Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Gift of Solitude and the Tragedy of Isolation - by Sara K. Parker

This week I discovered something about a heroine in a proposal I’m working on: she has lived in self-imposed isolation for several years. In fact, she’s been managing her life alone for so long that she has come to believe the lie that she can only rely on herself. Granted, that lie is fueled by deep roots of trauma (childhood and marital abuse), but it’s still a lie. Because of the people she has loved who hurt her and showed themselves unreliable and untrustworthy, she has become an expert at self-protection to avoid the possibility of being hurt again.

What she doesn’t realize – what we often don’t realize – is that isolation is just as painful as the hurt others can cause. It is also dangerous.

There was a time, about nine years ago, when I had become quite isolated. My family was all on the East Coast, my husband was extremely sick, and I only had one close friend in my new hometown. Sure, I would go to MOPS on Fridays and Bible study at my church on Wednesdays; I would take the kids to activities and play dates…but I kept people at arm’s length. I didn’t want to be the draining force of energy, the needy friend, and I didn’t feel that I had much to offer anyone in terms of friendship. The more isolated I became, the less I talked, and the more lonely I began to feel…which led to depression, anger and a lack of self-worth. But THEN a few lovely people started to gather around me and press into my life. My guard came down. They entered my mess, and they stuck around.

Friendship is a beautiful thing like that, and that feeling of isolation is now long gone. When I start down that path, my friends recognize it and come alongside me to yank me out of the pit.

But, recently, I found myself craving solitude.

On the surface, solitude and isolation seem similar. After all, they both require separation from others. But they are so very different. While isolation is inherently dangerous, solitude can offer unexpected gifts. While isolation is a prison, solitude, to me, is a retreat.

In fact, time and again in the Bible we see people going off into solitude to meet with God – even Jesus himself. Just read the Gospels for multiple examples of Jesus finding a quiet place to pray, withdrawing from a crowd, or bringing his disciples to a place away from all the chaos.

I don’t know if it’s my personality or the accumulation of life events that makes me sometimes crave solitude. I do know that once the craving starts, something must be done quickly to rectify the situation or I become pretty hard to live with.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I took a spontaneous (and solitary) overnighter to Austin, around 2.5 hours from where we live. I had created a loose plan the night before – full of writerly expeditions, scrumptious treats, and outdoor exploration. By the end of my little retreat, I had fulfilled all of those plans, and I’d also received an unexpectedly sweet answer to prayer.

Allow me to spare you the details on my mediocre Friday night. Instead, fast forward to Saturday, which started out spectacularly with a visit to the Upper Crust Bakery scarfing down a cinnamon roll that was soft and sugary and warm and perfect.

Then I drove down to explore Lady Bird Lake TrailAs I left my car in the parking garage, I felt disappointed, honestly. Aside from the cinnamon roll, so far, I hadn’t had an awesome time (disappointing dinner at the Oasis Friday night and a rude wake-up call from hotel guests partying at three in the morning), and the day was quickly getting away from me. I felt anxious and tired, and I told God I could really use a word from Him. This is not something I have ever really asked for, though I often pray for direction and clarity. That Saturday, I just felt like I needed some kind of assurance that He saw me.

With only a couple hours before I had to be back to check out from my hotel, I looked at the map and chose a starting spot that included a bathroom, eyeballed the direction I would run, and decided I’d do a mile or two up and then back. 

I ran into my first problem immediately. I needed a restroom, and fast. I hightailed it in the direction of the restroom only to find that it was padlocked! 

Not seeing any other restrooms close by on the map, I just started jogging forward, hoping there would be one. Desperate, I started asking people where a bathroom was. No one knew, until I met two girls on the trail a couple minutes later, and one said that there was a bathroom across the bridge in the other direction. I had seen the bridge and knew it wasn’t that far, so I doubled back.

As I crossed, I noticed something strange: several people on the bridge were just kind of standing around near a row of chairs. Not thinking much of it, I kept jogging and as I passed, a man stepped forward and said, “Would you like one of these ladies to pray for you?”

I immediately said, “No, thank you,” and kept running. First of all, I really had to use the bathroom! Second of all, that seemed awkward. Why would I want strangers to pray with me on a public bridge?

Unfortunately, there was no bathroom on the other side of the bridge. But, across the way, I saw a Quiznos, so I walked away from the trail and used their bathroom, all the while remembering that I had asked to hear from God and then strangers had offered to pray with me - on a bridge I had never planned to cross in the first place. I finally told God, “Fine.” I would go back to the bridge and at least find out what the heck the prayer thing was about.

Turns out, the ministry is called “Prayer in the Streets,” a nondenominational ministry that started in Ireland. I was led to a chair where two women knelt in front of me, introduced themselves, and asked how they could pray. Their expressions were genuine and open, and I unexpectedly wanted to weep.

Swallowing back the ache in my throat, I briefly explained that I would like prayer for two people: my daughter who would be getting her next post-cancer scans the next week (and I explained about the lung and liver spots), and my husband who has been battling health issues for 12 years.

The women laid their hands on me, but before launching into prayer, the woman to my left spoke a few simple words that took my breath away. She told me that God sees me and He wants me to know that He loves me; that He sees my heart and my tenacity, and he’s right there with me. It felt as though He was speaking through her. And then they prayed for Aaliyah and Nate, and it was a powerful prayer experience, right there on the bridge. When the prayer ended, tears were streaming down my face, and I was about to get up, but the woman on my right spoke. She told me many beautiful things that she felt the Lord was speaking over my family, and then, at the very end, the last thing she told me was that the Lord wants me to be still.

