If you’re anything like me (ahem, an extreme extrovert), the idea of being alone in an unknown place with zero plans for a week probably sounds like the worst plan ever. Yet that’s exactly what I did last summer and am currently doing right now. Why? Because it turned out to be the most unexpected antidote to anxiety and a doorway to breakthrough I never imagined. I’m writing this article because I think it could be the same for you.
Hi, I’m Baylee, and I’m as extroverted as it gets: ENFP (The Champion or Campaigner depending on where you look), Enneagram 3w2 (Achiever/Helper), high IS (Counselor), and I LOVE people a lot. So when I had three separate nudges to go on a solitude trip, I begrudgingly obliged.
Those “nudges” I felt were familiar. A while back, I started following Jesus and noticing the ways he gets my attention when he wants to tell me something. It might sound crazy, but I felt He wanted to talk to me more—away, alone—than He could if I kept my normal day-to-day.
To make it even harder, I’ve also suffered from anxiety from as early as I can remember. The idea of going places alone makes my heart race, my entire body sweat, and my stomach nauseous. Seriously, I used to make friends go to doctors’ appointments and the grocery store with me. I’ve gone out of my way to pick up a friend prior to going to any social events, just so I don’t show up alone. I always get everywhere early just in case there was traffic, or I got lost. So, last summer, when I thought I heard God telling me to go on a solitude trip, it was honestly comical. I was crippled with anxiety and flat out said there was no way I could do that.
A few days later, during a leadership training, the speaker shared about ways to grow as a leader. He said we need to spend time with people (checkmark, I do that super well) and spend time with God (checkmark, I already do that too). Then he talked about extended solitude, and I was convicted. I’ve never spent a full day alone.
His words that day made me so incredibly uncomfortable, which for me, can be a sign that God is saying something. The very next day, someone sent me a random message that said, “I’m supposed to tell you five days.” I unenthusiastically and obediently booked a trip to Asheville, North Caroline (a half-day drive from my house) for five days that afternoon.
One month later, I deleted all social media, turned off all alerts on my phone, and set off on my first solo trip to spend time in a cabin with God.
I was terrified and actually cried as I drove through Kentucky because I really didn’t want to be doing this. I turned up my worship music and rolled the windows down, and those anxieties began to subside. And then it was time for lunch. I convinced myself to stop at a fun restaurant in Knoxville, Tennessee, for a nice meal. I got off the exit, and as I saw the burger joint approaching, I began to get hot and sweaty, and I continued to drive right past it.
I’m 30 years old. And I’d never eaten at a restaurant by myself. And that was not going to be the day that changed. I cried my way into a Wendy’s parking lot, frustrated and disappointed in myself, feeling like I wasn’t strong or brave enough to sit down in a restaurant alone. How ridiculous is that?!
I got back on the road and decided that before checking into my Airbnb, I was going to go to a mountain overlook to take some pretty pictures. I set my GPS location to Pisgah National Forest and set off to see the glorious mountains. Soon, the road I was traveling on turned to gravel with multiple “proceed with caution” signs, but I kept going because I was determined to see the mountains. Until the road dead-ended, and it started torrential downpouring and thundering.
I had no cell phone service, and I was SCARED. I remember praying that if God was going to call me home, it’d be great if He just got it over with. I slowly made my way down the mountain and regained cell phone service to see that I had, in fact, put in the wrong location, and a big storm was headed in my direction. I drove to the Airbnb and thanked the Lord the entire way there for protecting me and keeping me safe.
While on this trip, I fell in love with being alone. I felt a newfound sense of freedom of coming and going when I wanted. For the first time, it was fun to have no plans or agenda. I’d been living with a roommate and was always so busy with one activity after another; I didn’t know I could feel this way.
I slept better than I had in months and felt so in tune with God: His voice, His creation, His Spirit. I was at peace, and my soul felt so good. I finally ate at a local restaurant by myself (note to those who have never done this before: it’s GREAT—and take a book with you!) I went horseback riding and encountered the sweetest couple. I hiked up mountains and sat and prayed by the stream. And the entire time, I imagined Jesus doing the same things with me.
I drove home (kicking and screaming because I didn’t want the trip to be over) and realized I could do big, hard things on my own because I was never alone. I was with Him all along.
I realized I usually live my life far too busy to hear from God truly. Between the binge-watching of TV shows, groups every day of the week, mindless scrolling of social media, I wasn’t leaving much space for God. I also decided to start seeing a Christian therapist unpack some things I had not fully dealt with from my past. This trip also served as a catalyst for me to start living with families.
I realize it’s not practical for everyone to pack up and take a week of solitude, but for me, that’s what He needed me to do. Maybe you need that, too. Or perhaps, He’s nudging you to delete social media or say “no” to that other thing that consumes so much time. I have no idea what it is for you, but I know He wants more of you. He has more to give you, too.
I’m no longer afraid to show up to places alone or leave thirty minutes early. As I packed up for this next trip, I had minimal anxiety, knowing Jesus was with me and God was watching over me as I started on another journey to just BE with Him. I’m fully expecting more breakthroughs and freedom on the other side because He’s continually showing me that’s what He gives when we are brave enough to take a risk on him.