“…You don’t answer to a wide swath of people and their opinions, even if they’re good people, with good opinions. You were made by hand with great love by the God of the universe, and he planted deep inside of you a set of loves and dreams and idiosyncrasies, and you can ignore them as long as you want, but they will at some point start yelling. Worse than that, if you ignore them long enough, they will go silent, and that’s a real tragedy.”
These sentences in Shauna Niequist’s book, Present Over Perfect, hit me hard. I’ve known, deep in my heart, for decades, that the only One I answer to is the God who created me, knows me and has only the best for me. So, why does my time constantly get filled up with the wide swath of others?
I was reminded recently of a time when I was introduced to an experience where solitude with God produced an awareness of God’s delight in me like nothing else. I had just finished my sophomore year in college and decided to spend the summer working at a camp called Spring Hill in Michigan. Our Director, Mark, would lead the twelve of us, his leadership team, on a solitude hike, each of us having only a blanket, bug spray and our Bible in hand.
With only the sound of our feet on the ground beneath us, he would stop and point to a tree, long off the path, to the next person in line. This would be their designated solitude spot for the next three hours, when we were “picked up” by the same hiking line in which we entered. It was risky, as a director, to go to such lengths to serve up such a solitude “table” for us, but I am forever grateful he did.
This was in the late 80’s – long before solitude retreats, mindfulness apps, life maps or any of the sophisticated, organized retreats I’ve attended in recent years. I even recall bringing a canteen since bottled water had not yet been marketed. It was a complete “unplug” with a blanket as my only luxury.
But, what happened in those three hours long stays in my memory. The first 40 minutes or so, as Mark predicted, I slept. And his kind instructions, prior to our hike, not only gave me permission to sleep, but challenged me to relish in the much-needed nap. “This is your time to be a child of the great Father who loves you and knows your limitations. Cooperate with him and enjoy the sleep,” he would say.
Brushing off my sleepy eyes, I looked around at the beauty of my surroundings: the expansive trees and their long shadows shading me; the distinct sound of the distant blue jay; the tall pines swaying slowly against the sky. I felt small but deeply important, knowing I was not there by accident and definitely not alone.
Over the course of the hours that passed, the quiet served as a platform for whatever God wished to bring my way. Sometimes it was very little – a faint whisper of “Don’t forget… I’m crazy about you, Natalie.” Other times it was a more distinct impression of a tough relationship or what I hoped the end of the summer might bring. One time I did a handstand against the tree, remembering how I loved to see the world upside down when I was much younger.
Over the years, I took those same principles from Spring Hill and carried them into an annual practice. Being alone with God freed me from the numerous “shoulds” shouting in my head. I was free to be a child, without answers and without anything to prove. I’d imagine and create, dream and pour out my heart in tears. At the end of my time with God, I recall being somewhat sad, not that my time with Him ended, but it shifted back into a reality that was harder for me to concentrate on His presence.
“Be kind to yourself.” A couple months ago, I had put the written calligraphy card on my bookshelf to remind myself that sometimes the voice inside my own head is the worst enemy of all. Carving out time for myself to be with God is the pathway to kindness.
Do you know your path to kindness? Do you know the desires of your heart and what brings delight to your soul?
You are worthy of the journey to uncover it.