I’ve often encouraged others to “come apart before you fall apart.” As 2019 dawned, I realized it was my turn to do just that.
When I chose to “hibernate” for the month of January, my intention was to deliberately live quietly, offline, and mostly out of touch. I continued much of my work and daily life responsibilities, but did relocate part of the month – primarily for my husband’s recovery from recent brain surgery.
There is no one formula for such a time of desperate respite. Because mine came at the first of a new year, it was for me a time to pray, plan and purpose for the days ahead. But it can also look like a weekend retreat or even one day away at a local monastery. Whatever form your time apart takes, God can use those moments to restore your soul.
Home now, I’m grateful for the following benefits of my time apart:
- Rest is good for both body and brain. Most of us know this, but often resist tending to our own needs. Richard Foster observed, “I have discovered that the most difficult problem is not finding the time but convincing myself that this is important enough to set apart the time.” In our currently sleep-deprived culture, health experts agree that “a good night’s sleep helps foster both mental and emotional resilience. On the other hand, chronic sleep disruptions set the stage for negative thinking and emotional vulnerability.” (Harvard Health) Late last year I began to manifest being overstressed and exhausted. As I listened to my husband’s neurologist speak of how important it is to rest both body and brain, the thought occurred, Perhaps I need to recover from his brain surgery. “When our brain enters the rest circuit, we don’t actually rest, we move into a highly intelligent, self-reflective, directed state. And the more often we go there, the more we get in touch with the deep, spiritual part of who we are.” (Dr. Caroline Leaf, “Switch on Your Brain”) Time apart gave me the freedom to sleep, nap, rest my mind and actually become more creative and energetic at the same time.
- Without the daily bombardment of social media updates, I am free from FOMO (fear of missing out) and the temptation to compare myself to others and comment on everything in the world. In “A Liturgy for Arriving at the Ocean” I prayed, “May the stresses of obligation, reputation, and deadline here dissolve. May we find rest in the renewed certainty that we need not be feared or respected or popular or successful or somehow perfect, to be loved by You. There is no striving here at the end of our limits…” (“Every Moment Holy”) I recognize that there is a place for digital life and I have now jumped back in somewhat tentatively. But in the absence of it, I discovered that a healthy balance emerges in recognizing that “the bright lights of social media can blind us to our primary identity as the beloved.”
- Only in silence and “wilderness” places can I truly hear God’s whisper. I long to hear from God but sometimes the noise in my normal life drowns out important truth. It’s no wonder that He often speaks loudest when we are far from all those things that prop us up. I’ve learned there is great benefit to just being still – sitting on a bench and doing nothing. God spoke to Moses in the wilderness and I clearly heard His voice in some wild places this month. “Wherever we are and whatever we are doing, God invites us to the far side of the wilderness to commune with Him. Saying yes to that invitation requires a willingness to step away from the noise, distractions, and demands of our daily life, at least for a little while.” (Michelle deRusha, “True You”)
- Vital connections are made during face-to-face time with loved ones and significant friends. Perhaps the best parts of my month were actually spent in community. Both Drs. Henry Cloud and John Townsend encourage deep relationships with those who “1) draw us closer to God, 2) draw us closer to others, and 3) draw us closer to our authentic selves.” (“Safe People”) If married, then time with our spouse is always a priority and a privilege. After surviving a challenging year, Mike and I were grateful for time together to reflect, renew and recharge. I also spent a week (for the eleventh year in a row) in prayer and fellowship with godly women who know me well. These kindred spirit sisters remind me of Eugene Peterson’s glorious description: “And then someone enters our life who isn’t looking for someone to use, is leisurely enough to find out what’s really going on in us, is secure enough not to exploit our weaknesses or attack our strengths, recognizes our inner life and understands the difficulty of living out our inner convictions, confirms what’s deepest within us. A friend.” (“Leap Over a Wall”)
- I find wisdom in embracing the paradox of productivity during such a season. Truth is that (even whilst on a book deadline) I had to realize that though few words were written during my time apart, many words were being lived out and others marinating for eventual release. I often think of this reminder from John Ruskin: “There is no music in a rest, but there is the making of music in it. In our whole life-melody the music is broken off here and there by ‘rests,’ and we foolishly think we have come to the end of the tune. Not without design does God write the music of our lives. But be it ours to learn the tune, and not be dismayed at the ‘rests.’ They are not to be slurred over nor to be omitted, nor to destroy the melody, nor to change the keynote. If we look up, God Himself will beat the time for us. With the eye on Him, we shall strike the next note full and clear.” As with much of life, there is often more going on than is outwardly evident.
- My prayer life becomes richer when I have the freedom of fewer “to do” lists competing for my attention. For someone who occasionally struggles with focus while praying, a time apart can provide (mostly) uninterrupted spaces and seasons to pray continually. I also love to pull out treasured prayer books and lift up words prayed through the centuries. While at the beach I turned to this prayer from St. Aidan of Lindisfarne (590-651 AD) “Leave me alone with God as much as may be. As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, Make me an island set apart, Alone with You, O God, holy to You. Then with the turning of the tide Prepare me to carry Your presence to the busy world beyond, The world that rushes in on me, Till the waters come again and take me back to You.” This month I also enjoyed many of the liturgies from “Every Moment Holy” — “In our days away let us play together. Let us laugh together. Let us be moved to speak such meaningful words as ought to be spoken among family and friends. Let us linger long at tables and drink deeply of one another’s company, enjoying each for who they are with the steady pressures of our ordinary days now lifted.” (Douglas McKelvey, 2017) My prayerful conversations with God were quieter but deeper.
- Words and songs of gratitude became my mantra. Over and over I thanked God not only for all He continues to give and do and be for me, but for the absolute undeserved grace gift of this time apart. Australian novelist Morris West suggests that at a certain age our lives simplify and we need have only three phrases left in our spiritual vocabulary: “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” That is exactly how I feel in this season of my life, but it sometimes takes a new perspective to recharge me back to constant praise. Though I’ve always read at least one Psalm a day, I’ve been inspired to dig even deeper in this amazingly poetical and praise-worthy book. A dying woman once told my author friend Barbara Mahany “If you love the life you have, please, please, please practice gratitude. Wake up every morning acknowledging just how much beauty is in your world. Pay attention to it, honor it and keep your heart and your eyes wide open. You won’t regret it.” (“The Blessings of Motherprayer”) Yes, Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!
Would you like to embrace some of these amazing benefits of a time apart?
The sad reason most people don’t do such a thing is often guilt. Natasha Sistrunk Robinson confirms that “God has designed humans for sacred rhythms that include rest. Whether it’s a spiritual retreat, an engaging and nurturing conference, a fellowship dinner or a girl’s night out, taking time to rest, relax and focus on the Lord is important for our soul’s care. We must make life-giving choices to rest and retreat so we can faithfully continue our work, and live our lives on purpose for God.” (“Mentor for Life”)
I hope you can schedule into your new year some intentional time apart. And I’d love to hear the benefits you discover in the process.
under the mercy, Lucinda
“Helping You Choose a Life of Serenity and Strength”
©2019 Lucinda Secrest McDowell www.EncouragingWords.net