Solitude as a Spiritual Discipline

A quick check of the Cambridge Dictionary online for the definition of the word solitude shows that it is a word that means “the situation of being alone without other people.” Synonyms and related words according to the Cambridge Dictionary online are often negative in connotation and meaning, such as abandoned, castaway, deserted, lonesome, outsider, and recluse. However, one related word for solitude from Dictionary.com is withdrawal. I believe that solitude and withdrawal can have a bad reputation, however it can be a spiritual discipline when we focus on lessons we learn from our Savior Jesus.

According to Mark 1:35 (NIV), “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Sometimes in the past when I would read this Bible verse, I would feel condemnation. I am NOT a morning person. I struggle to get out of bed without hitting my snooze alarm many times.  I will eat a quick breakfast bar and then I am often late heading out the door to work, typically with partially wet hair and no make-up. The thought of having to do morning devotions or else I will be a “bad Christian” makes me feel inferior and like I do not measure up to the ideal Christian standard. Typically I do my spiritual devotions at night, and that is what works for me. I believe that one key point gleamed from Mark 1:35 is that we need to take time to recharge amidst the craziness of our lives. That cannot be done around other people; instead it is a spiritual and emotional recharging that comes from spending time in solitude with our Heavenly Father like Jesus did.

In our modern day era and the world of smartphones, social media, and constant digital connections, we need time to unplug. One practical tip that I have used to try to silence the noise and distraction of everyday life is to simplify my e-mail. I decided upon a total number of e-mail lists that I wanted to unsubscribe from in order to accomplish this goal. Then I unsubscribed to a small number of e-mail mailing lists every day in order to make my goal more doable and less overwhelming. I honestly was feeling overwhelmed with keeping up with all the e-mail mailing lists and numerous devotional blogs that I subscribed to. Checking my e-mail had become a tedious and time-consuming chore. However, while it initially felt hard to unsubscribe from some mailing lists that I really liked (such as Kohls and Bath & Bodyworks), it was ultimately freeing and a time-saver in the end. That is one tip that worked for me, but in a diverse world we all have different practical steps that we may take to find a slice of solitude amidst the busyness of everyday life.

Another thing that I have done to unplug and free up my time is to drastically cut back on my time on Facebook. Sometimes previously I planned to wish a friend happy birthday, and I only wanted to spend a quick 5 minutes or so on Facebook. However, before I knew it, an hour or more would have gone by without me really paying attention, especially scrolling through family and friend’s news feeds.  So I decided to get rid of my Facebook notifications re: e-mail  updates of the birthdays of all my Facebook friends. Now I try to go on Facebook when I know it is a close friend or family member’s birthday, but I try not to sweat it if I miss wishing lots of acquaintance friends happy birthday on Facebook. This change has resulted in more free time for me to read Christian and leisure books, as well as have more rest and downtime in my day. The decision to cut back on Facebook was a personal decision that has helped with my time management, however I believe that Facebook has lots of positives like sharing prayer requests and edifying posts and pictures. Right now I have cut back on Facebook for a season, but I know that I am missing out on life posts of friends and family so there is a drawback.  However, it seemed like perhaps God was leading me in this personal choice, and I had peace with that decision so that was important to me.

Solitude is a discipline that can be helpful for emotional and spiritual well-being through time to relax and recharge. It also can help us connect more with God. As we approach this holiday season, may we all find some time for solitude to recharge our souls, as well as have a refreshing time with the Lord.

Biography of Julie A. Smith:

Julie A. Smith has an academic background in Sociology and counseling. She loves to see people have their daily needs met physically, spiritually, and emotionally. In her free time she enjoys reading, hanging out with her adopted rescue kitty Colby, and spending time with family and friends.

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Five Traits of a Good Friend

I am currently doing an online Bible study with Proverbs 31 Ministries.  We are studying a book by a Proverbs 31 Ministries popular speaker and writer, Tracie Miles, called Love Life Again (Finding Joy When Life is Hard).   One of this weeks chapters is on conquering loneliness.  In this chapter, Tracie talks about how Jesus is our very best friend and has traits that can be applied to strong earthly friendships.

