Balancing Solitude with Engagement

When Frank and I were first married, we went on a weekend backpacking trip in Rocky Mountain National Park’s Never Summer Range. One of the most amazing things about this western side of the park is that there are far fewer tourists and hikers. During our entire excursion, we saw one other couple descending into the parking lot just as we started out on the trail.

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One of the scariest parts about this side of the park is that there are far fewer hikers. When we set up camp, we were extra cautious in placing our bear canister far from our campsite. The only noises we heard were those of our hidden forest neighbors.

I had been backpacking before, but always to locations where we were near other hikers. It was rare to step out of my tent without seeing another camper close by. Even after hiking miles into the mountains, I found comfort in knowing I had neighbors.

This time, I was thankful I had Frank and wondered at the appeal of spending time all alone in the wilderness. While I love solitude and appreciate those moments alone in nature, I also desire the safety of proximity to others. Frank, on the other hand, couldn’t imagine a more wonderful way to spend his time than being completely alone in the woods. Even hiking and camping with others pales to a solo trip. (Something he hasn’t had in years…)

This first week of Lent focuses on Jesus’s time in the wilderness, where he spent 40 days fasting and praying before he started teaching. His 40 days alone in the wilderness is mirrored in these 40 days of Lenten observation.

Forty days in the Middle Eastern wilderness looks a lot different than a weekend of camping in the Colorado Rockies. We know very little about what happened during that time. Of course, the biggest event is when, after Jesus has already been gone long enough to be quite hungry, the Devil tempts him to the point that Angels need to care for him in the aftermath (Matthew 4:1-11). But what happened after? When I read the text, it seems unclear when this temptation happened. Does Jesus go back alone and spend another 15 days in the wilderness?

What this reminds me of is that, while I need to be intentional about taking time for myself in quiet and solitude, I am stronger when I am with others. The accountability of reading the Bible, of a book club, of mothering groups and texts from friends remind me that no matter what activity I’m doing or phase of life I’m in, I need others to help me along the way.

I think about Jesus in his weakened state being tempted by Satan. I want to know more. How would this have looked different if he had support around him? Would he have been as prepared to start walking and teaching without this solitude? It is a reminder of this balancing act between taking time alone with God and depending on the community that God has given me.

As I continue with my own Lenten practice of praying through President Trump’s new cabinet, I’m reminded that, while I may be taking time to research and pray for these men and women alone, I need to engage my community with what I’m learning. What is the point of these 40 days of prayer if it is only for myself? As I work through this practice, I am keeping the So What? part of Lent at the forefront of my thoughts. Where will this lead? How will I engage?

How do you combine time in the wilderness with the necessity of community? How do you intentionally engage your quiet spiritual practices with something bigger?

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6 thoughts on “Balancing Solitude with Engagement

  1. What a well-written and inspiring essay!

    I thrive in community, but only in canine community. Dogs don’t judge me by my rather grim and impassive mien, and don’t equate stillness of emotion with distance. People do, and I really got tired of trying to either explain or play-act.

  2. We spent a lovely weekend with friends who were in town. We went boating Saturday and stayed on the river because the ocean was rough for boaters. This meant our pace on the water was slower. Though we don’t see each other often and the conversation flowed, there were times of silence. Perhaps we were all taking in our beautiful surroundings or comfortable in our friendships. I find when people can be silent with each other its a testament to their friendship. It was good to have both the silence and conversation.

    1. Yes! I think my most rejuvenating times are when I’m with close people whom I trust and we are comfortable enough to talk and then sit in silence. Best of all worlds.

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