The Gift of Lonely Places

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. “ This passage from Luke 5:16 is one of many that tell of Jesus habit of seeking solitude in the wilderness.  Throughout the ages, Christians have heard and responded to the call to withdraw.  The dessert mothers and fathers, lived lives separated from the world in communion with God through nature some living in small huts alone in desolate places and others isolated in cloistered communities; all seeking the same thing, a deeper connection with their creator.  A connection that is stronger and more powerful when we cut ourselves off from the demands of this world and unplug ourselves from one another and immerse ourselves in creation. 

Some do this through a daily practice of contemplative prayer and can find that place of inner peace amidst the trappings of their life.  Some have a special corner, a chair, or quite literally a prayer closet.   I myself find prayer in my home challenging.  For me, I must literally “withdraw to a lonely place.”  On a daily basis that lonely place is a dock overlooking a lake near my house.  However, the connection to God at that place is often spotty with the interference of the daily stresses of life muffling my hearing and blurring my vision. 

Thankfully, I have another lonely place, far away from the world where there is always a clear connection and where I have never failed to hear from God.   That lonely place is a 22 acre ridge overlooking a small creek and pasture an hour away from my home.  From my tiny little cabin perched upon the top of the ridge,  I can hear the creek babble, the flocks of birds calling, and the rustling of the leaves in the tall hardwood trees of south central Virginia.  In between the melodious birds and gusts of wind that rustle the leaves, there are times, when I hear nothing at all.  In the dead of winter when the leaves have all fallen and the animals are sleeping, there is an eerie stillness that beckons all to be still. 

That is where I am today, perched atop my ridge, enjoying my magnificent view staring out at a world that has come to a screeching halt, a creation that has withdrawn and is waiting to be reborn again in just a few short months.  Soon, the grass will turn green; my view will disappear behind the growth of the forest that separates me from the now partially frozen creek. 

In it’s current state of nakedness and barrenness, this place reminds me of how life’s seasons are often short and fleeting but with each new season comes new gifts and new challenges.  With spring will come the flowers and the butterflies and with summer the black berries and the kids swimming in the creek and then fall will rush in with its magnificent color.  I love every season but am always waiting in anticipation for the one to come next.

Through the fall, Embrace was in a strange season, we have been dropping our leaves so to speak; letting go of branches in the hopes that we might grow in a different direction and in the hopes of reaching new heights.  I personally have had to go through some pruning; letting go of things that I know I am not called to do.  The letting go has been hard and painful and I have been very disappointed in my own inability to “do it all”.  In trying to hold it all together, I have reached a point of exhaustion and have felt like I am drowning. 

However, this week was a turning point; this week I was able to sit with someone much better equipped than I who will take on some of the branches of our ministry; someone much more called to those branches than I and someone whom I deeply love, respect and trust to carry those branches from here.  I do not know how long God will allow this person to be a part of our ministry team, but I know if I am to grow to become the person God has called me to become, I need to let go and there is no one whom I would rather hand my baby over to. 

Today I sit in this place feeling lighter and more hopeful than I have been in years.  Like these trees that stand before me stripped of their foliage, I can come to God today having let go of everything and in anticipation of the movement of the spirit that I know will cloth me anew with freshness and brilliant new color for a new season.

What will this new season bring?  I have no idea, but I know it will require me to grow and find the courage to try new things.  I just celebrated my 42nd birthday and I am finding growth and change to be more difficult than they used to be.  However, as challenging as this new spring season will be, I know it is nothing compared to the pain of the season of release. 

We all go through seasons of release.  For those of you who are parents of teens, you know the pain of this season all too well.  For those of you who have had to remove yourself from toxic relationships, you know this pain of separation.  I know during this difficult time many people are being forced to let go of their businessess, employment and economic stability.  And there are those of you who like me have seen your life’s work blossom and grow to the point that it has outgrown you and in order for it to continue to grow you must let it go.  No matter what you are letting go of, the pain is inescapable.  However, as I sit allowing God’s creation to teach me, the wisdom of these ancient lofty barren trees reminds me that a new season is on the way, and if we persevere, we too will receive the beautiful gifts of springtime.

I pray you all find time this week to withdraw to a lonely place and allow it to impart its gift to you.

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