There are times when I feel anxiety rising in my heart. I’m not always aware of it right away. I
just begin to notice that I am shorter with the kids or less patient with Jeff. I may find myself staring off into space for longer periods of time or wrestling with thoughts that won’t stop having their way with me. Sometimes, I can be knee-deep into such an experience before I realize I’m knee-deep into such an experience. It creeps up on me. And as I begin the process of thinking, “Where is this coming from?”, I realize I need to get away for a bit. My present life is often too busy and loud for me to clearly hear what is going on in my heart.
Or…sometimes my ears…it isn’t that they hurt, but the background noise of a modern life can be so…relentless. So numbing. It can feel like I’m in an audio marathon, being bombarded with music, advertisements, demands on my time, traffic signs, internet stuff – all competing for a slice of my relatively small attention span. And it can feel like the part of me that manages my sensory intake is about to hit the wall at mile 20. When I get to the place where my nerves are about done and there is no more room for anything else to make its way into my life and heart, I realize I need to get away for a bit. That my external life is too loud for me to give my internal life the attention it needs.
When I come upon places like this on my journey, I realize the importance of creating rhythms of solitude. When hiking a trail, pulling off every once in a while is just part of it. Enjoying the view. Eating a snack. Putting moleskin on an emerging blister. Drinking some cool water and wiping sweat from my brow. My life is similar.
There are times where I just need to get off the trail for a bit. Maybe to rest. Maybe to reflect on where I’ve been and what just happened. Maybe to listen in quietness of soul in a way I just can’t when I’m moving so fast. Maybe to address a critical issue in my heart or life that requires more than drive-by attention. There is an African proverb that says, “Sometimes one must stop and sit by the roadside, and wait for the soul to catch up.” Yes, this captures it quite nicely.
Solitude isn’t time alone. It is time alone with Jesus. It is a voluntary retreat away from stimuli and input and a time to get quiet. Solitude and silence go hand in hand. But it isn’t really silence. It is a time to listen to Jesus. To ask questions instead of talking. It is a time to really focus in on my internal monologue, to listen to what my heart is saying, because it can get so drowned out in the volume of the very loud world I live in.
And as I’ve stated repeatedly in this series, it seems like a smart move to proactively plan these rhythms and get ahead of crisis and stress rather than react and try to recover, possibly after significant damage has been done.
In my own life, this looks like…getting up early (sometimes, not all the time) and allowing myself to enjoy the only truly quiet time in our house. Taking whole days on my calendar and intentionally not scheduling anything on it so I can do…whatever I want. Usually part of that day, actually a lot of that day, involves me being somewhere where my phone and computer aren’t, with my journal and Bible, and listening. To God. To my heart. And I write what I hear so that I can slow down my thoughts and fully engage. Sometimes it looks like taking a weekend and going somewhere alone – and doing what I do in the morning or on the day off, but for a longer period of time.
Sometimes, the things in my heart that I am looking for will only emerge with a long time to warm up. With the welcome that not rushing and my full attention can give. Sort of like how conversations work. You may talk with a friend for 5 minutes every day. It is a daily relationship. But it will never get deeper than you can go in 5 minutes time. And that isn’t very deep. However, there are some conversations that can take hours, days even to unfold to their richest point. It takes a while to get through the introductory/mandatory small talk that warms up our hearts. It takes time to progressively build trust, to relax, to move through the lead-up issues that lead up to THE ISSUE you both really want/need to talk about. A rhythm of solitude should include all three time cycles. Daily or several times a week, maybe monthly and then occasionally those longer stretches of time that show up on a calendar once or maybe twice a year if you are lucky -and don’t have young kids.
In fact, I often look at my calendar from 10,000 feet, from the monthly and yearly perspective, and think, “Where are the breaks? The rest pauses to get alone, to do my heart work, to really listen to what my Jesus might want to say to me?” And if I go too long without it in my schedule, I notice it. Because I’m anxious. Short with the kids or with Jeff. I sense that something isn’t right within me. So, I move some things on my calendar around till the time is there. I’m never too busy to eat. Never too busy to sleep. So why on earth would I ever be too busy to take care of my soul?
A regular rhythm of solitude, of pulling back from the busyness of the world can be a life saving discipline.
Mk 1:35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.