Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Solitude, Our Long Lost Friend

I have an old suitcase. 
It’s battered, but loved.
It’s been with me since the beginning, travelled many roads with me, and it’s the keeper of my experiences. 
It lives in the attic of my memory, and I visit it often. I can’t resist the invitation to climb those familiar stairs, turn the key in that old lock, and fossick through bygone days.

I’d like to take you there today.
You've been on my mind.
I've had a stirring in my spirit these past few days, and I need to find some images, some recollections of the past. There’s something I want to show you, snapshots of experience.
Come. Sit for a while.

Ah, here’s one.
That’s me, 18 years old, walking late at night along a foggy street. Those street lamps are glowing like eerie sentinels and it's cold. Winter. I’m accompanied only by the sound of my own footsteps. I feel a little nervous being on my own, but not so much that I hurry. I'm enjoying this aloneness. Solitude allows me to contemplate the future.

Here I am sitting on the deck of Triple 888, watching stars blink out their messages in secret code, listening to the gentle, rhythmic slapping of the sea against the hull. The sea is so vast, the sky so infinite, and I am just a speck. This experience was such an unexpected and timely gift. We hardly knew the man but he offered us 3 beautiful days on his luxurious $4 million boat, complete with captain and hostess, and so we've set sail around the Whitsunday Islands. I’m loving the isolation. Solitude refreshes my soul.

That's me standing at the window of an old mountain cottage staring at all those incredibly beautiful leaves drifting down, settling on the mossy rocks strewn across the garden. Autumn has always been my favourite season. The sunlight is blinking through skeleton branches, and I feel its warmth on my face. It’s refreshingly chilly outside, but so cosy inside. Ross has just got the fire going and it’s crackling, and hissing. You can see my journal there, on the window seat, and my hot chocolate on the table sending up smoke signals. This secluded moment of Solitude is offering me time to reflect on decisions that need to be made.

And here’s another Autumn, about nine years ago.
That gorgeous lake – with the stunning trees lining it, is Lake Okareka, in New Zealand. Our newly married son Ben and his wife Bec, have organized this beautiful weekend for the 4 of us. They have moved to NZ to take up Youth ministry, and they’re keen to have us see their new world. I sit at this window seat early each morning and bask in the love we have for each other, and find that my mother heart is beginning to refocus - less on what I have lost, more on what I have gained. Solitude convinces me that this ‘empty nest’ stage of life won’t be so bad after all.

This memory is very old. I'm sitting in a field at night. It was such a clear night. You can see the moonlight casting shadows around me. And the stars! So many stars! I once heard someone describe a star-studded sky as being holes in the floor of Heaven… I love that! I can sense the descending dew dampening my hair, and I can hear the rustling sounds of grazing cattle. This experience of isolation helps me re-evaluate my purpose in the scheme of things. Solitude is allowing me to enjoy where I am in life right now and remember that Heaven is my home, and my time on earth is precious.

There’s many pictures like this one in this old suitcase. It’s 2am and I’ve just made myself a cup of tea. My journal and Bible are there on the table. This is my favourite time of day. It was hard to keep this daily appointment at first, but after a while I found I wouldn’t miss it for the world. My children are young in this season, and I’m teaching fulltime, and this is the one  hour every day that I know is completely mine. This Solitude refreshes my soul, keeps me intimately connected to Jesus, my source of life. The gospel writer, Luke told me, "At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place", and again, "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places to pray". Jesus understood the value of solitude amidst the constant pressures of life.

And this one … another early morning snapshot.
It’s about 3am, and I’m lying on Rachel’s couch. Wow! What a day it’s been. My daughter Rachel has just had an emergency caesarian, and my first grandchild Zion has been born 9 weeks early. I’ve flown down from Qld a couple of days ago. Rachel’s husband Joel, and I have just returned from the hospital. We were not allowed to spend time with her because she was so ill. And Zion has been placed in ICU. Lying on this couch, in the early hours of this morning, alone with all manner of emotions vying for my attention, there is a moment, a split second, when a peace, a supernatural peace, washes over me. In that moment I know everything is OK. This Solitude silences the fears and gives me Godly perspective.

Oh.... Is that the time?
I could stay here for hours, but I know you have plans. Seems we need to close this old suitcase. Appointments are calling, people waiting, things to be done...

You’re probably wondering why I brought you here.
I've noticed you’ve been busy lately.
Really busy.
You’ve been doing so many amazing things - getting through the relentless, mundane, every-day pages of life, planning, solving problems, caring for others, meeting challenges, moving mountains ...

And now you are spent.
You’ve been giving, chasing, working, doing, doing…
And you’re struggling to stay on top of it all.
You’re running on empty.
Your soul is weary.

You need a taste of Solitude.

You need to find an empty street, a boat, an open field, an Autumn window, a comfy couch, an alarm clock…
You need Solitude.

“I don’t have the time", you say?
The good news is - there actually IS time for Solitude.
There is.

It’s not that hard ... try it.

Turn off the laptop, close the lid … and walk away.
Leave the ipod on the table, and walk around the block.
Try walking from the car into (and around) the shopping centre with the phone switched off and in your pocket.
Turn off the TV. Just sit.
Find a park.
Schedule a Saturday to go to the country, or to take the ferry around the harbour,
Keep the car radio off for a week and drive to work in silence.
Say no (politely) to that invitation, and that request.
Set that alarm – trust me, that 1 hour, in the middle of the night, when no one else is vying for your attention, will become addictive.

It’s just a matter of being intentional.
Making that choice to keep the Inner You healthy. 
Give yourself time and space to think, analyse, dream, create, answer the nagging questions, make that decision, or simply let go of the pressure and relax, refresh, refocus…
You will be surprised just how many opportunities there are in your day to catch a slice of solitude!

Don’t think of Solitude as a luxury. Consider it a necessity.
It's time to live a more balanced life, perhaps become acquainted with more of that unlived life within you.
It's time to become reacquainted with your old friend.