Healing with Solitude (Memorial Day)

On Memorial Day, we remember those who died in service to our country.  That is a unique sacrifice, which creates a unique experience of loss, and causes unique grief that deserves our respect.

There is no comparison to that sacrifice.  But a day dedicated to remembering our losses can lead to a reflection on other loss.  And in these last few months, our world has endured a lot of loss.
Most tragically are those whose lives have been cut short by CV19 and their families, or who struggle in the hospital.  But there also so many of what Dr. Rod Wilson calls “little deaths” -- losses of jobs, important milestones, physical health, social connection, and more.  So because it’s Mem. Day of THIS unprecedented year, we’re going to take a short break Joshua and consider how to start moving beyond merely coping with our losses toward actually healing.  

In today’s scripture, Matthew 14:6-14, Jesus’ cousin John had been arrested for his bold, prophetic work and is unjustly put to death.  Jesus’ response is a profound illustration of our need for solitude.   Jesus’ solitude made him available to God’s healing power.

Solitude is sometimes misunderstood.  Jesus often withdrew to solitary places, but not to be alone.  Solitude is not “alone time.”  It is time with God alone.  And after Jesus’ solitude with God, he would do remarkable things.  Solitude is an essential spiritual practice, and an important step toward healing after loss.  But solitude is essential for the same reason it’s intimidating -- it opens us up and makes us available to realities we might otherwise neglect.  First we’ll look at how those realities intimidate us, and why.  And then how being available to them becomes a blessing.

Solitude makes us available to our feelings.
Now, I love a good western. I mean, check out Clint Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars.   Stoic, unbreakable, strong.  Right?  Maybe, but also fictional.  Real people have two choices when it comes to feelings -- we manage our feelings or our feelings manage us.  Feelings in and of themselves are neither “good” nor “bad,” but some are pretty undesirable.  Most people don’t get up in the morning and say, “I hope I feel a lot of despair today.”  If solitude makes us available to those kinds of feelings, no wonder it’s intimidating.  It’s even scary.  And that’s the second thing solitude reveals.

Solitude makes us available to our fears.
Babies and toddlers ideally spend little to no time alone.  But there is one time each day when they have to transition to being alone -- bedtime.  That’s when the monsters come out, right?  And one of our greatest “monsters” is loss.  We spend so much of our time trying to avoid it, or at least trying to plan responsibly for it; but we don’t usually want to face our fear of loss.  
A few weeks ago, I wrote a devotional asking people to start their day reflecting on what they had been given by God.  I thought it would evoke gratitude!  But when I did the exercise myself, it kind of backfired.  I looked at my list and realized, to my horror, that everything on it was something that I would also someday lose.  Even, in many ways, “myself.”  And that’s the third thing solitude reveals.

Solitude makes us available to ourselves.  
Have you ever heard the saying, “No matter where you go, there you are?”  It’s a clever way of reminding us that we can’t escape ourselves. But we sure can make a great effort (like showing our social media friends only our best selves!)  It might sound strange, but the fact is that sometimes the last person you want to spend time with is your real self.  Especially when we suffer loss, our own powerlessness is the last thing we want to face.  Then solitude with ourselves doesn’t sound like a good way to spend a weekend.  
If you want to hear me share my own experience of being intimidated by solitude, watch the message from May 24, 2020, at UPPC.org/media.
The greatest irony about solitude is that the very availability that intimidates us makes it possible for us to encounter God in a transformative way.  

Solitude makes us available to God.
Not that that’s not intimidating.  It can be.  But when we remove all our distractions, then we can start to see everything in our lives in the context of God, who made us and already knows all of those things we’re afraid of...and who loves us...and who invites us to be with him forever.  
Then, like Adam and Eve, we realize we’re laid bare before God, and we’ve been hiding all this time in vain, because God knows right where we are.  And he’s inviting us to be free.
Jesus’ solitude made him available to God’s healing power.  And when we suffer loss, we need that power to heal us.  But then, like Jesus, we realize that God’s healing power is not only for us.  God makes His healing available to others, through us.  And not in spite of our losses, but because of them.  When we experience this, we’ll understand the words of Jesus’ cousin John when he said of Jesus: “He must become greater, I must become less.”  In the presence of God, everything about me -- my feelings, fears, and myself -- is able to be transformed.

Henri Nouwen put it this way: “Real freedom to live in this world comes from hearing clearly the truth about who we are, which is that we are the beloved of God.  We are called to let our false, compulsive self be transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ, and solitude is the furnace in which this transformation takes place.”

A few years ago I had the privilege of accompanying a colleague of mine as she endured the loss of her beloved niece.  Haley was only 19 years old and had the opportunity to travel and write abroad in Europe -- her dream job.  She was only in her 6th week when, on a weekend excursion, she lost her life in a tragic hiking accident.  I was so amazed at what the family did after their initial grief.  
They have a cabin on Key Peninsula.  They would spend weekends and holidays there, at the beach, playing cards, watching TV and just loving being together.  I cannot imagine how empty that cabin must have felt.  But the family made a brave decision.  They named the cabin “Haley’s Place,” and they offer the solitude it provides as a source of healing: “Haley’s Place offers a weekend of respite for bereaved parents...Your stay and all your meals will be provided for you free of charge.  There is plenty of time and space [solitude] for being kind to yourself" (http://haleysplace.org/story.html)

This Memorial Day, as we honor those who lost their lives in service to our country, and as we consider the other losses we’ve endured this past year, my prayer is that you will follow Jesus’ example and make time for solitude.  Not to be alone, but to be alone with God, whose love has the power to heal and transform us all to new life.

- What is the greatest obstacle to making time for solitude with God?
- Have you ever had a powerful experience of solitude with God?
- Do you believe that solitude with God can be transformative for you?
- Do you know someone else in need of healing, to whom God may be calling you to be an agent of His healing?


(cover photo credit Keegan Houser, unsplash.com)

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