Saturday, April 2, 2011


I don't enjoy enough solitude. I realized this recently, prompted particularly by a passage in a book I am reading. I desire solitude, but I don't get enough of it.

In reading the passage I mentioned, I understood that solitude is more than simply having a "quiet time." It is more than spending time in prayer and in God's Book. The authors write:

"Solitude is being completely alone with God away from all human contact for extended periods of time."

Like most people, I find it hard to create such time. Live is full of work that needs to be done. It is full of people who need attention. There seems to be little opportunity and space to get away and be quiet with God. But in fact we can make such time if we choose to. I fill my spare time with noise and activity and distraction, robbing myself of the time I could spend with Him. How much of our modern culture focuses on filling the emptiness around us so that we don't have time to stop, reflect on our lives and listen to Him? We have TV, iPods, internet, and a seemingly endless list of other opportunities to entertain ourselves. I am not saying that we must entirely avoid these. They can serve very useful purposes in our lives. Sometimes even just relaxing and disengaging can be a useful activity. But if you are like me, these things can come to rob my time and energy from things that are more important. It is difficult to hear from God when my attention is being demanded by a myriad of things, most of them louder and flashier than the voice of God.

In addition to all the things we fill our lives with, solitude can be difficult to find because we share our living space with other people. Not everyone has the luxury of a large house with lots of rooms to which a person can escape and be alone. Few of us have a secluded mountain cabin where we can hold our own personal retreats. I live in a home with my wife, two children and a young woman who helps us with our kids' schooling. While we are by no means crowded, personal space is not easy to come by. I also live in a reasonably large city, so when I am outside I am most often surrounded by people. Can I find solitude in such a place? I know I can, but it will require intentional effort. I think of a friend of mine who regularly spends time in an East Asian country. In that city he is surrounded by millions of people, and yet from his blog I know that even there he manages to separate himself at times from the bustle around him and create his own little place of solitude. I can do that here as well. I can get up earlier, when our house is still quiet, and try to find solitude here in the home. Or I can walk down the street to a lovely botanical garden and spend some time there. But I must be intentional if this is going to happen.

Finally, solitude requires that I set aside my agenda. Instead of using these times of solitude to take my laundry list to God, I need to intentionally set those things aside--perhaps in the first minutes of solitude--and allow him to speak to me. That is very hard for me to do--to silence my mind and heart and listen. I am much more comfortable with talking and doing than sitting and listening.

The authors of this passage remind us that Jesus used such times of solitude regularly in order to stay close to his Father and to understand what the Father wanted of him. Jesus could easily have spent his entire day, every day, doing fruitful ministry. Perhaps some modern organizations and donors would fault him for not being more productive. After all, these times of solitude are not producing demonstrable results! But in fact they are essential to maintaining long-term vitality. And if that was true for Jesus, how much more true is it for me?

I am still thinking about how to make time for solitude. I certainly would like to take time each month. Ideally I'd like to do so even more frequently. I don't want indecision to keep me from moving ahead on this and I hope that sometime in the next week I will deliberately and intentionally step away for several hours and enjoy some real solitude.