We welcome Tina, 2006 Mercy graduate, as she shares a personal post about learning to find beauty in being alone. Thank you Tina for your vulnerability and willingness to share about what God taught you in a time of silence. We are grateful for your heart and wisdom.
I’m outside all the time in the day, and I love it. But it’s pretty rare I actually get to go camping or backpacking… and even more rare when these adventures occur for multiple nights in row…and even more rare that I would get to adventure all ALONE.
Just recently I had such an opportunity. I had a chunk of time off, and rather than doing a more extravagant travel adventure, I decided I would just jump in the car with a loose itinerary and head to Shenandoah National park, a place not too far from me, but one I hadn’t explored much. I didn’t necessarily plan to be alone at first. With all my hiker type friends, I thought for sure I would have companions; but such is life, they all ended up having other plans. Nonetheless, I decided to carry on. I am thirty years old and decided about a year ago that I wouldn’t wait around for people to go travel and have adventures (but I do love adventure buddies when I have them). Life is too short!
The more I started to think about it, the more I started to embrace the idea of having some solid solo time. I love people. I work in a “people job.” I have to talk and listen a lot, and there are also a lot of needs to be met. Well, I am human, so I have my limits. And before this trip, I was about at the limit. Going into this I realized I have never traveled and been alone without someone I know for more than one night in my entire life!
I started to get excited about the idea of going “totally off the grid,” away from people I know and all technology (because Facebook will eat your brains after all). I like a good challenge. I wasn’t sure if I would start to go crazy without music and my iPad, but I actually didn’t. My days were full of so many beautiful things. Three of the nights, I was out in the wilderness, with no one in sight, no cell signal, no road for miles. In the quietness of the backcountry, I heard things and saw things that I wouldn’t have if I was with someone else chatting (and scaring the creatures away).
When we are quiet and slow down, we make space for the Lord. I am so guilty of crowding the Lord out because of my busyness (even if the busy things are good things). So, I invited the Lord to meet me. I prayed “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24). It was not hard, where I was, to praise Him for His beautiful creation, so I am challenged to take that back into my everyday life where the “beauty” may not be so obvious.
I tried to hold my itinerary loose for this trip because I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I realize in hindsight, that was just a blessing for God to work. I realized very quickly in day one that the Lord knew what I needed. He took very good care of me. A lot of things did not go as planned or as expected, but I learned to see that as God’s provision instead of getting a bad attitude about “my plan” falling through. The Lord is doing some work on these control issues… “wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
I prayed small prayers for protection and for campsites and for direction and guidance. It’s easy to pray for the big things, but how often do we remember to pray for the little things? I think that keeps us closer to God. He does care about the little things, too.
I say I was alone, but I guess for those of you who want to get real technical, I did see other humans during this time. I was in a national park with some heavily traveled trails. There were a few short conversations with strangers on the trail, and one night I played cards with an old man because it looked like he needed some company (this particular night, I used a standard campsite instead of backcountry). I didn’t want to be so rigid about my solo time that I missed out on opportunities around me to impact someone else, and I certainly didn’t want to be rude to passersby.
I had a few interesting and some concerned (or maybe pitiful?) reactions out on the trails from people (mostly women) who saw I was backpacking alone. I got comments like, “You’re brave” and “Aren’t you scared of bears?” Or they would ask, “Are you alone?” which is humorous in itself. By day three, I was actually not going crazy but having a nice time, and I wanted to say to them, “Yes! It’s fantastic! When do you ever get to have true peace and silence? It’s amazing!” I wanted to also say, “No, I’m not alone. I have Jesus and bear spray and a knife,” but when I actually used that line, the couple didn’t seem amused.
A grand total of five days later, 32 miles of hiking, 8 bears, 3 snakes, 3 peaks, and 5-7 waterfalls, my soul is much rejuvenated. Although I am physically very tired, I am grateful for all of it, and for the Creator that made it. It’s very hard to describe and put words on the experience as a whole. There was so much packed into a short time!
I challenge you, no matter whether you are an extrovert or introvert: Carve out some alone time…somehow…including all technology, social media, texting, and music! How often do you really get to have silence? Find a way. I don’t think you will regret it. You will likely find some peace. Or maybe, it will make you feel uncomfortable, but that is important, too. If that’s the case, ask yourself, “Why does the silence make me feel this way?” We skirt by and cover up so much of our real selves with our hectic lives. Taking time to get quiet will help you see what’s really going on and maybe help you see what’s really important.
Maybe just start with 24 hours. Even if you are married, I think a spouse could respect and support that amount of time for you to give this a shot. Find a way with work, where there is zero chance that anyone will need to call you for anything (because if you are on call, or even feel an inkling of possibly being needed, then this will be fruitless). Don’t forget a book and your Bible and a journal. I don’t usually journal, but I’m so glad I did during these days. Earnestly ask the Lord to meet you there and teach you and lead you in the way that is honoring to Him. If you don’t know what you need, ask Him. If you really want to grow, don’t hold anything back from God. Embrace the aloneness!