Lessons in Solitude

5 01 2011

Early on a Thursday morning, I found myself driving through the Shenandoah National Park heading toward a secluded cabin and the woods – a place where I hear God best. The views were breathtaking and trees lending a natural canopy over country roads seemed to give a welcoming bow. I breathed deeply, felt myself slow down, and lifted up many “thank you” prayers!

I always go on these annual adventurers open-minded – listening for God…trying to be intentional in my awareness of the Spirit’s presence… discerning and seeking. I anticipate the melting of an anxiety-frozen body and the ceasing of a racing mind. So with a cool October day as the backdrop, mountains framed by my car windows, and  feeling the “Presence of Slowing”, I pulled into the cabin driveway. As I stepped out of the car, a wave of peace swept over me – “This is good…alone time…solitude.”

The first morning, I left the cabin at first light and drove to my hike destination – Flat Top…one of the Peaks of Otter. As I parked, it was extremely noticeable that I was very alone – no other cars…no other signs of life. I got out of the car, put on my gear, and stepped into the woods. I said the woods are where I hear God best. But this day, while on the trail, just past dawn, under a cover of trees, with overcast skies, and no other forms of life around (at least that I could see) – I heard many other things besides the voice of God…creatures my imagination conjured up from the fear growing within. The solitude that I so longed for had become loud and scary – the fear was calling my name. The solitude had become very noisy. Irrational thoughts born of this fear struggled for a dominant position within – looking to squeeze out any attention I would give to God; looking to push aside any awareness of God’s presence. Why is it so hard to trust God’s leading? Why is it so hard to trust myself? Why is it so easy to let distractions in? Why is Fear’s voice so loud in us?

My first day’s hike had not been what I had hoped. I rationalized, though, that it was being in an unfamiliar, secluded environment caused my distraction – never giving credence that God might be speaking even in the midst (maybe out of the midst) of the fear and noise within. “In the morning, everything would click.”

As the silent morning light bathed the room, I woke and felt anything but tranquil within. I knew the early morning would be a good time to meditate…to journal…to pray…to do something spiritual – that’s the reason for being on retreat! But instead I found myself straightening the bed (like who’s going to see it?), preparing lunch for the hike, washing the dishes, cleaning the counter, organizing items on the table…busy…busy…busy. Questions begin to raise their voices – Why do I not want to be with myself? Why do I shy away from God’s presence in this intimate place? Am I afraid of God’s presence? Am I afraid to be with me? Am I afraid of what I might encounter within my soul?

In his book, The Dark Night of the Soul, Gerald May says, “…Most of us live in a world of over stimulation and sensory overload. Without realizing it, we erect defenses against our own perceptions in order to avoid being overwhelmed. To some extent, this deadens our sensitivity and dulls our perceptiveness. We find ourselves no longer appreciative of the subtle sensations, delicate fragrances, soft sounds, and exquisite feelings we enjoyed as children. Like addicts experiencing tolerance – the need for more and more drugs to sustain their effect – many of us find ourselves seeking increasingly powerful stimulation to keep our enjoyment and satisfaction going.” (pp. 150-151)

I was in withdrawal!

I think “most of us live in a world of over stimulation and sensory overload.”  We do not know how to be alone with God or with ourselves. We yield to fear that drives us to “busy-ness”; that convinces us that we need noise to make life comfortable…more bearable. We need our “fix.” But, if we can slow down, if we can find time to be alone with God and with ourselves – I believe we will find true freedom, abundant life, and communion with God. There will be some withdrawal…our cravings are strong.

Questions can help us enter sacred space – Am I afraid to be with me? Am I afraid to be with God just as I am? No masks? No pretending? Not trying to be good enough? Not worrying about what others think?

Do we dare trust that God believes in us? Do we risk the change and freedom this will bring?

 

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5 responses

5 01 2011
Christina Cronk

Excellent questions, and I believe it well worth the risk. I’ve always wanted to visit the Shenandoah National Park. Hope you had a lovely time.

8 01 2011
gacochran

Thanks Christina. I agree…well worth the risk. Hope you make it to the Shenandoah!

6 01 2011
Dick Ransom

Greg,

I am more likely to find God in animated conversations with friends than while alone in nature. Sometimes God just barges in, during my busiest times, when least expected. But your piece reminds me that I do need to spend more time with nature. I have been neglecting that recently. And I spent the summers of my youth in the Shenandoah Valley with my grandmom, so that would be a great place to start! Thanks!

Dick

8 01 2011
gacochran

Hey Dick! Didn’t know you spent some time in the Shenandoah. Where?

8 01 2011
Dick Ransom

Front Royal, Virginia. My mom was born ten miles away in Bentonville. One of my aunts operated a general store in B-ville. I would spend hours playing her penball machine and drinking Mountain Dew from her vending machine (all with house money), and then spend the night in her cool home above the store. She operated the store into her 80s, and always at a mindboggling pace. Thanks for asking!

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