Jesus regularly “would withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16). My friends are anxious that I go out into the woods to hike alone. I argue that the urban world, with its frequent, random gun violence and vehicle accidents, and various diseases, is a far scarier place than the wilderness.
Bears don’t carry guns and seldom bother with humans who make their presence known. I sing loudly and off-key. And as of today, I will also carry bear spray.
But as a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-fearing woman, there is also another very valuable aspect to solitude: being alone with God.
Why Not Just Alone Time at Home?
I used to pray early in the morning before the kids were up. But there were always distractions, so I would go for a walk before the sun rose or (during the summer months) before other people rose.
A home is full of responsibilities, even quiet ones that don’t wake the family: tidying, answering emails, folding laundry.
These days, home is a basement suite. I live alone, but there are still manifold distractions; unanswered emails, texts; notes to write for the day; dishes, laundry, tidying, and cleaning. And then there’s the noise above me, which is often joyful but frequently distracting.
And if I run on my treadmill, I’ll be watching The Mandalorian. Or a history documentary. Or true crime. I won’t be listening to the Bible, even if it’s read by Pedro Pascal (though I wonder if he’s ever thought of giving that a try?).
Sure, I might start to pray, maybe even on my knees by my bed, but then I notice the blanket isn’t tucked in correctly, and the floor needs vacuuming.
My hair gets everywhere — next thing I know, I’ve pulled a long stretch of tape, and I’m using it to collect hair and fluff. Oh, and then I have to kill a spider I’ve found in the corner.
Isn’t the Outside Distracting?
“The outside” can be many things. Of course, there is the urban outside, which is definitely full of temptations and interruptions. Today, I went on a “recky” (short for reconnaissance) to find a suitable backpack for longer hikes.
My current one pulls too much, and it’s uncomfortable after an hour and a half. Well, the next thing I bought was the backpack and bear spray, and I spent over $200.
Really, I need to get into the wilderness, where I’m really alone, and no one can sell me anything. At least now I have the proper equipment if I want to escape.
If I’m in the vehicular outside, I really should concentrate. And also, there is a media center in my car, which allows me to listen to audiobooks.
The last one was a gripping court drama, 13 CDs long. I wanted to pray, but I also wanted to hear how the story finished before the CDs had to be returned to the library.
But the wild outside — that’s different. I’m certainly attracted to the element of silence, which is so lacking in my life.
Again, there are the kids upstairs (whom I love, but they are exuberant about life, meaning they like to jump up and down), the job, which is people-oriented, and the other aspects of life, which include, well, people. Even an extrovert sometimes needs downtime.
Distracted By Awe
Is it even possible to be awed by randomness? Isn’t awe directed at someone? I believe it is. The world around me, when I’m on a hiking trail, is full of wonders, often miniscule wonders. Soft, fragile petals of exquisite, tiny meadow flowers.
The vast, roiling wonder of a cloud formation. The space between mountain peaks and glistening water between them which, though it rages, appears not to move at all if you’re high up enough.
Colors and shades of colors: who knew there were so many shades of green? You really could get lost in its contemplation, not to mention the other qualities adopted by certain landscape features depending on my viewpoint, the angle of light, the time of day, the time of year, etc. One view is never the same twice in a row. Matte. Gloss. Sparkle. Sepia.
Birds also fascinate me by their ability to move just as I approach close enough to capture a clear image. A friend gifted me some binoculars recently — at least I’ll get to see them now, even if I can’t prove it to anyone.
Frequently, a trail will feature droppings of coyotes or deer or (gasp) bears, and even footprints, which cause a surge of excitement. I have twice happened upon the deer whose hoof markings I had been following. Not the bears. Praise God — that has not happened!
By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible (Hebrews 11:3).
For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16)
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created (Revelation 4:11).
Conversations with God
How can one observe all this splendor and not ask, “God, was your finger just here? And here?” What would it take for a person to traverse this miraculous province of British Columbia and not even be tempted to ask, “What creative genius made all of this?”
The sights are so moving; the sounds are exciting; the aromas are often interesting: I try not to track them into my car…. all of this touches me so deeply, and I don’t always know why.
I am prompted, as so many of you are also prompted, to praise the Lord out there in the woods or on the mountain. Do you also find yourself singing “How Great Thou Art” even though you’re scrambling to get off a mountainside as you notice the clouds darkening and feel the wind pick up?
The wilderness is where the Lord shows me; he is in charge. The world is in such chaos, and even these wonders are broken, but God is King; he is Ruler; he is Father; he made all of the beauty I survey, and he said it was good. Not as good as us, people, the pinnacle of his creation, but still good.
Here is the most marvelous and strange fact of all: only after he had made the first human being did God declare his work “very good” (Genesis 1:31).
I don’t feel “very good,” to be honest, but apparently, God sees the beauty of what he made; of the person he created in my mother before she even knew I was coming (Psalm 139:13). Through the blood of his Son, God sees me, and I’m loved.
This is hard to comprehend when I’m standing still, like some bug on a trail, in the middle of a protected grassland in the Okanagan, dwarfed by enormous mountain peaks, expansive lakes, and story-tall trees.
At my feet, a spray of butter-yellow flowers; in the sky, a parade of multi-textured cumuli. I’m a bug, yet the Lord says that I — that you — surpass the magnificence of these natural wonders in his. Let that sink in.
Back to Reality
That is the real life I long for, while I’m engaged in everything that happens between hiking trips. If I could retire from work now and spend most of my time hiking alone, perhaps that would be appealing…. for about five days.
Then I would miss my friends, the strangers who might become friends, the strangers whose lives I might touch with the gospel, or who might increase my love for Christ and his people.
It’s not always easy to tear myself away from the trail, but if people matter more to God than these natural masterpieces, surely, they must also matter more to me. Alone time leads me to this conclusion, and that’s a good enough reason to go back.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Tinnakorn Jorruang
Candice Lucey is a freelance writer from British Columbia, Canada, where she lives with her family. Find out more about her here.