On Solitude

Yesterday morning, I arrived at the coffee shop where I meet with my friend and coworker weekly for coffee and ministry discussions.  We’re both at a similar place in life — married and in ministry in the same small town, working with both our local churches and our para-church youth ministry.  We both look forward to this time to connect and talk and be encouraged by having a friend looking at life from a similar vantage point.  She happened to be running late due to her previous meeting running long, and I was presented, for the first time in a long time, with an empty spot of time in a coffee shop, Jack Johnson singing overhead…just me, a fresh cup of coffee, an empty journal page, and a stack of books.  All the while, my baby boy is rolling around in my belly, elbowing and kicking (ever-so-gently…thank you 21 weeks!)  reminding me that life as I know it is about to change in a drastic way.

I often get nostalgic when I’m alone in this particular coffee shop, because 7 1/2 years ago, when I interviewed for my ministry position in small-town Washington, I spent an afternoon alone, journalling at this same coffee shop, trying to discern if I would move to this town.  Over the years, the coffee shop has changed from a country-western theme to a more normal contemporary coffee shop, but the barrista and the coffee are still the same.  And 7 1/2 years later, it’s still me in the coffee shop, but it’s not the 22-year-old, recent college grad looking for the adventure of real life, it’s a 30-year-old, married, homeowning, mom-to-be.

Sitting in the same coffee shop, journal and pen in hand, feels grounding.  I suddenly feel centered and able to look at my life from a bird’s eye view, with a wide scape of understanding of where I’ve come from and been over the last 8 years.  I pull out Ruth Haley Barton’s Sacred Rhythms, which I’ve been reading slowly over the last 8 months with a spiritual mentor.  This month’s chapter is on discernment, which Barton describes a spiritual practice we use in combination with a self-examination, in which we take a bird’s eye view of our lives to assess where we are in regards to God’s will.

In the midst of this time and space, I’m aware of how much my soul longs for this kind of solitude, and how lately, I’ve not made it a priority.  In the course of just 45 minutes, my soul is refreshed, my heart inspired, and my spirit renewed with hope.  Again, baby boy kicks me, and I write in my journal, “4-5 more months, and then everything changes.”

I begin to wonder how a mom can have a morning alone in a coffee shop when there’s a baby to care for.  I wonder how a mom can make it to yoga class a few nights a week for physical rejuvenation.  I wonder how a mom can pursue motherhood, solitude, and a healthy marriage all at once.

The Lord doesn’t necessarily respond with a road map for these questions, but He does remind me that nothing can ever or will ever be able to replace time alone with Him.  And in the refreshing of my true self, I realize there’s nothing like the blessing of time in solitude with Him.  In my journal, I commit the next 4-6 weeks to actively pursuing the disciplines I’ve been reading about in Barton, through Solitude, Lectio Divina, Breath Prayer, Yoga and Self-Examination…all of which is a part of the process of transformation the Lord’s been calling me to this year: towards a deeper intimacy in relationship with Him which will hopefully lead to a deeper awareness of and discernment of His will.  This morning, Barton said that being open to God’s will means honestly being willing to be open to the Lord’s leading to anything–absolutely anything…and that solitude is the most important discipline in honing our understanding of His voice.

What does it look like for a mommy minister with young kids to pursue solitude?  I don’t know yet…but this morning I was wooed again to time alone with the Lord and firmly reminded that no matter how full life gets, solitude must still be a part of it.

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2 responses to “On Solitude

  1. I’m totally with you on solitude being a necessity and something we totally blow off. Just sitting still for two minutes these days feels like an eternity, but it’s the best way to start centering yourself and open up to the possibility of the discernment you mentioned.

    That Barton book looks interesting, too. Just added it to the Amazon list so I won’t forget it.

  2. Thanks Dan! And the book is excellent. It’s a different approach to the spiritual disciplines than the more well-known book by Richard Foster: A Celebration of Discipline. I’ve appreciated that she approaches discipline, not by saying, “You need to fast once a week and pray this long,” but rather presents some more open-ended explorations in which you can come to your own conclusions about how it’s best for you to observe the spiritual disciplines and still arrive at the end goal of solitude, care for your body, etc.

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