The Power of Solitude and a Silent Retreat
by Shelley Hitz
Lake Cabin I Stayed At
It's hard to fully put in words what God did in my heart this past week. It happened in nature and solitude. A retreat in a lake cabin in Minnesota where some friends we met on one of our speaking engagements invited me to stay...what a blessing to have this time to unplug from the world in order to plug into Jesus.
Because I am an extrovert and get energy from being around people, spending time by myself in solitude is often difficult. It takes some time for the waters of my soul to settle in order to hear from God. And this time was no different. It was awkward at first and I found myself missing my husband. I had dropped him and his friend David off at the Boundary Waters for a canoeing/wilderness trip on Sunday morning and then drove to the lake cabin by myself. I had no way to even call my husband and talk because he didn't get cell phone reception where he was canoeing and camping. Nevertheless, this time of solitude ended up being very fruitful in my heart.
Have you ever thought about taking a retreat by yourself to practice solitude? If not, I encourage you to try it! Even if only for a few hours in a local park or a few days in a retreat center, it can be a powerful time of spiritual growth in your life. I know every time I have taken time for solitude, it has been impactful. My first retreat was less than two full days and I think that was all the time by myself I could handle. But, some very significant healing happened on that trip from some hurts of the past.
So, what a blessing it was to have this time of solitude with God in nature once again. My favorite time of the day was waking up to watch the beautiful sunrises over the lake and listening to the loons. So. Very. Peaceful.
I recently was inspired to re-read the book about Keith Green's life called, "No Compromise." He was a popular and controversial Christian musician in the late 70's that tragically died at the age of 28 in a plane accident along with two of his young children. His story is a powerful story of his spiritual journey that led him to Christ and the ministry God gave him through his music and preaching. Very inspirational.
There is a section of his book where he talks about a breakthrough that happened in his life. He was reading a chapter in a book by Charles Finney called, "Breaking Up the Fallow Ground" based on Hosea 10:12, "break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes." He describes fallow or unplowed ground as "ground that has been tilled but has gotten hard and now lies waste. It needs broken up and made soft again before it is ready to receive seed." The Holy Spirit used this teaching to convict Keith's heart and bring about personal repentance in his life as well as in his ministry. I encourage you to read the full story here: http://www.gospeltruth.net/keithgreen.htm.
Inspired by Charles Finney, Keith and Melody Green edited and paraphrased what they learned on repentance for others. You can read the article here.
As I read this information, the Holy Spirit also began to convict my heart...on many levels. I wrote in my journal, "I realize I have some hard ground in my heart that needs your touch Lord. I feel so complacent and dead inside right now. There are sparks of your Spirit but I'm not on fire right now." I then went on to write out a list of my sins - wow! Here are just a few...
Complacency/numbness towards the poor, unsaved
Laziness/wasting time on things that don't really matter or won't last like my phone, Facebook, internet
Lack of prayer
Lack of time in God's Word
Pride, ego, self centeredness - esp. in regards to ministry
Wanting the approval of others - how I look, how I present myself
Greed/materialism - wanting to spend money on myself, love for gadgets/things
Jealousy/envy of other people - their abilities, their relationships, their ministries
Complaining/grumbling spirit - complaining anytime I have a little ache or pain, am inconvenienced, etc.
Being critical and judgmental of other Christians and/or of family for their choices
Control - taking control of my life instead of living surrendered to God
And the list went on and on.
Wow. I had no clue there was so much hard ground in my heart that needed broken up. I felt led to write an e-mail to some family members asking for their forgiveness as well as a few other people. Tears were shed as I felt like I was being broken. And yet God began to bring breakthough in my heart as well as breakthrough in some of my relationships.
I wrote in my journal what I sensed God saying to me after I asked forgiveness and repented of my many, many sins, "I am not here to condemn you. I forgive you. Now, go and sin no more. Repent and leave your old self behind. Allow me to fill all the empty spots where your old self used to be. Allow me to fill you with humility, surrender, faith, hard work as directed by me, putting others above yourself, lover of Me and of people, filled with my Holy Spirit, always connected with me and attached to the vine - allow me to abide and live in you."
There was something that lifted and a breakthrough that began to occur. A fresh start. A new day. New beginnings and grace. "Therefore is anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17. Forgiveness, grace and mercy. Oh how I need God'-s grace so desperately and am so thankful for it!
The morning I went to pick up my husband at the Boundary Waters, I hiked into the first portage to meet him. I arrived early and so I went exploring and hiking. It ended up being such a rich time with the Lord. I sensed that I needed to return to my first love. That I've been so self-centered, self-focused and self-consumed that I've put MYSELF ahead of God. Ouch. That's pride. I had forsaken my first love. Revelations 2:4-5 says, "Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. Remember the height you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place."
As I hiked along a stream, I ended up in this area where the water was a still pool. It was so still that I could see an almost perfect reflection of the trees in the background in the water. It was so beautiful. And I sensed God reminding me that I am a reflection of Him to others. As He continues to purify my heart, thoughts and motives through true and deep repentance, I become more of a reflection of Him.
And so the journey has just begun. I am so imperfect and yet God's power is able to empower me to change. By staying focused on Him and connected to His Spirit. By listening to Him and allowing the Holy Spirit to guide me instead of trying to control my own life. By trusting Him instead of worrying.
We are getting ready soon to take a big step of faith in our ministry and in our lives. I know that God brought me to this lake cabin to prepare me for what is ahead. I encourage each of you to also consider a time of solitude, reflection and repentance. Because God wants to bring breakthrough for each of His children.
"Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" Acts 3:19