Here are five traits or marks of a good friend according to Tracie Miles.

  1. Friends Care about Us and Are Concerned about Our Lives.
  2. Friends Feel Compassion When We Are Hurting.
  3. Friends Stay Connected.
  4. Friends Talk and Listen.
  5. Friends Are Trustworthy and Faithful.

Tracie Miles friend tips are so good that I wanted to share.  If you are interested in checking out the Proverbs 31 Ministries, definitely check out their website: https://www.proverbs31.org/

I subscribe to their free daily devotions via e-mail, and they are some of the best devotions that I subscribe to bar none. Have a blessed day!!!

Inspiring Words from Lynn Cowell

“Sometimes, even when we do the scary thing, the brave thing, it still doesn’t work out.” That excerpt from Lynn Cowell’s Proverbs 31 ministries devotion today stood out to me and hit home. She was talking about courage and bravery and learning not to quit.

In moments in my life lately, I have really been tempted to quit and give up. I have gone through significant disappointments and hard times and people hurting me and letting me down. Lynn goes on to say in her devotion, “difficult times in our lives can be the exact opportunities we need to learn not to quit. Here, we learn to be brave and to do the hard things again and again and again. In the tough places, we can learn that our God is faithful to help us; He will never leave or forsake us.” I agree, and that was a much needed word of encouragement today.

Devotional Thoughts Based on Hagar

Do you ever feel overlooked?  Do you ever feel unseen, perhaps by your boss or with a promotion, in dating, or even by your spouse?  The human heart longs for connection, understanding, and to be known.  We want to be loved and valued for who we are, not necessarily for what we do.  It can hurt emotionally to have those closest to us misunderstand us or say unkind things about us or our character.

Biblically speaking, there is a woman whose story is often overlooked in the Bible.  Many people know the stories of David against Goliath, Noah and the ark, or Moses and the Ten Commandments.  Sometimes women of the Bible and their stories can be overlooked by the church and Christianity, and that is where I want to give a special shout-out to author and speaker Liz Curtis Higgs.  When I worked at a Christian bookstore, her books were often on our Top 20 wall.  I have always wanted to read something by her, but I actually never have until recently.  Higgs seems to have a heart for women and stories of women in the Bible in particular and what we can learn from them.  She has authored books like Bad Girls of the Bible, Really Bad Girls of the Bible, Unveiling Mary Magdalene, and Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible.  I found Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible at my local library recently, and I have been blessed by her wise insights and Biblical depth as I have been reading it.  She inspired me to write a short devotional about Hagar on my blog.

Hagar is a woman of the Bible who I speculate is likely not mentioned by many Bible pastors, priests, or teachers.  I think this is unfortunate, because Hagar is someone that many women can identify with.  She did not have the perfect life.  Hagar was an Egyptian maidservant to Sarai (later named Sarah), and she was given by Sarai to Sarai’s husband Abram (later named Abraham), to become another wife to him and have a child by him because Sarai was barren.  Abram went along with this plan, and he slept with Hagar and she became pregnant.  Hagar was in what most people would consider an extremely uncomfortable situation, to put it mildly (Genesis 16: 1-4).

I will sidestep the hot coal about why Old Testament times allowed men to have more than one wife, because that is something that I honestly do not totally understand.  I think that most people today will agree that having more than one wife in a home, or more than one husband, seems to be a total recipe for major problems, jealousy, and disaster.  Sarai began to mistreat Hagar, and Abram looked the other way, even though Hagar was bearing his child and it was not right that she was mistreated, perhaps even abused.  Hagar ran away, and it was there that the angel of the Lord found her and spoke to her (Genesis 16:4-8).  The angel of the Lord spoke to her and said, “You are now with child and you will have a son.  You shall name him Ishmael, for the Lord has heard of your misery.”  My Bible footnote says that Ishmael means “God hears.”  Then Hagar actually gave God a name and said: “You are the God who sees me.” (Genesis 16:11- 13).  Liz Curtis Higgs elaborates on this well with modern day applications for us when she says, “It’s reassuring to know our suffering never escapes his notice.  God sees and God hears.  Hears our muffled sobs late at night. Hears our whispered pleas in doctors’ waiting rooms…What comfort, knowing we are loved by a God who listens”(Higgs, 2007, p. 51).  

