Isolation. After weeks of social distancing, quarantine, and sheltering in place, the word “isolation” may sound like the very last thing you’ll ever want to experience again. Ever. Extroverts have been beside themselves from “day one” of this totally unfamiliar state called “isolation,” and even introverts have begun longing for eye-to-eye contact with something other than a computer screen. And all those people who had been talking about “living off the grid” went quiet, seeming to have lost most of their audience.
The Bible often speaks of seeking one-on-one time with God, and Jesus frequently exited the frenetic pace of ministry to spend time alone communing with His Father. Jesus invited His disciples to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). Spending weeks in quarantine does not necessarily mean that we have been increasing our time alone with God—or that we came out of it feeling particularly “rested.” “Isolation” seems to speak more about whom we don’t see than whom we actually do see.
Have you ever considered a planned time of “isolation” with God—one that you chose rather than one mandated by government? For those who have never journeyed alone, such an adventure sounds curious at best and dangerous at worst. For the past 10 years, however, such a trip has become a focal point in my life—a retreat with Jesus that has become the very center of who I am and how I view the world. During that week I have no responsibilities and no schedule—and as an extra blessing, little cell phone reception!
When I head home again, I have cleared up questions, worked through anger, and spent an amazing amount of time with the One who loves me most. I come back feeling “still” inside, secure in the work He has given me to do, and sure of who He is and His limitless love for me.
If anticipation is half of the joy, then the joy of this time of escape begins at Christmas each year when my husband hands me my gift. I smile knowingly, but he always comes up with a creative way to express the this-coupon-good-for-one-week-in-Maine idea. He repeats his yearly quip that this is the perfect gift because he doesn’t have to enter a mall, it is always the right color and size, and he doesn’t have to worry about me returning it! (And every year I still laugh!)
From that moment I begin counting the days until I pack up and head north. Right about the time spring graduations are over, I am on the road!
My days in Maine are like no other. I wake up long before sunrise, so I can hike to my favorite rock and watch the first drop of the red sun peek over the sea. It is there in those early-morning hours that I most feel Jesus’ presence. There is something about experiencing the magnificence of sunrise alone with Him that confirms who He is as Creator and God of heaven’s armies. I listen to music that is sequestered in a playlist for this week alone—music that expresses His splendor and His intimate presence. I sing. I journal. I photograph. I walk along the massive rock admiring the view and talking to Him.
And as the sun rises higher, dispelling the sacred morning ambiance, I scramble down from my rock and return to my room. There I prepare simple meals, indulge in deep, uninterrupted Bible study, write thoughts and prayers on paper, and take out brushes and paint to share a tiny bit in what it feels like to create.
But it is the outdoors that is always calling me, and it is not long before I am pulling on my hiking shoes once again and disappearing down pristine trails of pines or hopping rocks along the coast. The tourist season in Maine doesn’t begin until July, so as I walk the empty trails, I just talk to Jesus out loud.
Before you go, think things through to assure yourself the best experience possible.
As I look back, it seems there is always something specific God is trying to teach me on our rendezvous together. One year, I had to struggle with my own heart, wrestling to release my adult son to the Father’s superior parenting. Another year, I felt hushed as He told me to slow down and look closely, not missing the details around me. Last spring, I, like Moses, asked Him to show me His glory—and I understood the copious nature of God in a whole new way.
Sometimes we discuss problems in my church. Sometimes we discuss problems in my family. Most of the time we discuss problems in my heart—and how I struggle to give them over to Him. It usually takes me two or three days to finally get quiet enough inside to slow my normal racing thoughts and actually listen, but during those last few days I feel as close to heaven as I imagine I will ever feel on earth.
Have you had enough of “isolation,” but need something that can fill up whatever it is that feels so empty inside you? It could be Jesus calling you a little closer and wanting you all to Himself for a while. But before you go, think things through to assure yourself the best experience possible.
Talk to Jesus about it. If this is a “getaway” for the two of you, give Him some weigh-in on the plans. He knows a great deal about timing and weather and other factors that simply are not available to you. Ask Him if there is something special the two of you need to talk about while you are alone together.
Choose a quiet place away from normal vacation chaos. Each of us has different preferences regarding locale, and you want to choose somewhere that feels like “a happy place,” but keeps the distractions at an absolute minimum. If you are going to a place you have never been before, research the site carefully so you have accurate expectations. Remember that your personal safety is always a primary consideration.
Research supports the idea that it takes two to three days to really break from your normal thought patterns, so plan on being gone at least five or six days.
Pack comfortable clothing, appropriate footwear, and any necessities you will need. Shopping is not the focus of this trip, so try to plan ahead so you won’t have that distraction.
Include in your packing the things that foster peace in your heart: Bibles, books, journals, pens, art supplies, music, instruments, binoculars, camera. This is your time to indulge in all the I-don’t-have-time-for-that activities. Before you leave, make a plan about screens and technology, leaving behind what is unnecessary so that you can truly “be still and know that [He is] God” (Ps. 46:10). Let your friends and family know when you will be available for them to check on you—but turn off your phone at other times.
Be patient with yourself as you learn to be quiet. We have very little in our culture that fosters this type of experience, and it takes some concentration and determination to stop “doing” and just “be.” Practice being constantly in God’s presence—and never let yourself entertain the idea that you are alone.
During the time I am not in Maine, I often go there in my mind. When I cannot sleep, I lie in bed talking to Jesus and revisiting the refuge we share. I close my eyes and retrace the familiar paths, reliving what it feels like to walk them again.
Stumbling down the rugged path, I smile at the vast blue sea stretching out to my left. I always catch my breath when I round the bend and see the mammoth rock in the distance, lying close to the rocky shoreline like an enormous beached manatee. Wild cherry blossoms scatter like snow in the ocean breeze, and all colors of brave spring wildflowers find ways to grow in the unlikeliest places. I weave my way between the rocks until I get to the base of the giant mountain I call “my rock.” Centering my loaded backpack, I start the familiar 75-foot climb to the top. Balancing on the narrow ridge of
rock, I jump up a boulder to a diagonal slide of limestone that leads to a small flat area where some scraggly grass dares to grow. Getting to the final steep ascent, wedged in a spiny crevice, I heave myself up the last 20 feet to the top. Golden lichen covers the rolling waves of stone, and I jump from rock to rock until I stand at the highest point. My backpack falls to the ground as I face the rising sun and tears roll down my cheeks.
Once again, I stand in His presence. My heart is at home.
Kandace Zollman is associate pastor for nurture at the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in suburban Washington, D.C.