We live in a crazy and noisy world. The exponential growth of time-saving technology has simply enabled us to fill our lives with more and more noise. The iPhone has connected us in unprecedented ways with a constant stream of information and communication. It is getting more and more difficult to find space away from the noise. How do we practice solitude?
What is Solitude?
It’s interesting that for all our crowded spaces and endless connections many are still profoundly lonely. It seems that many seek the world of noise in order to push away feelings of loneliness. But loneliness or chatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together writes, “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 pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”
There is a healthy balance between solitude and community. Our culture just seems to be out of balance in the direction of the community and constant activity. The problem is that it is only in moments of solitude that one can find clarity of direction and purpose.
Jesus and Solitude
Jesus spent considerable time in solitude. He started his ministry with forty days alone in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). Before he chose the twelve disciples he spent the night alone (Luke 6:12). When he heard that John the Baptist has been executed, he “withdrew … to a lonely place …” (Matt. 14:13).
After a long day of work, “in the morning, a great while before day, he rose and went out to a lonely place…” (Mark 1:35). When the twelve returned from a preaching and healing mission, Jesus told them, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place” (Mark 6:31).
He went with three of his disciples up the mount of transfiguration to be alone (Matt. 17:1-9). He went to the solitude of the garden of Gethsemane the night before his death (Matt. 26:36–46).
Again and again, Jesus turned to times of solitude as he faced the challenges of life.
The Rewards of Solitude
Solitude is a powerful tool for living a balanced life. It is more a state of mind than a particular place. Solitude can be practiced no matter where you find yourself. It is not dependent on how many people are around you, but rather an inward attentiveness that can be achieved anywhere.
Solitude is an inner silence that impacts your words and actions. There is an old proverb that says, “all those who open their mouths, close their eyes!” Solitude is inseparable with silence and opens the eyes and ears to see and hear. It’s not that you have to practice complete silence — it’s more a matter of control rather than the absence of noise.
James said that the person who could control his tongue is perfect (James 3:1–12). Under the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude, we learn when to speak and when to refrain from speaking. One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be your defender. You don’t need to straighten others out. You don’t need to convince others that you are right. God will fight your battles for you.
Again, Bonhoeffer writes, “Real silence, real stillness, really holding one’s tongue comes only as the sober consequence of spiritual stillness.”
It’s important to remember that the spiritual disciplines are things that we do. We are dealing with actions, not merely states of mind. So, what are the actions that help us practice solitude?
1. Take advantage of the “little solitudes” that fill your day.
2. Find or develop a “quiet place” designed for silence and solitude.
3. Try to live one entire day without words at all.
4. Four times a year withdraw for three to four hours for the purpose of reorienting your life goals.
5. Once or twice a year withdraw for one or two days for a spiritual retreat.
These are just suggestions. The most important thing is to begin to intentionally and strategically spend time in solitude in order to cultivate an inner strength and peace.