May we know that God cares for us and hears us, just like he did for Hagar long ago.  He cares what you are going through and about the hurt in your heart.

 

References:

Higgs, L.C. (2007). Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible. Colorado Springs, Colorado: WaterBrook Press.

Holy Bible, New International Version, (1973). International Bible Society: Zondervan.

Newborn Daughter

The mother looks down

and tenderly smiles.

She reaches out

to stroke a stray lock

of wispy brown hair

on her newborn daughter’s head.

Her husband sighs with contentment

and radiates

a megawatt smile

full of love and warmth

and joy.

He touches his wife’s back

with a touch of adoration

and affirmation.

“Faith” they both whisper

in unison.

Their newborn daughter’s

chosen name

is full of promise

of their spiritual hopes

and dreams for her.

She is their joy.

She is their pride.

She is their daughter.

The special bond

that they share

is a blissful moment

when it feels like

Heaven actually comes down

and touches earth.

True bliss.

 

Love is the Hope

The girl has a
hopeful heart.
Tired and forlorn
but still beating,
still prayerful,
and still seeking lasting love.
Love is the hope
of her.
Time smiles
and seasons come and go
for the girl
but she sees a future
in the distance
brighter than her current moments
and glistening with a golden sheen
like the sun and a thousand brilliant lights.
Love is the hope
of beautiful moments.
She is not backing down
from faith.
She is not giving up
having trust in her God
and His good hand
of provision for her.
Love is the hope
of God’s faithfulness.
Love beckons in the distance
still to be found and embraced
and toward that distance
she will go.

A Joshua Man Needs a Rahab Girl (Devotional and personal thoughts)

A prayer that I prayed to God about eight years ago was my desire for a Joshua man.  Joshua of Biblical times was incredibly brave.  He was amazing.  He was full of faith in God and was not intimidated by circumstances.  And Joshua was one of only two spies sent into Canaan who thought the Israelites could do it, aka beat the Giants.  “Our God is bigger” could be his and Caleb’s battle cry.  And even Moses, who God used to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt, did not even make it to the Promised Land.  Moses displeased God when he struck a rock twice with his staff when God had commanded him to just speak to the rock (Numbers 20: 9-12).  But Joshua had the privilege to lead the Israelite people into the Promised Land after Moses died.  He obeyed God.  Wow!  What a powerful picture of a Godly man!  Joshua has long been one of the Godly men I admire most in the Bible.

You know what God spoke to my spirit when I prayed for a Joshua man?  God said, “A Joshua man is hard to find.”  Yes, I agree with that.  Don’t get me wrong.  There are many great, Godly guys out there today.  But Joshua is a higher standard than that, and his faith seems like the gold standard to me. Joshua’s faith moves me and that is what I am looking for relationally and romantically.  Sometimes I am tempted to compromise or it seems Joshua men don’t exist today who are still single (or who like me and ask me out), but I know that is not true.  I still hope to find my Joshua man, or better yet, to have him find me.

