Isolation Reimagined {The Grove: Spiritual Disciplines}

I spend a lot of time at home now. In China, I got out and around teaching classes, meeting teammates and friends, eating out and market-hopping. Now in Pennsylvania, I teach graduate courses in an online TESOL program…from home. I write and edit and meet with teammates via my computer…from home. Getting together with friends is more scheduled than spontaneous. Nick and I share one car, so whoever has the car gets the grocery list.

My home is my cloister. I keep a rhythm of work and rest and prayer here.

It’s important not to confuse this idea with reclusiveness or exclusiveness because those don’t jive with Spirit work. A cloister is a hub for hospitality, even uninvited. Some places leave their doors unlocked at night in case a stranger needs shelter. That’s what I call an extra mile. I settle for keeping a guest room at the ready.

Jeremiah experienced a cloistered opportunity. He was imprisoned in the court of the guardhouse when a word came to him: Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and wondrous things of which you are still unaware.[i] Throughout the Scriptures, an angel of the Lord or God Himself comes with a word when the target person is quietly alone.

  • Moses tending sheep at Mt. Horeb
  • Elijah hiding in a cave on Mt. Horeb
  • Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress
  • Mary’s Annunciation

Most of us can’t make a trek to Mt. Horeb today, but we can engage the spiritual disciplines that open us to great and wondrous things of which we are still unaware.

I became aware of solitude and silence as spiritual disciplines when there was little of either to be found because I craved them. It took intention to carve them out and keep them. There is gradually more solitude and silence regularly available to me, and I’m discovering that it’s different, but equally as important to set intention.

Practicing solitude and silence is not the same thing as being alone without noise. Aloneness and noiselessness are vacant. So, these disciplines get a bad rap, perhaps especially among our lot, because isolation is a painful reality for many overseas workers.

The data shows that the #1 factor for sustainability for women in this work is friendship connections. So, isolation is no joke. It’s a sideliner, a go-to enemy tactic.

Do you know that women comprise the majority of global cross-cultural workers? Probably. You probably knew that. This is a trend that needs to be quietly, reverently watched, and the women who go need support, training, care in sickness and in health, and celebration. We need to lean on our fellow workers and on those who send us, but we also need to care for ourselves.

What could happen if you repurpose isolation? Resist the temptations to empty comfort and self-pity. Eat the truth that Christ calls you friend.

I believe we could see a new trend, one that defies logic, which is a good indicator that it resembles the Kingdom of God… like a mustard seed, like yeast. We could witness a force, women who emerge from solitude and silence speaking wise true words, making connections and relationships that ripple through eternity.

If solitude and silence are spiritual disciplines that connect with you right now, an excellent resource for exploration and practice is Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence by Ruth Haley Barton.

What spiritual disciplines do your circumstances point you to?

This is The Grove.  It’s where we gather to share our thoughts, our words, and our art.  So join us in the comments.  Show us your art work by adding an image. And link up your own blog posts on this week’s prompt.  Click here for details and instructions

 [i] Jeremiah 33:1-3


  1. Amy Young May 12, 2016

    Kimberly, I love this. Thank you. When I read the line about Moses at Mt Horeb I remembered a group spiritual direction during advent a few years ago. The spiritual director read the passage with Moses and the burning bush — as we shared what shimmered to us as she read the passage, what the Holy Spirit showed me right away was how spacious it was in the wilderness. It was a time when it felt things were closing in on me. When I read this list, that came back immediately to me. Thanks 🙂

    1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

      I love that, Amy. A teacher was recently talking about that passage in a class I’m taking, and the thing that grabbed me was that Moses deviated from his path to see the strange thing – the bush ablaze but unconsumed. It’s fitting for when I find myself off the beaten path to know that it could be God calling me over.

      Richard Rohr was a guest on the liturgists podcast last month, and he talked about the wilderness. Now I want to re-listen. =)

      1. Amy Young May 13, 2016

        I just listened to that interview yesterday!! Wow, so rich. Helped me understand the history of Christianity too.

        (I love mind-meld moments!)

        1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

          I love to look up and find we’re grazing in the same pasture. =) I’m excited to read the book he’s writing about the Trinity. Come, November.

          1. Michele Womble May 18, 2016

            I love how you put that – “to look up and find we’re grazing in the same pasture”  – beautiful picture…

      2. Michele Womble May 18, 2016

        ooo, I really like both of those thoughts – the spaciousness of the wilderness, and if you’re off the beaten path it could be God calling….thanks, ya’ll. 🙂 Will be thinking on that this week…

  2. Danielle Wheeler May 12, 2016

    Ah, you can’t imagine how amazing the TIMING of this post is.  This resonated so deeply for me:

    “We could witness a force, women who emerge from solitude and silence speaking wise true words, making connections and relationships that ripple through eternity.”

