Solitude seems to be a word that fits into every part of this African journey for me so far.Every turn and every corner leaves me with a gentle sense of seclusion. Perhaps it is because we live thousands of miles away from anyone that shares our own blood. Perhaps everything I expect to happen typically doesn’t happen in a culture not my own, leaving the constant reminder that I do not naturally belong reverberating through my soul. Or perhaps it is because God has called me inward for this season of life— to look deep, to feel fully, to think much. A season of inner reflection does not mean we fail to give outwardly or love beyond the walls of our home, but to take each moment as a message from God, a whisper into our hearts. “Talk to Me, Emma. Hear from Me. Quiet yourself before Me and let who I am become a part of your story.” Yes, I think that is what a season of solitude looks like for me. Being shaped quietly and inwardly by the character of God. By His constant presence and persistent beckonings to turn my heart unto Him.
As I have explored this new sense of solitude, I have also been on the most fantastic journey of becoming one with my hunk of husband and basking in that companionship. I have been surrounded by the most beautiful picture of the Church through the “family” God has given us in dear friends way down here on the tip of Africa. I have experienced deepening of relationships despite distance, had conversations multiplied with people that I would have typically lost touch with long ago, and been connected with encouragement from preschool classes and senior adults and everyone in between. It seems a bit of an oxymoron- relationships and solitude. Yet, I have found myself sitting with this solitude time and time again. It is God-ordained. I know this because in all these relationships, I find myself longing for time to walk alone with God. In all my conversations, I end up going back to the Lord to tie up loose ends. In the lonely days- yes there are lonely days- the flesh tells me to feel bitter. But when I withdraw into solitude, there is peace.
This has been a journey. This “okay-ness” with solitude has been acquired over time and practiced and practiced and practiced. It has sometimes involved loud, angry tears and other times has brought quiet, aching tears. It has sometimes involved wasting hours away feeling sorry for myself or trying to create my own sense of purpose. God has forced a game of solitaire upon me more than once when I try to run into company other than His. Nevertheless, slowly but surely, He has drawn my heart toward joy in this solitude. He has allowed me to rest and long for this quiet time between a Father and His girl. Just be with me, Lord. “Yes, My daughter. I am here.” Over time, that becomes enough.
As I've discovered this solitude, life has slowly transformed from a snapshot and into a novel. It cannot be captured in a mere photo, but feels as if it must be written about in books. It can be defined only by words that are rich and full of meaning. Something to be explored and meditated on. Read and inspired. I can almost smell the pages and feel the canvas cover between my fingers. This story God is writing in my soul. The story He is writing in yours. In this photo generation, we are constantly taking in images. Everywhere you turn you find a portrait of one of life’s events. Friendship, beauty, suffering. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but the story is still left up to the viewer’s discretion. This relationship. That experience. This moment in time. Smiles. Pain. Memories. What was really happening inside of you? A book tells the full story, with all the whispers and thoughts and feelings. All of the truths being written on your heart exposed before everyone. Yours and yours alone to be shared. Only found and understood when you take the time to look inward. To separate yourself and be with God. To let the author and perfecter of our faith meet with you and write His story for you on your heart. It begins to bring emotions to life and solidifies your story that much further. The truth is not only told in a book, it is understood. It is explained and solidified by your personal experience. Then suddenly, all of the snapshots begin to take on a certain meaning far greater than they were when they were only images. Picture this: A quiet afternoon at home, just you and the dishes, becomes a fruitful day in prayer and wisdom. Another lonely walk to the same old log in the sand becomes steps into the presence of God. One more day in a broken world goes beyond an image of poverty and into a humble recognition of our desperate need for a Savior. The story gets told and the author gets credit.
Solitude. It is the road to owning who you are, where you are, and what God is doing in your life. It is the pathway to experiencing God in the fullness of His presence. We must be careful not to mistake loneliness, laziness, or lack of ambition for solitude. We must seek out solitude in prayer and practice it, often times when it is most difficult to desire. However, when we learn to truly get alone with God, He fills us in the most magnificent ways and draws our hearts toward Himself. He helps us find Him again and again. He gently reminds us that He is our desire when we begin to turn our heads to the right or left, and He gracefully returns our gaze on Him. God is good, all the time. Especially in the moments where it seems He is all we have. Just me. Just Him.
Praise the Lord.