“No time left for you. On my way to better things. No time left for you. I found myself some wings. No time left for you. Distant roads are callin’ me.” ~Bachman/Cummings~
Solitude? Are you serious? This is the 21st century. Solitude does not exist. There’s hustle and bustle, run here, run there, people yakking, noise and confusion everywhere.
We have gadgets that supposedly streamline our lives, but in reality, mightily contributes to the light-speed and stress of modern life. Televisions playing, stereos blaring, cell phones ringing, this handheld device beeping, that handheld device bleating, horns honking, answering machines and voice mail arranged to keep us connected to the ever-present background noise.
There are babies crying, children arguing, and teens continually talking a mile a minute. Fold in job tension, demands, schedules, deadlines, commitments, do this, do that, and get it done yesterday, got it? Solitude . . . solitude? What are you thinking? What color is the sky in your world? For the record, the color of the sky in my world is blue and just now, it’s speckled by white spots of clouds.
Solitude is a state of mind—we create our own solitude, though the truth is, solitude frightens most of us. Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the aviator Charles Lindbergh, penned potent words about solitude: “We seem so frightened today of being alone that we never let it happen. Instead of planting our solitude with our own dream blossoms, we choke the space with continuous music, chatter, and companionship to which we do not even listen. When the noise stops there is no inner music to take its place.”
Quaker writers wrote about being centered and having an inner balance. Jesus urged us to stay focused on the kingdom of God. Put those two concepts together and that’s what solitude is all about. Solitude means being at peace with self—learning to be at peace with ourselves sounds strange, but is entirely necessary. If we don’t have peace within the framework of self, then we can never be at peace with those around us.
Solitude means being alone, though according to Scripture, we are never really alone, for God is with us. Jesus promised to be with us until the end of time as we know it, so solitude means being alone with God. We fashion our own solitude out of the hullaballoo of our lives—that’s what we do if we give solitude credence and consideration. IF being alone with God is important to us we figure out a way to integrate it into our lives. Excuses are always readily available, which we never want to examine too closely.
If it is important to us—if we value balance and peace, then we will find or make time for solitude. An ever-present reality is that all too often we do not want solitude because to be alone with God demands serious self-examination, so we embrace confusion—we turn the volume up loud so we don’t have to think.
There are plenty of times I do just that—turn up the background noise. Even though I know it’s fruitless, it’s still a default reaction.
I’ve learned that I cannot function for long without practicing the discipline of solitude. Whenever I get off-balance or things get off-kilter and out of whack, it can always be traced to the fact that I haven’t guarded my quiet time.
If we are genuine in our desire to grow spiritually, then that’s exactly what we must do—we need to protect solitude. We do that by setting definite boundaries, and managing our calendar and the stuff over which we can take control.
Don’t take my word for it—let’s look to Jesus.
Luke 4:42-44 . . . 5:15-16 – NIV
At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. But he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns also, because that is why I was sent.” And he kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea.
Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” ~Jesus of Nazareth~
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and
envying each other.” ~Paul of Tarsus~
Do we get the point? Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God, made it a priority to practice solitude. People were constantly flocking to him, multitudes followed him, wanting to be touched and healed, demanding his attention, yet Jesus “often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”
Jesus comprehended that strength and wisdom flows from the heart of God. After emotionally, physically and spiritually draining days, Jesus was up early the next morning to go to a solitary place because he truly valued his connection with his Heavenly Father.
Despite the flurry of activity around him, Jesus shaped solitude into his daily life. He disconnected and disengaged from the demands and pressures to hear the inner music playing in his soul, to cultivate his personal spiritual life and relationship with his Father. If Jesus needed solitude for prayer and refreshment, how much more is that true for us? So why don’t we see it as a vital necessity?
The answer is simple: Pride and self-sufficiency. Most of us have an exaggerated sense of our own importance so we can’t disengage or disconnect. That’s why tablets, ipads, smart phones and the like become extensions of our arms—somehow we think that the world cannot function or get along unless we’re plugged in. Understand that 21st century communication wizardry has its place, but technological wonders are deceptive and play tricks with our pride. More often than not we end up being servants and slaves of the technology that was sold to us to free up time and simplify our lives.
Since we all possess generous amounts of pride, getting an inflated view of our significance comes extremely easy. Here’s a sobering idea: It doesn’t matter how important we are or how important we think we are, anyone of us could die in the next heartbeat, and the world will not spin off its axis or grind to a stop.
Life will go on. So explain to me why we can’t disconnect and disengage for twenty minutes or so every day? IF we determine that carving time out to be alone with God is crucial to our well-being, then we’ll figure out a way to merge solitude into our lives. We do not need any training, seminars or more books to read about spiritual formation—we merely need to apply a very small percentage of all our head knowledge.
An over-inflated sense of our self-identity needs to decrease so that Christ can increase in our hearts, and in the process, grace grows in abundance so that the fruits of the Spirit blossom in our lives.
A Deliberate Plan
“It is a difficult lesson to learn today, to leave one’s friends and family and deliberately practice the art of solitude for an hour or a day or a week. For me, the break is most difficult. And yet, once it is done, I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before!” ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh~
Here’s a deliberate plan: Unplug, disconnect and disengage, and in solitude contemplate mortality and eternity. Doing so on a regular basis with healthy doses of time and energy will result in incremental changes in perspective, attitude and actions. Practicing the discipline of solitude will be beneficial for our mental and spiritual outlook, and produce symptoms of inner peace.
Engaging in solitude will give one an enhanced ability to enjoy each and every moment—loss of interest in judging other people and loss of interest in judging self—loss of interest in conflict and loss of interest in worry—loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
There will be frequent overwhelming episodes of appreciation—contented feelings of deep connections with others and with nature—spontaneous attacks of smiling through the eyes from the heart—an increased susceptibility to love and be loved.
Working at solitude means developing a tendency to let things happen rather than forcing issues—this rather enlightening side-effect creates an ever-expanding patience and appreciation for God’s perfect timing. What’s up with solitude is this: It’s a practice that when implemented provides a radical harvest of spiritual grit and vigor. Meditate on the concept of solitude long and hard—it is doubtful one can come up with any negatives or drawbacks to this essential spiritual discipline.