“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”
The Gospels in the Bible are filled with stories of Jesus preaching, serving, and healing people. He was very active and engaged in bringing His Kingdom to earth to provide hope and joy for everyone. We as Christians regularly hear sermons on the life and teachings of Jesus and how to obey His commandments, including the commandment of evangelism. We seek to emulate the life of Christ in many ways, and while we all fall short, many of us are genuinely committed to growing more like Jesus in our daily lives. Yet, too many of us, while focusing rightly on doing the works that Christ commanded, forget a critical aspect of His life. We forget, or in some ways ignore, His regular practice of solitude and silence.
There are countless scriptures in the Gospel that speak of Jesus withdrawing the be with the Lord. While he served others, and preached the good news, he prioritized spending time alone with the Father. The dictionary definition of solitude is the “state of being alone or isolated.” Yet, as Christians, solitude is not complete loneliness because our solitude is focused on being alone with God. The practice of solitude is essential for all Christians, because it allows us to slow down, and listen to and be with God. It forces us to let go, for a short period, our priorities, to-do lists, and other responsibilities.
So much of our focus as Christians is on “doing things” for God. Church ministries, mission trips, and serving opportunities revolve around the big idea of working and being dedicated for the Lord. We attend conferences and lectures to develop better skills and toolkits to enhance our spiritual lives and ministries. While those things are helpful, we too often view our faith solely from a self-help perspective as a means to lead more productive and efficient lives. The problem with that approach is that our learning and doing alone will not grow us closer to Christ. As Christian author Parker Palmer says, “If you skimp on your inner life, your outer life will suffer,” meaning that if we fail to spend time working on our inner spiritual life, including learning how to rest and be still before God, our outer life of doing will fail. Author Pete Scazzero speaks of how his years in full-time ministry affected his emotional health and attitude because he failed to develop daily rhythms and practices of solitude and silence before God.
Below are three big ideas to understand about solitude.
Solitude allows you to slow down and be the beloved
In one Pete Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Leader” podcasts, he talks about how our identities are too often based on external forces including one’s career, one’s salary, or others’ assumptions. These identities are unstable, and lead to constant confusion and discontent. Through solitude, we are able to withdraw from the social pressures that impact our understanding of our identity to a God who loves us. We are beloved by God, which is our true identity. This identity is not based on one’s social standing, personality, or even behavior. Rather, this identity is based on who God says we are, and being loved by Him is greater and more sustainable than any approval or reputation we may have. Regular practices of solitude, especially during days of feeling undervalued and burdened by the pressures of the world, can provide true rest and assurance in who we really are.
Solitude provides space to acknowledge and wrestle with temptations and fears
A few weeks, I was preparing for a meeting at work. Being a person who is afraid of confrontation, I was extremely nervous. Furthermore, I found myself tempted to gossip and speak negatively about co-workers to other colleagues, based on the nature of this meeting. Feeling convicted, I took a break from planning for this meeting to walk outside of my work building and spend some time alone with God. During this time, I acknowledged that I was afraid as well as tempted to think and act in ungodly ways. This allowed me to be honest about my feelings and temptations with God and seek strength and love from Him. Too often, our fears and frustrations are masked by binge-eating, binge-watching TV, or idly browsing through social media. We deal with our temptations by giving into them, and finding ways to justify certain habits. Yet, through such binging and idle practices, we find ourselves feeling as bad or worse than we originally felt because our escapist activities did little to address our pain. Solitude provides us a space to be honest about how we are feeling in the comfortable and safe presence of the Lord.
Solitude allows us to be vulnerable
Vulnerability is essential in relationships with family and close friends because it allows us to be our authentic self. Yet, as much as we are to be vulnerable with one another, how much more vulnerable should we be with God? Author Ruth Haley Barton likens vulnerability with God to a younger child who cries and laughs honestly without holding back with their parents because they feel safe and comfortable around them. Our solitude with God should be a space of vulnerability before God, not needing to be politically correct or shielded around Him, but being open and exposed.
Solitude is a discipline that has been practiced by Christians for centuries. This discipline has been overlooked because of our commitment to productivity and the countless distractions that control our attention. Yet, if we are serious about having a deep relationship we God, we cannot neglect to practice solitude on a daily basis. Whether it means spending two minutes in the car silent before God, taking long walks during your lunch break, or finding other times and practices that work best, it is important that we attend to our inner life through time alone with God. Being with God will provide wisdom beyond the sagely self-help books, knowledge unknown to the elites of our society, security unavailable through financial or material means, and love deeper than that of the healthiest couple.