Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"So... how was it?"

That's the question of the hour. For the next several days, the first time I see or talk to anyone, this will (likely) be the first thing they ask me. I'm not complaining. I'm glad that people want to know... I'm just not sure how to respond.

The "it" is a week-long trip that I took with a group of 11 other (possibly) semi-crazy people into Joshua Tree National Park in California. It was meant to be a time of fasting, silence and solitude. A time of seeking... seeking peace, seeking answers, but mostly seeking God.

1 day of silence. 3 days of fasting. 5 days of solitude. Preceded by a two-day hike into the park, carrying an 80lb backpack (more like 60lb for me because I got some help carrying in my drinking water.) In the harshest environment I've ever encountered. It wasn't supposed to be like this. People who had gone on the trip in previous years talked about warm weather and sunshine. Though we got some sunshine, we didn't get much warmth. The wind was bitter cold and was blowing most of the time. Nighttime temperatures dropped to the mid- to low-20s... difficult to endure when all you've got is a tent and a sleeping bag. And then there was the rain... 16 hours straight from Saturday night into Sunday. 16 hours of rain... in the desert...

No, it wasn't supposed to be like this. 5 days of solitude became 4 when personal issues required me to hike out early. I could have hiked back in to finish the final day of solitude, but.. honestly... I was done. Physically; I've never felt so weak in my life. I couldn't even carry out my own backpack, someone else had to carry it for me. Emotionally; the harsh conditions were frustrating and exhausting. Spiritually; I had nothing to prove. One day more of solitude wasn't going to prove that I loved God any more. One day fewer wasn't going to make Him love me any less.

So... how was it? It was hard. It may have been the hardest thing I've ever done.
But it was also good. God was there. He challenged me, encouraged me, but mostly... He was simply there. With me in my tent, as I paced through the wash where my tent was set up, as I sat up on the rocks and looked out at the mountains... He was there. I didn't always *feel* His presence, mostly because I would get distracted by the cold, the wind, or the rain. But I can also point to specific times and places when He assured me that He was with me.

I came back with a greater appreciation for both silence and solitude. There's something powerful about unplugging from the world. If you can really embrace it, it's something God can use to move you to a different place inside. A place that's more settled, more at peace. A place where the things of this world and the opinions of those who inhabit it matter a little less, and the things of God matter a little more. I'm hopeful that God will teach me how to stay in that place. 'Cause I like it.

Would I do it again? I'm not ready to think about that yet :) (though I have been thinking of things I'd do differently). I'm not ready to think about the hike, the cold, the solitude, the complete aloneness. But it's only been a few days. Ask me again in a few months. ;)


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