I looked down at the text my good friend had just shot me as we bantered back and forth while I was in Rome. It was something along the lines of ‘how are you doing without the boys?’ (we have two sons). I took a breath in and quickly responded, “I am good! I keep having these moments of feeling like I am at the right place at the right time. So I know I am where I am supposed to be for the moment.”
This is the third piece I’ve written in a series about my time in Rome with the dashing man who is my husband. Journey through the whole series with me! I’d love your company. The first piece sets up our time in Rome (here) and the second piece is alllll about experiencing beauty through food in Rome (here).
Even before we knew the city we’d land in for our time away, Zion and I both knew something: we wanted time to be quiet as individuals. Not in order to be away from each other or to obtain distance, but to be able to listen without distraction.
So we did it.
I wrestled through a few odd layers of thought at first: “Is this weird?” “Should I want to be alone?” “What would so-and-so say?” “Is this too luxurious for me? Someone else is watching my boys and I’m sitting on my rear eating Italian ice cream and pondering life.”
The thoughts worked themselves out quite quickly, because well, I WAS in Rome, and my parents were watching my children and shoot yes I was eating my daily serving of Italian ice cream and pondering life seemed like the only right thing. Now I look back on my time alone in the city and I am so thankful I didn’t resist the blocks of time by myself journeying through the city. The vast majority of our time was spent loving our time there together but our willingness to each be alone here and there was delightful, too.
I think it’s possible that we can spend time alone, by ourselves, but spend most of the time running from ourselves. And running from interaction with God.
Time alone can be a tremendously vulnerable thing, can’t it? It is the space where the spirit and soul can breathe and stretch. And for many of us, that is either uncharted water or we are perfectly clear on what’s down there and it’s an easy answer: pass.
If we all have a mind, a soul and a spirit, that would lead us to believe that there are layers of ourselves to get through. Each layer is one that God made and designed so getting through the layers is not a bad thing. In my unresearched opinion, each layer down gets us closer to the truth. Each layer is us but the core of who we are – the truest part of ourselves – is in our spirit. Why? Because our spirit is where the God of all truth lives.
And so, is it possible to spend time by ourselves but not really with ourselves? Yes.
Rome was a luxurious city to be quiet in. No bones about it. I can close my eyes and go back to it in an instant. I can remember the sunshine on my legs as I sat against church doors, ice cream in hand, journal in lap: watching and writing. (Yep, those are white socks under my Keens. Everyday.)
I can picture the student run and filled coffee shop where I spent hours sipping, staring, praying, reading. The barista actually did a kitty cat (or maybe it is a panda bear) in the frothed milk of my latte!
I can remember vacillating between strong strides and slow steps as I navigated to the Spanish Steps late one morning. I can remember climbing to the top where the sunshine was splashing onto everyone and everything and watching the city stretch before me.
I can remember one afternoon I wrote postcards to my boys underneath the shade of the columns of St. Peter’s Square.
I can remember starting my walk back to the apartment and catching sight of the flights of stairs from the street level down to the water level of the Tiber River. And thinking, ‘why not?’ and walking along the river, by myself. Sheer beauty.
There are a lot of creatives that talk about the role of boredom in creativity. Google it. Bottom line, your creativity often lies just beyond the point of boredom.
Does the word boredom mess with you? If so, replace it with ideas like sustained inactivity: time for your brain to not work a list or produce anything. No agendas. And, ahem, no phones.
We know we don’t have to be in a city other than our home to find quiet stretches. We don’t even need to leave our homes. We can be in our familiar environments (unless that familiar environment is my couch holding laundry waiting to be put away. In that case, any other room in the house but that one would do.), and find space to disconnect in order to connect and hear the truth of where our hearts are and really, what Truth is saying.
Still, the story line of ‘I have no more time to give’ for you fill in the blank reason runs through our minds in the most convincing voice.
But, that’s not true is it? That story leads us to believe an un-truth. And the truth is, we each have enough time for the important pieces. You do have time to find quiet spaces and I do have time to find quiet spaces. It may mean less sleep on one end or the other. It may mean pulling out of the Netflix binge habit that conveniently hides us from moving forward in vulnerable ways (personal pain point). It may mean intentionally saying no to a social commitment. It may mean re-negotiating your time with your spouse and working together to find some quiet spaces. It may mean none of those things. It may be as simple as saying yes to the bravery of letting yourself come to the surface in time spent alone or it may be as complex as reorganizing schedules.
Why is creating space for quiet important for us?
It is important because you are a creative.
How do I know this about every single person reading?
Ah, because God is the Creator of All. He is creative and therefore, you come from creativity. It is, actually, who you are: a creative. And the more you ponder Him, the more it becomes blatantly clear that being a creative has very little to do with whether or not you like to craft. That may be how your creativity emerges but there is a wide variety of expression of creativity. Accountants are creatives just as sculptors are creatives. Moms are creatives just as poets are creatives.
The things He longs to express through you require time and space to discover. Time and space don’t need to mean finding five hour blocks of time with no interruption. And they don’t need to mean traveling to a different country. Don’t underestimate the impact ten minutes walking around your living room before everyone wakes up can have in this pursuit.
Whether you’re in Rome, or you’re working your shift today or you’re starting the same exact routine over today as you pounded out yesterday….a few things I have found helpful to remember in the pursuit of quietness:
- Expect a loud mind.
- It is unbelievably easy to give this pursuit a whirl and stop two minutes later. The moment you try to quiet yourself, thoughts of every sort of thing flood in: the project that’s coming up six months from now, the recipe you meant to look up yesterday morning, that one snarky comment, and oh yes, you have been wanting to look up that one book – what was the name of it?. Most of us become discouraged and quickly walk away. May I encourage you instead to realize how normal this is? Your mind is simply saying ‘yikes!’ and using the space to grab for other things. Be patient! Just keep coming back to what you’re aiming for. Let each thought that comes in, come in and then let it go and come back to quietness. Your brain just needs some time to blow off steam. It will catch on if you hang on long enough!
- A trick:
- Julia Cameron has a method she encourages in her book, The Artist’s Way. It is called morning pages: journaling three pages of any and every thought that comes to your mind, as quickly after you wake up in the morning as possible. The objective is not to diary your thoughts or to create usable content. It is purely meant to be a space your mind dumps. The more we get into the rhythm of it, the more quickly our brains/souls get to the point and truth starts popping up. It is fascinating!!! If you give it a shot, push yourself for the three pages. One paragraph is not enough. Three pages gently eases you into the discipline and the results will shock you. Promise.
Thank you for stepping through Rome with me again. For my hardcore introvert friends, spending time alone on vacation may be par for the course. It was new for me! Today, you may not be able to pull off a pocket of alone time to be still. That’s okay – discouragement isn’t your friend! Take a look at the next week – I bet a pocket of time is there somewhere.
You are a delightful thought to me as I write. I love sharing time and space with you!
Much love and cheers to your dreams of adventure,