Sometimes we need to get alone, to be quiet, to remember that in the wide world we are at our very core a human before God. It has been a long time since I have had more than a few hours alone. It was three or four years ago now that I began this little tradition of taking time away in November. The bleak month that sits between the wild blaze of October and before the busy hustle of Christmas, it is a quieter month where the gentle woods in our mountains seem to open up and I feel like I can breathe.
The first time I did this a few years ago, I was in a world of pain over Phoebe’s diagnosis with an autoimmune disease and her very rough battle initially to find healing. I was more exhausted than even I realized, and when I drove that lonely drive a few hours away to a cabin in the high country I felt like I could have cried and cried for days on end. Instead, I couldn’t find the tears, the well of pain so deep. Forest fires were raging in our area then, we were desperate for rain, the air outside was foggy and acrid with smoke. I felt like it mirrored my soul. Parched, burning, in agony. When I arrived that first time in the dark of night, scared and sort of regretting this decision to traipse off alone, the cabin was warmed, a light was on, the table was set with beautiful handmade pottery and simple candles. I heard the Lord’s whisper: “A place has been set for you. A table has been prepared for you. Come, sit. Eat.” Immediately I knew this was something essential for my soul, whatever the cost and however difficult it was to justify the extravagance of a couple of days away from home. It was a very healing time in His presence. The next couple of times I have gone, it was been with a baby in tow, which is still good but definitely not the same kind of rest.
This time it felt foreign again to be truly alone. In college while teaching Outdoor Education, we understood and practiced regular times of solo. Almost every outdoor trip included a period of solo. A solo experience for me is always both painful and blissful. It is quiet and meditative and I can hear myself think. There is room for listening, for reflection, for long periods of being. But there is also the resistance to being alone, the scramble to fill the space with noise and company for comfort. (Yet also in my college days I didn’t realize how much time each day I had alone and in quiet. I naturally preserved a portion of the day for that because it was easy to do so, whereas now it is nearly impossible.)
Every time I go to this little cabin, I fear that this time won’t be as good, this time the Lord’s presence will not be with me, or that I won’t hear Him speak to me. Yet every time, He is so faithful. I brim with tears as I think on it. He always, always meets me with His word. Lavishes me with His love. I went with open hands, feeling exhaustion and pain over other battles in life I am fighting. Feeling the weight of my sin.
Yet always, He knits me back together. He re-members me in these sacred days alone. I am intentionally very quiet before Him, savoring the sounds of wind in pine and bare branch. I spend time hiking and sitting in the wilderness alone. I spend time reading, resting, knitting, praying. I fast from care-taking for others every waking moment, and it is hard to reprogram and let the roles of wife and mother fall away briefly so that I can remember: I am His and He is Mine. This must be first and foremost, He must be first and foremost so that I can be of any use or good in those other roles.
I find that when I am still and quiet and have space to rest, what rises to the surface of my soul and what pours out surprises me. He renews me and strengthens me by His Word and by His presence with me. I re-member some of who I am that gets lost and buried in the busyness of my current season. I am able to refocus. I am able to be a human before God. I receive His love. I remember the tHe
I came home on Sunday around lunch time and was ready to dive back into the work He has for me. I can’t believe how refreshed and cheerful I feel to do so, filled with thanks. How light the burden feels now that once felt so heavy. The difference? Rest. Perspective.
I pray that you, too, are able to carve out some space to be alone with God, to intentionally pursue spiritual retreat and also just the activities that make you feel human. I believe there are ways to be creative to make this happen, even in our most pinched seasons. It feels like a waste, an extravagance, a selfishness even. But every time the fruit borne of it reminds me that it is none of those things.
God loves you. God is for you. God is with you. O tidings of comfort and joy!
“Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving,
and great is your love toward all who call upon you.”
Teach me your way, O Lord,
and I will walk in your truth;
knit my hear to you that I may
fear your Name.”
Psalm 86: 4-5, 11
(A huge thanks is due to Brandon who fights hard for me to take this time away, is always in full support of it, argues with me to go when I try to bail, and mans the fort with ease while I’m gone. He is my biggest champion and support, and that is a grace undeserved!)