Solo Retreat for the Soul
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I am alone. I can literally hear the waves crashing from my little hacienda my husband so kindly rented and gifted me for my Christmas gift this year. In this place of solitude, you would think I would be rejoicing. You would think I would not have a care in the world and would just be drinking wine and ordering take out and watching all the romantic comedies I could squeeze in. But here’s the thing: I already miss my family. I feel homesick. And if I am honest, I feel really anxious about being in a new little city all by myself.
Isn’t it funny how the thing we keep saying we need and want is not actually what we need and want?
Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity to be alone with the Lord. I 100% understand the privilege in being able to have the resources and life situation that allows me to run away for a little on my own. I am grateful and I do not take this time away lightly at all. In an effort to really use the time well, I even created an hour-by-hour itinerary.
I understand the sacredness in time to be alone with the Lord, and I don’t want to waste a second of it, but again, if I am honest, I let about 45-minutes slip away. I felt nervous, a little scared, and quite frankly, like a fish out of water who has become so accustomed to depending on her family and the safety of her routine and familiar city that she has lived almost 26 years in.
Yet, those 45-minutes have come and gone, and I can feel my heart beginning to settle. And oh, did I mention I can hear the waves crashing from my window?
Reminiscing of New York City Days
The funny thing in all this is that 7 years ago, I would have been in my element. 7 years ago, I did most things on my own. I would go to cafés and work for hours on end all by myself. I would go to sushi and sit at the bar and just eat and watch the sushi chefs chop and roll with such precision.
When I was 20-years old and was living in NYC for the summer, I spent a lot of time alone. I ran late at night (okay, like 8pm) in Central Park without a fear. Most meals, I ate alone. I rode the subway back and forth with a confidence I didn’t even know I had.
My mind goes back to New York because I can remember how I responded to the type of freedom I had back then. Now, as I have a small taste of that freedom, I can’t help but crave the limitations and the noise and the mess of my actual life. When you’re in the chaos of early motherhood, it is easy to reminisce about those New York City days. Of late night runs, of solo meals, of endless quiet time.
My Life Right Here, Right Now Is Better
Trust me, it is easy to drift off to this place, but again, here’s the thing, I have been given this lovely day retreat where there is endless quiet time and I can actually have a peaceful restaurant experience and there is no one constantly tugging at my legs, saying “more, more, mommy”. It is just me. The crashing waves. A beautiful little hacienda. And these words. Yet, my heart is already missing my crazy little boy and my handsome husband that loves me so well.
Oh my life is so full and beautiful. It is messy, loud, dusty, busy, chaotic, but it is beautiful.
Part of the reason, I am on this retreat is because Lance knows my heart so well and I have a tendency to wear my heart on my sleeve. Since the summer, my soul has been struggling. I have been weary and tired and drained. I have felt unimportant and small. My joy has been low. I have snapped at Hudson, at Lance. I have not been my best self. This time away came out of a clear need and the kindness of my husband. Thanks, Lance!
5 Things My Time Away Taught Me
My soul needed this solo retreat. It reminded me of a few things I have forgotten. It also taught me some new lessons. Whether you yourself are planning a solo retreat or you are in the grind of ordinary life, these takeaways are things that I hope can help you wherever you are.
1. Time Away is Essential
Whatever our job is, whether we are stay-at-home moms or working moms or work-at-home moms or married without kids, we need time away. This does not make you a bad mom or a selfish wife, it simply makes you human.
It is not always going to look like staying in a hacienda on the ocean by myself, but this time away reminded me that I need to intentionally schedule time away. This time away could be for just an hour, but I need to do this on a regular basis. It can’t be an hour away of running errands or even of working out. It needs to be time away intentionally with the Lord. In quiet, in peace.
I realized that I often deem my down time when I escape to Costco by myself or I attend that evening workout class. Contrary to some, Costco and core class are not life-giving to me. They are good and necessary, but when I am talking about time away, I mean time to really hear the Lord. It is going to be different for every person, but for me I am finding it involves sitting down in a new setting, reading a good book and writing down prayers.
2. Embrace the Uncomfortable
This part was most surprising to me. I was caught off guard when the initial hours of my retreat felt uncomfortable and fearful. Like with anything that is outside of your norm, it is likely that initially it will feel weird. The new job, the new marriage, the new baby, the new home, the new city. Maybe it is just me, but it takes me a while to warm-up to things I am not used to.
