The spiritual discipline of solitude is shown throughout Scripture in both the old and new testaments and the practice has continued throughout generations by those pursuing faith in Jesus. Retreating to a quiet place to be alone is the beginning; engaging the Lord when alone is putting solitude into useful practice. Solitude is not a means to another end. The spiritual discipline is the end itself. Solitude's goal is not to become something more or retreat from all other obligations; rather, it's purpose is coming to be with the Holy. Retreat from the physical and connect with the Spiritual.
Where the Practice of Solitude Began
We learn the discipline of solitude from history and Scripture. Luke 5:16 says, “Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.” Part of exercising solitude is withdrawing from our normal activities. Finding a moment alone is not enough, solitude requires the pursuit of the Holy. Jesus withdrew for prayer. Christ was also alone in the wilderness for 40 days during His temptation. Before beginning His formal ministry Jesus "trained" through temptations and Scripture knowledge. When in solitude during this time He was engaging the spiritual. When choosing the twelve disciples, Jesus went alone, silent, and before the Lord to pray. After John the Baptist, who also lived in the wilderness practicing solitude, was beheaded, Jesus withdrew to a place to be alone. Before walking on water Jesus was alone. Before preaching in Galilee Jesus was alone. Christ's most famous time of solitude with the Lord was in the garden of Gethsemane before giving up His life for His people. Before choosing community, during tough times, when drawing on Divine Power, and when sharing a Word of Truth, Jesus makes efforts to be with God first. Jesus isn’t the only biblical example. Elijah practiced solitude and waited on the Lord to hear the “gentle Whisper”. Moses was alone on Mt. Sinai waiting to hear from the Lord. This discipline is not new. Getting a moment alone is the beginning, engaging the Lord when alone is the act.
There were many desert fathers known for their times of solitude as well. Many lived as hermits and several took vows of silence. St. Anthony might be considered the most famous as a nickname for him was “the father of monks”. Around 269 Anthony heard the call of the Lord to sell everything he had. He did so and withdrew to the desert for a life of solitude. This did not mean he did not interact with individuals ever again, but most of his life was dedicated to time alone with the Lord listening for His voice. Many followed after him: St. Benedict, St. Francis, Merton, Ignatius Loyola, A Kempis, even to the modern day Brennan Manning who also spent a time of solitude in a cave to listen for the Lord.
A common misconception is substituting solitude for privacy. People claim they want solitude but they really mean they want to be alone without judgment, accountability, or explanation. This is not the discipline of solitude. Solitude is not privacy or loneliness. When one is regularly practicing the discipline of solitude in the Lord one will realize quite the opposite; you are never alone! Drs. Gregg and Tan teach majority of motivation for solitude is rooted in one's yearning to hear the Lord speak. God speaks regularly, but often we allow our noise to drown Him out. When solitude is practiced with a pure heart there can be many benefits for the individual.
Benefits of Solitude
Self Awareness. The world has taught us how to live and we haven’t taken the time to question it. Solitude allows us to retreat from the world to which we so often conform. It helps us evaluate through the lens of our Creator where we are, where we need to improve, and where we need to sever our ties to the world completely.
Henri Nouwen writes, "We move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, and do are worth thinking, saying, and doing." If we don’t take the time to reflect on what we say, do, or think we end up living life like the world and possibly working against our very purpose.
Perspective. Solitude strips you of everything that typically defines your worth and you are left with nothing but God. When practicing solitude there is not a friend to comfort you, no one to call and affirm that you are worthy, no emails needing your attention suggesting you're important, and no music to distract you from your thoughts. In solitude you are left with your thoughts (good, bad, and ugly) and the only place to turn to for hope and comfort is the Lord. In this process one dies to his or her false self. You are left with who you are and no one to tell you otherwise. Again Henri Nouwen encourages solitude so “we discover that being is more important than having, and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts.”
When we learn our value in the Lord away from the world and its standards we are able to approach our neighbor more compassionately. No longer do we come up to others with a yardstick to measure their worth like we so often measure our own. We learn to see others as people created in God’s image because being in solitude with the Lord forces a person to become intimately connected with the Lover of all and in so doing undergoes transformation into His likeness.
Intimacy with our Creator. Solitude can feel awkward for some because it is the only time a person is truly quiet. We have forgotten to rest and most importantly rest in the One who gives us life. We have neglected to sit in our Father’s lap and spend time with Him. We become too absorbed into the world and our activity that we kill our own spirits. Sitting with the One who knows you most, listening to His plans for you, allowing Him to love on you, receiving His correction for the fullest life, these intimate moments are key in fueling our spirits each day.
Richard Foster suggests practicing solitude in the little times of one’s day at first. We may not otherwise think of these times but solitude can be found in the house before anyone gets up, while we quietly eat our breakfast, or even in bumper-to-bumper traffic. These snippets of time help us remember the Lord and give us a chance to be with Him. Solitude will help you create a quiet place in your spirit even in the midst of chaos. Embrace moments of solitude the Lord might carve out for you. Your Creator beckons you to be alone with Him again.
What benefit has solitude produced in your life?