My Mom used to love solo travel. Friends and family would marvel as she hung some clothes on the pole she installed in the back of her Dodge Caravan, checked out some books on tape from the library, and just hit the road. She was fearless that way.
Mom also loved people more than most people I have known, so it was a bit strange that she would travel on her own. I guess she figured if she needed conversation or connection while on her adventures, she would find it.
And she did–so much so that she had friends all over the country that she met in coffee shops, at pit stops, or on sightseeing excursions. Sometimes when she set out on a trip, she happily anticipated visiting folks she had met on previous journeys and would plan her itinerary to stop in for tea and sandwiches.
I also have developed a love for solo travel. But my reason for traveling alone differs from Mom’s. My life in ministry is the most gratifying and exciting one I can imagine at this time in my life. But ministry only remains a healthy and productive enterprise with rigorous self-care and conscientious spiritual discipline. I’ve seen that those who neglect their own physical, emotional and spiritual health for the sake of ministry run the risk of exhaustion, burnout, and moral compromise.
My solo retreats have become a spiritual practice. It is a fast of sorts—a fast from conversation and doing. As someone whose day to day life is about endless engagement with people, tasks and words, it becomes necessary to stop talking for a minute.
I began this year with a solo retreat and enjoyed it so thoroughly that I decided to take myself away alone every three months or so. I choose a place with beautiful and interesting places to walk, because long walks are a given. I think, sing, read, pray, and journal a lot. My chief objective is to tune into my own internal rhythms moment by moment, and connect with the Spirit.
I only do what feels right, with no external demands. I talk with God, and I listen as he talks to me. I notice all the simple and lovely details of the natural and human world around me without attaching to them. Sometimes I find myself drawn into a conversation, and I can delight in that too, because it is spontaneous and light…an occasional parenthesis in the flow of my stream of consciousness.
In Scripture, I’ve been noticing the pace of life experienced by Jesus once he became famous. Because of his many miraculous healings, Jesus quickly became a celebrity in Israel. He urged recipients of healing or deliverance to keep quiet about him, because he knew that his fame would draw such crowds that ministry would become difficult. He often craved unhurried time alone with his Father, and on a few recorded occasions he did slip away.
Jesus also tried to serve his 12 disciples by pulling them away to the mountains, but the crowds would find them. Jesus’ compassion compelled him to meet the needs of the people before attending to his own need for rest and solitude. When his cousin John was beheaded, he was allowed no time to pray and grieve, but kept teaching, healing, and feeding groups of thousands.
I’m grateful for the example of Jesus’ compassionate heart for ministry. I also appreciate his acknowledgement that it is important to rest, reflect, and get recharged by intimate time with the Father.
To follow his example, I intend to work faithfully every day to love and serve those the Lord places in my path. And every few months, I intend to carve out 2-3 days to be alone and drink deeply from the well of God’s love, peace, and acceptance.
I share this with you because maybe you’d like to give it a try too. What could it hurt?