Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude
“And when he had sent the multitudes away, he went up into a mountain apart to pray: and when the evening was come, he was there alone.” Matthew 14:23
1. Solitude Allows Us to Reflect
2. Solitude Helps Us to Heal Our Broken Hearts
3. Solitude Strengthens Us for the Tasks Ahead
Solitude is abstaining from people contact in order to be alone with God and get closer to Him. It is fasting from social contact in order to remove others from the God/me equation. The value of solitude is that it closes off many relationships so we can focus on one.
Language has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone, and the word solitude to express the glory of being alone.
Jesus and the Early Christians
Jesus and the early Christians practiced solitude. Just before Jesus began His ministry, He spent a full forty days and nights in the solitude of the desert. He emerged in power. Even though He had only a few years to accomplish His earthly work, Jesus arranged His life so that He could slip away from His followers sometimes to be alone. Many of the earliest Christians took solitude so seriously they went into the desert to devote their full time to prayer and study. These desert fathers or desert hermits made great contributions to our understanding of Christianity. They considered time alone with God so critical that they gave their whole lives to it. Most Christians today dismiss these desert fathers as wacky extremists. But our excess today is in the opposite direction—spending too much time with others and not enough time with God. When we escape the social busyness of our modern world to spend time alone with God, we enter into the recesses of God’s own solitude. After all, God Himself both embodies community in the Trinity and is solitary in His separateness from us.
The person who cannot stand to be alone is a danger to a group. Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned us of this in his wonderful book Life Together: “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.” After all, what do you bring to any group other than yourself?
How to Begin Practicing Solitude
Find a Place
If you want to try this discipline, the first step is to conceive of a place where you might go—a hermitage. Do you remember a hideout you had as a child? Now find one as an adult. Answer this: If I were going to fast from people contact for several hours, where could I go to find solitude?
Schedule a Time
Set a nonnegotiable appointment with God and stick with it.
Keep Your Expectations Sensible
Don’t expect wild visions and sparkling insight in a few hours. Just expect to wind down a bit and to sense you are in “God’s waiting room.”
Keep the Focus on God
It is possible to be alone in solitude without sensing that you are in God’s presence. Time alone has some benefits, but time alone with God is better. Work at turning your alone time into God time.
Seek One Important Message from God
If you’ve not been practicing this discipline as a means of grace regularly, don’t expect God to unload everything He’s wanted to say to you for years in your first hour together. He is more likely to unfold His words to you over time. At the most, expect only one clear impression each time you slip away with God.
Be Aware of Effect Lag
You may not notice the effect of solitude immediately. The effect may not come for days or even weeks. It may not come at all on the first time you try it. Give this discipline time to change you. Actually, it isn’t the discipline at all; you are giving God himself time to work.
Seek Moments of Solitude in Your Ordinary Day
If you decide to skip this discipline (and you shouldn’t), at least try seeking moments of solitude within your regular daily schedule. You might follow up this reading by treating your daily commute differently. Or plan a walk by yourself this week. Or after supper one night, go sit on the porch for an hour or two, or close the door to your bedroom for a half hour in the morning and lie awake, alone with God. For just one week, you might decide that every time you park your car you’ll take a full five minutes of solitude before getting out.
Try Longer Time Periods
All of the disciplines are not for all the people all of the time. If you discover that the discipline of solitude is a powerful means of spiritual formation in your life, try it for a longer period: perhaps a full day or even a whole week. You don’t need to become a full-time hermit to experience the spiritually transforming power of this discipline, but at least try it some time.