I set out to do something that once seemed terrifying and impossible. Three weeks ago, I ventured off for a few days of solitude. That’s right, complete aloneness. For years I have heard of others life-giving solitude experiences. So, I decided to give it a go myself. I set off for a Sunday and Monday get away at an Air BnB in Northern California.
Throughout the first day, no matter where I was or what I was doing, God was with me. It felt as though He had been waiting for me. I saw Him in the Scriptures while reading before bed. I heard Him speak to me while I was driving up the 5 north and when I was cooking dinner that night. I saw Him in the stars at a local observatory. I felt His presence while I worshiped. He was all around me. There was an ease to His presence. I didn’t have to work for it. I didn’t have to try very hard. I didn’t have to plan. I just had to be shift my attention to God and be S T I L L.
It was incredible to say the least. My whole being experienced rest in His presence; and I was so thankful that I had sacrificed my time, money, and comforts to spend this time with Him. I needed it.
As wonderful and easy as the first day was, the second day couldn’t have gone any more different from the first day.
It was a rough start to the morning. Sleepy, coffee less, and a bit dehydrated, I instantly burned my breakfast bacon setting off the smoke alarm. I then rushed to get ready (because I had woken up a few hours later than I had intended) and zipped off to another day of solitude.
I had it all planned. I was going to drop into a local coffee shop, pick up some much-needed magical espresso, sit in the warm sunlight at a beautiful botanical garden nearby while I read my morning devotions. This should be a slam dunk of a day, right? What I got instead of my flawless plans were bad directions, congested traffic, a car that was out of power steering fluid, and an unpredictably cold morning in shorts. Not to mention, the coffee shop and the botanical gardens weren’t open like the internet said they would be. Darn you, Yelp!
Everything in the first half of the second day was marked by S T R U G G L E. I had to keep pushing through every external obstacle in my way and battle my own nagging mind that was lacking the comfort and confidence I usually have in my routines and fail-safe plans. Every plan had failed, and I was in a town of total unpredictability.
After hours of weary wrestling, I ended up parked in front of a coffee shop I spotted from one of my many detours that morning. As soon as I turned off the engine of my car, my emotions burst through the scene like John Wayne in an old western. I had kept my composure all morning, but a full-fledged panic attack was mounting, and…there she blows!
I couldn’t get out of the car. I was too tired, too frustrated, and too afraid. What happened to the beauty of yesterday? What happened to the ease of God’s presence?
Somehow, I mustered the strength to walk into the coffee shop, and I spent about an hour sipping a double shot espresso regaining my composure. When I reached the bottom of my coffee cup, it was time to restart the day. I hit several more snags on the way to my next stop but set off on hike that followed a beautiful river. However, I started the hike in the wrong direction and had to loop back around setting me about an hour off course. Not to mention, it was BLAZING hot with sweat pouring off of me. Just as I was getting back on course, I could see the beautiful river that lay ahead glistening in the sun and inviting me to come and experience its peace. What a welcomed sight! It had a beauty and wonder like nothing I had quite seen before. I sighed a deep sigh of relief as I saw the majestic river until I rounded the corner to find a massive bridge standing between me and my desired paradise.
I hate bridges. I almost always get a mini panic attack when I drive over them. So, naturally I don’t walk over them. At least, not until this day.
Recounting every struggle that I lived that morning, I was desperate for the peace, beauty, and adventure that lay on the other side of my next obstacle. I took a deep breath and marched on. My knees wobbled a bit and my mind kept screaming “DON’T LOOK DOWN” with each passing step, but before long I was on the other side. Phew!
I began to feel immense pride in overcoming my fear as I hopped over a few river stones and picked a place to rest. As I sat in front of the beauty before me and dipped my feet in the river, I realized sometimes I need to face my fears, push through my panic, and not let obstacles cause me to turn back. Incredible beauty is on the other side of my fears. I need to face them.
The second half of the day went rather normally. I ate dinner, packed up, read some books, and enjoyed a local garden. Just before I went to bed, I wrote about the tension I felt over the course of those two days. Two distinct and utterly different life lessons, embracing stillness and pushing through struggle, yet somehow they share a common thread. The common thread is the beauty and the blessing God has for me. The difference is in how I get there.
Sometimes I need to still myself, sit back and receive the blessing while other times I need to fight my way to the beauty on the other side of the struggle.
The S T R U G G L E is my right hand; the S T I L L N E S S is my left. Somehow, they both work together in my understanding and experience of God. I needed both of these hands to hold the blessing He had for me.
Today you may need to simply still yourself and R E S T. You may need to sink deeply into Psalm 46:10 and be refreshed in knowing that He is God.
Or you may have to muster up for the mountains standing in your way. But as you face those mountains, be confident that “you will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands” (Isaiah 55:12).
Take heart that in both the S T R U G G L E and the S T I L L N E S S God is with you.
Jen is a pastor, worship leader, writer, and songwriter living in Napa, California.