I’ve always been a complicated personality mix, craving solitude while deeply loving and enjoying my tribe of people. As an introvert, I can spend days alone and still struggle when I need to “people” again. In fact, withdrawing seems to be my most basic coping skill, one which has served me well and ill on various occasions. Often times I’m uncertain whether I am engaging in a self-righteous pout, or retreating to find the peace within once more.
I recently told my husband that for the past year, I have felt like life unfolds around me while I watch from the margin, never fully a part of any group or event. Even my safe places haven’t felt as intimate or secure lately, at least, not for me. Whenever I feel this way, I focus on maintaining relationships, not allowing my fickle emotions to overshadow what I know about the true hearts of people who love me and want what is best for me.
I know this even when I don’t feel it.
My uncertain emotional landscape has forced me to be very deliberate when I naturally tend towards impulsivity. So when it came to considering Lent this year, I waited longer then I normally do, trying to keep an open heart to what God is speaking. I want to be sure I am not choosing based on my own preferences rather than the way He is leading me. So it comes as a strange mix of relief and trepidation that He is calling me to a period of solitude for this year’s Lenten Season.Like Elijah in the wilderness, sometimes we are called to be alone with GodClick To Tweet
I suppose it may be a bit misleading to call it ‘solitude’ since I will still be with my family daily. I’ll still handle my responsibilities in ‘real-life’ social circles, but solitude is the word He has placed in my heart. Even though I can’t withdraw entirely for forty days as some contemplatives are prone to do, I can shut out the loudest and most distracting channels in my life. I can rest for awhile from the battle between my head and my heart. I can lean into the silent Presence who waits for me to turn to him.
It sounds lovely when I say it this way, doesn’t it?
If only it were this simple. Withdrawing for forty days also means facing some of my most primal demons head on, facing them and hopefully vanquishing them at last. It means not basing my worth on what other people say to or about me, instead letting where I am and who I am today, Christ helping me, be enough. It means sometimes I will be lonely for friends and frivolous interactions to distract me when the days are long and frustrating.
Even for one who loves spending time alone, this period of time feels daunting. I spent the last year re-establishing my true identity, and now I’m going to live with her to determine how much of her is true, and how much is still a mask for hiding behind.
One of the basic tenets of healing is to surround ourselves with a strong support system, but there comes a point in healing where we learn to walk on our own once more. After my daughter broke her ankle last year, there was a progression from cast, to boot, to physical therapy, to freedom. I’m following her example in my spirit. If I am no longer broken, it’s time to walk on my own for a time, even while knowing help is not far away if I need it.
Ruth Barton says it this way:
The practices of solitude and silence are radical because they challenge us on every level of our existence. They challenge us on the level of culture: there is little in Western culture that supports us in entering into what feels like unproductive time for being (beyond human man effort) and listening (beyond human thought). They confront us on the level of our human relationships: they call us away from those relationships for a time so we can give undivided attention to God. They challenge us on the level of our soul: in the silence we become aware of inner dynamics we have been able to avoid by keeping ourselves selves noisy and busy.”
Lent has become, for me, a season not only of sacrifice but also of deep renewal. It is at the same time both work and rest in deep places of my soul.
Are you or your church family observing Lent this year? Or have you ever created space for a time of solitude? I’d love to hear about your experience. Let’s have a conversation in the comments.
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