goals for this year?
Read this article by Michael Hyatt on How To Make New Year's Resolutions Stick.
*It is often hard to nail down the origin of quotes. I don't know who said this first, but he was wise.
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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