Saturday was a really good day. A few months back, my mother had a lot of bulldozer work done on her property, leaving about 5 large piles of trees behind. These piles eventually have to be burned, and so with my wife gone to Women of Faith, the kids and I went over to help burn them. There is something really great about clearing and burning brush piles. As we were working I said to my Mom, “You know, I think it’s impossible to worry or stress out when you’re burning brush.” She agreed. Right now she’s going through radiation treatments for skin cancer, so I think her words carry a little more weight than mine on that particular subject.
Once the fires were burning good, we went to the house for lunch. The afternoon was fairly uneventful, until I had to go back and pile a little more brush and check on the fires. I drove the four-wheeler out, with Dixie, Mom’s border collie, running ahead across the pasture. After seeing the fires were good and contained, I decided to ride up next to the mountain that borders my mom’s place on the back side of her property.
I got off the four-wheeler and stood watching the sun begin its evening descent into the western sky. Off to my right, I heard a loud snort and saw four white tails raised high in the air as the deer bounded off into the woods. Dixie laid down at my feet, and I began to think. Before I knew it, nearly thirty minutes of silent thought went by and I didn’t want to leave. God was truly in that place, and like Peter at the transfiguration, I was ready to build a house and move right in.
At first, I thought maybe this was a bad thing…that I was being unfaithful for imagining what it would be like to live in that spot and experience that kind of beauty and solitude every day. In fact, I’ve been thinking about that for the last few days, and I’ve only began to process what happened there.
I’ve had Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines sitting on the shelf since our vacation early this year, but I hadn’t found the time to read it. Actually, that’s not true. I tried to read it, but I guess it just wasn’t the right time. Now it is, and today I came across a passage that I believe helps explain what I experienced on Saturday.
Today, sustained withdrawal from society into solitude seems to indicate weakness, suffering, flight, or failure rather than great strength, joy, and effectiveness. Believing that, we, for instance, thoroughly misunderstand the context of Jesus’ temptations after his baptism…
Willard then suggests that the Spirit led Jesus into solitude in the wilderness, not to place Jesus in the weakest position possible, but to allow him to face Satan at the place of his strength and strengthening.
The desert was his [Jesus'] fortress, his place of power. Throughout his life he sought the solitary place as an indirect submission of his own physical body to righteousness. That is, he sought it not as an activity done for its own sake, but one done to give him power for good. All of those who followed Jesus knew of his practice of solitude, and it was greatly imitated in the centuries after his death.
I think that something similar might have been going on as I stood in God’s presence watching the sun go down into the valley. As I stood on the side of the hill, I was conscious in my silence of God’s overwhelming grace. Today, Willard helped me realize something. My time alone – mesmerized by God’s beauty – didn’t bring on the temptation to withdraw from the world. Instead, as I unknowingly imitated our merciful Savior in the wilderness, God embraced me, empowered me for good, and gave me strength to engage the world once again…even though I had no idea that was going on. Thanks be to God.