Recently I began thinking, “What does a Joshua man want?” Immediately I thought of Esther in the Bible.  She was beautiful and pure and brave.  She caught the eye of the King when hundreds of other women were competing with her to become Queen.  Her famous and familiar line, “And if I perish, I perish” will always be engraved in my mind as the upmost example of courage and bravery. But recently when I was thinking of Esther, I felt inferior.  She was so beautiful.  I struggle to relate.  I believe beauty ultimately comes from within, like Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”  However I must admit that recently when I found some white hairs amidst my brown hair, I was mortified and most assuredly less than thrilled.  In my thirties, not only have several white hairs appeared, but my metabolism has been a significant challenge to me and it has slowed down.  Weight in my younger years was easily manageable and I stayed thin, but now weight can stubbornly refuse to budge in my hope to attain my desired goal weight.  This can hurt my self-esteem and cause discouragement.  I joined a gym last October, and while it has been baby steps, I have finally managed to lose around 9 pounds.  It has been a hard fought battle, but victory is sweet.  Along with weight challenges, I was also recently diagnosed with rosacea, which is a red face condition that can start in your thirties and can even cause puss filled pimples.  Yep, it can make me feel less than attractive.  At times it has caused my nose to even have red spots on the end, making me feel like Rudolph.  None of these things (white hairs, weight gain, and rosacea) help with seeing myself as desirable, especially in a look-obsessed world.  I’m slowly working on making amends with the aging process, but I definitely don’t want to let my self-esteem be wrapped up in my looks or what the number on the scale says today.

The main thing that I think about with Esther is her bravery.  I admired her because I wanted to be her.  Sometimes I feel like a timid little mouse, and many people don’t know that I was extremely shy as a child.  I was an avid reader and pretty quiet.  Even in high school, when I had a class and I was graded on verbal participation points, I had to force myself to raise my hand and talk.  I think I raised my hand to speak just twice, actually.  But I could nail it on a test when I was writing.  So, at the end of our grading period, I got 0 for participation points.  I was so shy and unassertive, I didn’t want to argue about the few times that I spoke in what was quite a long stretch of time.  I long to be brave, and I have seen growth exponentially in my shyness, but God is still working on me with courage and bravery.

But you know who I was just thinking about today who I can relate to?  Rahab.  Yes, I know, Rahab was prostitute, Even now, it seems that is how  she is always labelled.  But I want to point out that Rahab showed remarkable and exemplary bravery after leading a life where she messed up infinitely more than she got it right.  Her story is told in Joshua 2:1-24.  She definitely was not a pure woman.  And a prostitute would not be at the top of most people’s list for who should be in the lineage of Jesus.  But you know what?  She was redeemed when she made a bold choice to hide and save the lives of two Israelite spies who were hiding from Amorite pursuers. This was outstanding because Rahab was herself an Amorite, and she risked her own safety by harboring the two spies and committing treason against her own people.  This would have been punishable by death if she was caught.  Paul even gives Rahab a commendation for her faith in Hebrews 11:31, and she is the only woman besides Sarah who is listed as an example of faith in Hebrews 11 ( https://www.biblegateway.com/resources/all-women-bible/Rahab).  In BibleGateway.com, a keyword search for Rahab comes up with some thought-provoking things in the topical index, such as “hospitality>>instances of>>Rahab to the spies”, “hospitality>>rewarded>>Rahab’s”, “kindness>>instances of>>Rahab to the spies”, and “mercy>>instances of>>Joshua to Rahab” (https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=Rahab&qs_version=NIV).

God chose Rahab to be an ancestor in the lineage of Jesus.  I can definitely relate to her.  Sometimes I mess up 80 times and get it right one time.  (Ok, I am being slightly melodramatic).  But God sees the one time I get it right.  And he sees my heart.  And he sees me as His daughter, and He views every time I get it right as a job well done.  Sometimes I beat myself up for my failures when God has already said, “You are forgiven” and “Jesus already paid the price.”  God wants me to move forward, but often I am too busy looking at my mistakes, lack of courage, or my faults.  Looking back keeps me from moving forward toward the Promised Land God has for me.  I’m guessing I am not the only one. What about your Promised Land?  What is keeping you from it?  Today as I was pondering what type of woman a Joshua man needs, I thought about how if I want a Joshua man, then I want to be the type of woman that he wants who is an ideal, beautiful counterpart for him.  I can relate to Rahab.  She made a lot of mistakes, but she got it right in the end with a beautiful story of courage and redemption and God’s love.  Please know that God loves you in spite of your faults, failures, and sin, and when you are tempted to throw stones at yourself due to your failures and times you mess up, know God wants you to put down the stones and He offers you His love, grace, and redemption in Jesus.