I used to think I could check the “solitude” box on the spiritual disciplines list because I’m an introvert. But it’s not that simple. People who love to sing aren’t always worshipping. People who love to be alone aren’t always in solitude.
Solitude is not escape from a busy life. It is not “me” time or an excuse to indulge in introversion. Solitude is not rest and relaxation. It’s not aloneness.
Solitude is the discipline of setting aside my daily cares so I can spend time in God’s transforming presence. It is an invitation to spend time away from the people and things in my life to be restored and renewed in God’s image.
Barriers in Practicing Solitude
As you might expect, the first barrier to experiencing God’s presence in solitude is other people. I can only get very small moments of alone time at this stage of my life. Wanting to be present with my wife, and our two-year-old and seven-year-old, plus long days in an office full of people, plus church and community responsibilities, I have to get up early to accomplish the first part of this definition: getting time away from the people in my life, no matter how much I love or need them.
But there is no time of day when we’re not distracted by our things. Whether it’s the phone I have, the boat I want, or the coffee refill that I need: it’s easy to find excuses to avoid contending with God.
Even my thoughts conspire against me. Once I get some separation from the people and the things in my life, just as I open myself to the nearness of God, a spew of thoughts and ideas cloud the water around me like the dark ink of a squid on the run.
But those thoughts are precisely what I’m laying on the table before my holy and loving Father. Those thoughts often represent all the parts of my life and my being that need Jesus. My thoughts represent my fears and frustrations, my pride and pettiness. All the things that cripple and weigh me down, preventing me from living God’s abundant life.
The Invitation of Solitude
Solitude is hard, even counterintuitive. It’s not natural for criminals to hang out with judges. And it’s not natural for me to willingly enter God’s presence when I haven’t yet given up all my idols. Yet that’s precisely why God calls us into God’s presence.
We are each created to live fully and completely in the loving presence of Jesus and under the direction of his wisdom, goodness, power, and love. Fruitful solitude is all about remaining in Christ, and accepting the pain of pruning.
Jesus says, “I am the true grapevine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more. You have already been pruned and purified by the message I have given you. Abide in me, and I will abide in you. For a branch cannot produce fruit if it is severed from the vine, and you cannot be fruitful unless you abide in me.” (John 15:1-4 NLT)
While this can be difficult, it is for our benefit—and the benefit of the whole body of Christ. Through solitude we abide in Christ, letting our roots grow down into God’s love, keeping us strong, giving us the power to understand how wide, how long, how high, and how deep God’s love is (Ephesians 3:12-21). Rather than isolating us, solitude builds us up in Christ to live peacefully with our neighbors. As God prunes us from our many distractions—our fleeting thoughts and feelings—we can anchor in who we are in Christ. Then we can really see and serve the people around us. We can recognize their authentic needs, rather than our wants and desires. We can live in unity with others, just as we experience union with God.
Give It a Try
Solitude prepares us to read Scripture. When we lay our idols before God, we can see more clearly. People, things, thoughts, and feelings aren’t distracting us anymore. Instead, we can read the text as it was intended. We read Scripture in God’s presence, with Christ at the center.
What might spending time in solitude look like for you? Scripture gives us very different examples. Jacob wrestled with God in solitude (Genesis 32:22-32). Jesus was led by God alone into the desert to contend with the Devil (Matthew 4:1-11). And Jesus sought the will of God in solitude (Luke 5:16). Do you need to fight it out with God? Is God leading you to confront some darkness in your life? Or do you need God’s wisdom and guidance?
Plan time to enter into solitude with God. Set aside all the people, things, and thoughts that inhabit your life. Simply acknowledge these aspects and lay them before your loving Father. Invite Christ to make a home in your heart, to root you deeply in God’s love. Use this time to meditate on a verse or passage of Scripture. Read it with God, in God’s presence. Discover the fullness of life God intends for you—one that is lived in union with God and others.
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