This time away was no different. It felt weird and uncomfortable and I immediately called Lance the moment I entered the doors of the hacienda. I was very, very close to calling off the whole thing and having him and Hudson crash the retreat. That felt right and familiar and comfortable. And here’s the thing, if I did give in to those feelings, I would have missed out on a really lovely time alone. It would have been great to have them with me, but it would not have been the same.
Instead of giving in to the uncomfortable, I chose to embrace it. And I am so glad I did. I heard God clearly for the first time in a while. I read more than I have in months. For the first time in a long time, I was not worried about someone else. I had no time constraints: I went on an evening run and I literally just stopped in the middle, went down to a little cove, sat on a rock and watched the sun go down.
I must admit it felt good to just be. To not worry about getting back at a certain time and starting dinner right at 4pm. This time alone was needed. It allowed me to process and write things down that have been stirring in my heart. For all those reasons, I am glad I sat in the uncomfortable; I am glad I did not give in to my longings to call off the whole solo aspect and make it just a family thing.
3. Life with Your People is Always Better
With all that said about how lovely it was to be alone, my biggest takeaway from my solo retreat was how life is so much better with my people. It is messier and way louder, and quite frankly, all my sins are much more apparent, but it is my life, my family, and I love it with my whole heart.
When you are in it, it is easy to daydream to retreats like the one I just had. It is easy to long for hours spent in a café, sipping a latte and reading. It is easy to wish for just one quiet meal that does not result in food flying everywhere. And it is easy to desire freedom to run and write and watch P.S. I Love You whenever you would like. It sure is easy, but I am here to tell you that right when I got this freedom, it was not quite as amazing as I pictured. Within the first couple hours I was already missing my family.
Sure, I got a lot of reading in, wrote down some interesting thoughts, enjoyed a glass of wine as I voraciously flipped the pages, fell asleep to those lovely crashing waves; yet it still does not come close to my actual life. Life with your people is always better!
4. Some Things are Better Left Unplanned
It should be no surprise that I created an hour-by-hour schedule for my retreat. This is just how my mind operates. I want to know the plan, even if it is just me and the intention is to relax and get some writing in. In a lot of ways I am glad I created a schedule, it allowed me to find a really great lunch spot that I likely would not have gone to if I did not plan ahead. It also allowed me to really use the time wisely.
With my schedule, I got a lot out of my 24 hours away. I made it to a hatha yoga class at 7:30 am, got my eyebrows threaded (which always seems so hard to find the time to do in my ordinary days), listened to so many good podcasts (my favorite one I listened to was about reading the Bible chronologically), had an amazing lunch at Ellie’s Table (if you’re in San Juan Capistrano area, you should go), wrote about my feelings, ran at sunset, ate dinner with my book as company at Pierside, wrote a letter to my husband, talked a whole lot to God, started P.S. I Love You on Netflix and fell asleep to those crashing waves.
The schedule helped me really use the time wisely, but all those things I listed, only some of them were on the schedule. Pierside I just wandered into after my run without taking a shower. Weirdly, I scheduled a shower after my run and before dinner, which is so not me, so I just went to dinner with running shoes on and book in hand. The prayer walk on the beach I had scheduled for 1 pm, never happened because I lingered at Ellie’s Table much longer than expected. But, prayer was scattered all throughout my time it just did not look as neat as a “prayer walk on beach.” Point in all this, is that spending time away intentionally is super important, but be okay with having some gaps and unknowns in your schedule.
5. Things Might Feel the Same
When you do intentional things like this, it is easy to have this hope and even expectation that when you return, things will feel different. That upon returning, you suddenly will be that patient mom, extra loving wife, and all-together better human being that is much more holy than before she took a solo retreat. And here’s the thing, I felt the same. I quickly became anxious again as all my responsibilities quickly hit me with one step back into our home. I lost my patience soon after as I said “no” a million times and had to clean throw up off the floor. But this all goes back to #3. Life is easier when you are away, you are likely going to be appear to be a much more loving and patient person than you actually are, but life is always better with your people.
This retreat did not instantly change me, but God absolutely used the time. Through the podcasts I listened to, the words I read, the words I wrote, the miles I ran, the prayers, the yoga teacher, the lady that threaded my eyebrows, and those crashing waves, God reminded me of his nearness, he reminded me of how loved I really am, and he reminded me of the great gift and privilege it is to have the beautiful life the Lord has entrusted me with. So while I still struggle with a lot of the same things I did pre-retreat, my vision does feel clearer, my heart feels lighter, and I feel so much gratitude.