I let out a breath and a choking sort of sob came out, so certain was I that this was the word I’d needed to hear. You see, “be still” is the phrase that comes back to me time and again when life feels out of control. There was a time in my life where I tried to control every outcome. I made myself crazy over-thinking decisions, creating unrealistic to-do lists, and printing out rigid schedules. Somewhere along the way, I came across Exodus 14:14...

It was one of those moments where I knew in my heart that this was something I needed to pay attention to. Later, I added “Be still and know that I am God” to my mantra. These are verses I will repeat to myself sometimes when anxiety gets high. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think these verses are telling us to sit around and pull the covers over our heads and expect God to orchestrate every detail of our lives. I just believe that we can overextend ourselves in a way that is not healthy. We can expect ourselves to enact changes or cause outcomes that we actually have no control over. It’s no secret that we are called to take action in our lives, but God is in ultimate control of outcomes. It’s a little scary to come to terms with that at first, but then it’s quite freeing.

After the prayer session, the rest of the day was dreamy (minus the part where the skies opened up and I got drenched). I explored the UT campus:

Grabbed lunch from a food truck:

Took a long walk over to Book People, a huge independent bookstore downtown:

Indulged in a moment of childhood nostalgia by stopping in at 7-11 for a Slurpee:

And investigated a rare book store, 12th Street Books, where I was extremely tempted to purchase a $450 copy of The Book of Common Prayer from the 1800s, but settled instead on a much more affordable book of poetry from 1899 by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

I finished out the day by driving back to Lake Austin and visiting Mozart’s Coffee Roasters. I was too full to eat any of their delectable treats, but I ordered the Mozart’s special (a divine mocha latte) and sat outside to catch a sunset before heading home. It was freezing cold and windy, but again – worth it.

Some people would hate a solo trip like this, but I arrived home a little after 10 p.m. on Saturday completely refreshed. I find that our world is just so loud and busy, we don’t often find an opportunity to really think and feel and see and listen. I believe some solitude is important in order to not only better understand ourselves but also to more deeply connect with God, even if it’s just a few minutes of quiet reflection hiding out in your closet with an ice cream sandwich (definitely not speaking from personal experience here <wink>).

Join the conversation:
Share a time when either solitude or isolation affected you.

Also, I love to connect with readers and other writers over on Facebook - hope to see you there! I have a couple of giveaways coming up for Mother's Day and also for my impending 40th birthday! :)

P.S. My daughter’s scans were clear! The lung spot was gone, and the liver spot was identified as benign! Also, my hubby has been on the upswing for weeks!


  1. Sara, what great news about your daughter's scans and I'm happy to hear your husband is doing better. There is such a huge difference between isolation and solitude. Like you said, isolation is dangerous, but solitude is something I think we all need from time to time. It gives us a chance to connect with God. Be still and let him speak to us. Your trip sounds amazing. And what a wonderful answer from God in the prayers of strangers.

  2. I absolutely loved this post--and was wowed by the answer to prayer you experienced in such an amazing way! God is so very good!!
    I once decided to go on a solitary writing retreat in the mountains for several days--looked forward to it for weeks--and then was so lonesome after the first day! I had to laugh at myself, and I learned my lesson! I do crave and enjoy solitude, but I also dearly love being with people. I think an overnight trip as you described would be perfect for me--or a deal where I rent a cabin with some other writers and we get together in the evenings for supper and conversation. I am so happy to hear your good news about your daughter's scans and your husband's health. Rejoicing with you!!

  3. What a beautiful time you had with God. He is good indeed. I love solitude. I was on a beach retreat this past weekend. I chose to drive down by myself. It was nice not having to talk, just enjoy the scenery . I roomed by myself as well. During the day I was social when I wanted to be and napped when I wanted and went for a walk when I wanted and it was refreshing to come to my room and just be me with no expectations. You are right solitude is different than isolation. I've done the isolation thing as well when I was hurting but too prideful, too angry and too in my own head to reach out for help. When it came to a boiling point and I did open up to someone, the relief was overwhelming. I have mantras that I repeat to myself often. I love Jeremiah 29:11. When life seems out of control and scary I cling to this verse.

  4. Sara, as always, I am blessed by your inspiring post! Thanks! Praying for you and your family!

  5. Sara, I'm rejoicing with you on the good medical report for your daughter and for your husband's improved health. God is good!

    "Be still" is a favorite verse of mine. I love quiet moments of reflection when I can worship God whether during private prayer at church or at home.

    I also love when the Lord speaks through unexpected ways and through people we "happen" to meet, knowing those meetings are always in accord with His Divine Will.

  6. Sara, I'm so thrilled for clear scans. I've been praying for her. I feel very nostalgic about 7-11 as well. My grandfather used to take me and my four siblings to 7-11 in Manassas, Virginia for Slurpees. That's what they called them then!! Your trip looks amazing. Don't get me started on that cinnamon roll.

  7. I'm thrilled for the good news for your daughter & husband. As for your post, I'm overwhelmed with all of it. All I can say is thank you for sharing it.

  8. Thank you Jesus for the great news of your daughter Thank you Sara for sharing ! Have a great day and Happy Birthday!


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