    Yes, yes, yes!  THIS.  Let it be so.  Amen and amen.

    1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

      Danielle, it’s so encouraging to know when a word meets the moment. Love.

  3. Elizabeth May 13, 2016

    When it comes to spiritual disciplines, I always think only of the disciplines I do by myself, the Bible reading and prayer. I don’t think of the communal ones. But. I have been letting real-life community slide due to overwhelm. I didn’t realize how much I was missing, how I was insulating myself from the help I actually needed.

    And I love this: “We could witness a force, women who emerge from solitude and silence speaking wise true words, making connections and relationships that ripple through eternity.” Because that is when I feel most alive — when I’m doing the silence and solitude, and then I emerge and do life in community. If I’m doing them both right, they feed each other, and Mommy is ok.

    I’ve been doing them both wrong lately, but whatever, here’s to (re)new(ed) beginnings!

    1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

      Elizabeth, thank you for expanding this conversation. It IS both/and, and they feed each other. I’m deep into Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook now, and I LOVE the way she organizes the contents so that a pilgrim can travel where she needs to at any given time. A mark to look for in any guide to the spiritual life is that it connects the inner life to life with others. Thanks for drawing that out here.

      Yes, WHATEVER…all things new all the time. Start where you are. Love.

    2. Amy Young May 13, 2016

      Elizabeth. I just might get this as a tattoo:

      (re)new(ed) beginnings

      I’m serious. That about sums up my life 🙂

      1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

        It reminds me of an e.e. cummings poem. If you need an artist, I know a good one in your area. =)

        1. Amy Young May 16, 2016

          okay . . . thinking more seriously about this.


    3. Michele Womble May 18, 2016

      Yeah….I also tend to think of the ones I do by myself.  (You mean there are others?! :-D)

      but what you said is so true: “Because that is when I feel most alive — when I’m doing the silence and solitude, and then I emerge and do life in community. If I’m doing them both right, they feed each other, and Mommy is ok.

      …only…it’s so hard to keep them in balance.

      1. Elizabeth May 18, 2016

        “You mean there are others?!” Laugh.out.loud.

        And yes, it’s so hard to keep them in balance. As an effort toward that aim, I’ve been practicing my NO muscles. It’s been hard, but deeply satisfying. 🙂

        1. Michele Womble May 18, 2016

          “NO muscles”  – now that’s another keeper quote.  (It’s kind of a pun, too.  When you’re thinking of saying yes to something you shouldn’t say yes to, if your muscles just dissolve away and you go limp into a pile on the floor…(sort of a foreshadowing of what will happen if you say yes) get it? no muscles.  (I know, I’m being silly now, but the image popped into my head….)

  4. Rhoda May 13, 2016

    Yes. So much yes. 3-4 hours a week… Reading the Bible in feast-y amounts, Journaling, praying… It feeds my soul.

    A thought that also goes along with the thought of friendship preventing burnout is this. I’m passing it on from a wise woman. “The cure for homesickness is to go deeper into the host culture.” Because homesickness is just a longing for the familiar, and the more familiar my host culture is, the more that longing is able to be satisfied here and now.

    Thank you for an excellent post… Once again!

    1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

      Rhoda, thanks for your comment! I’m reminded that it takes time to go deeper into anything, which is good because it validates today. And it’s thrilling to read that your soul is so fertile. Carry on. =)

      1. Rhoda May 20, 2016

        Yes! It does take time. I think of homesickness as a common cold, and local cuisine and friendships like Vitamin C. We need at least a little every day, but when we get sick, we need to increase the intake!

        And as far as my soul being fertile… well, I’ve been praying for a hunger and a thirst. God has been faithful.

    2. Michele Womble May 18, 2016

      Rhoda, so true!!!  And then one day you find you are homesick for the host culture! (Where I am right now) which means going deeper into the new “host” culture…

  5. Jenilee May 13, 2016

    I’m loving the same line as the others… we could witness a force, women who emerge… so, so good! Dreaming that with you. purposing that for myself.

    (I say as I sit here contemplating the fact that many from the close community I’ve found here on the field in the past 9 months are going home soon for furlough or country moves. #Junesadness)

    1. Kimberly Todd May 13, 2016

      I know that Junesadness from both sides, Jenilee. Prayers for your crew, for comfort and good goodbyes.

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