It’s been twenty-eight years since I’ve had a baby, but on May 17th my husband and I brought home a 9 ½-pound, 8-week-old boy named Zeke—a Staffordshire terrier puppy. For the first three weeks, someone had to watch our precious little bundle of energy EVERY minute.
I’d forgotten about taking showers in shifts, never eating a hot meal, and well…talking on the phone? Impossible—because my toddler senses when mommy is distracted.
Let’s just say, I’m no longer lonely. 😉
I had to giggle when I saw the chapter in Sacred Rhythms on Solitude. I thought my pre-puppy experience as an empty-nester made me well-versed on solitude, but after reading this chapter I realized:
Being alone is radically different than sacred solitude.
Coaxing the Soul
Solitude begins by coaxing our souls out of hiding—our “souls” being that place within us that’s uniquely ourselves without pretense, decoration, or should be(s). Chapter 2 begins with a quote from Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness, that describes the soul as a wild animal, reluctant to show itself to those who go crashing about the woods yelling for it to show itself, but willing to come out if one sits patiently at the base of a tree waiting for its appearance.
Solitude and silence are inextricably linked to the coaxing of our soul’s revelation. No beating drums or shouted demands will beckon it or the God who created it. In fact, Sacred Rhythm’s Ruth H. Barton goes on to explain that the deepest revelation of her soul came only after practicing short daily times of solitude and silence and then an extended all-day retreat where she was surrounded by people—yet sworn to silence.
It was the freedom of word-less-ness that freed her soul to make its appearance.
When the Soul Speaks
In Ms. Barton’s case (and in mine), silent solitude gave the soul a platform to speak in its native language—emotion—unhindered by the interference of well-meaning advice from friends or even my own intellectual solutions.
By stepping into God’s presence in silent solitude, my emotions (as terrifying as uncontrolled emotions are) were exposed to the shining Light of His care. In solitude, no one else asks why I’m crying or tries to fix me. Just my God, who already knows the root of the emotions, may or may not choose to reveal the source of the emotions and/or the answers to my questions. Frankly, He may simply allow me to sit in the emotion with no answers at all. The goal of solitude isn’t to stir emotion or get answers. The goal is to lay bare our souls before God so He can decide what to do next.
Scared of Silence and Solitude?
The very idea of sitting alone in silence may be terrifying to some. The thought of turning the ringer off on your cell phone might make your teeth itch, but it’s necessary for a deeper connection with God and others. Consider Barton’s words:
“Constant noise, interruption and drivenness to be more productive…interrupt [our] direct experience of God and other human beings…Because we are experiencing less meaningful human and divine connection, we are emptier relationally, and we try harder and harder to fill that loneliness with even more noise and stimulation. In doing so we lose touch with the quieter and more subtle experiences of God within. This is a vicious cycle indeed. Solitude is an opportunity to interrupt this cycle…so that we can hear…our loneliness…calling us deeper into the only relationship that can satisfy our longing.”
I must confess. I love my cell phone. It’s attached to me and me to it. I check email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, etc. all the time. It’s constantly buzzing, chirping, knocking, and whistling for my attention, thereby instilling in me the attention span of a mosquito.
Imagine if Jesus had a cell phone during His earthly ministry. How would He EVER have had those early-morning prayer times with the Father? How would He have had those long, heart-to-heart chats with the disciples? How would He have delivered the Sermon on the Mount…without pausing to take a call from his mother?
Jesus Calls Us to Solitude
Mark 6 gives us a snapshot of an incredibly busy time during the life of Jesus and His disciples. They’d traveled to Nazareth and been chased out. Jesus commissioned the Twelve to go out two-by-two for their first solo missions, and while they’re gone, John the Baptist is beheaded. When the disciples return, they’re eager to tell Jesus about their successes in ministry, but so many people gather around, they can’t talk, so Jesus calls them to solitude:
[He says,] “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31b
Jesus and the disciples escape the crowd by boat, but the crowds find them again, so Jesus has compassion and miraculously feeds 5,000 men (plus women and children) with five loaves and two fish. After the miracle, what does Jesus do?
“Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.”
Not only did Jesus send the disciples away to give them rest and solitude, He removed Himself and found a solitary place to pray. Do you see the importance of solitude to the Son of God?
Later, after Jesus sent seventy-two disciples out to minister in pairs, they returned overjoyed at the success they’d experienced here on earth, but Jesus reminded them that even ministry-related successes aren’t as important as the condition of the soul:
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Luke 10:20
In our productivity-driven culture, we must listen to the beckoning of our Savior and go away with Him by ourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. (Mk. 6:31b)
In my attempts at silent solitude, I found my mind fragmented, like Ruth H. Barton described. Distractions—external and internal—were incessant. My attention span has been hijacked by years of technological saturation, and it will take time to cultivate the spiritual concentration I once enjoyed.
I keep implementing the great advice I received at the recent women’s retreat: “When a distraction comes, don’t push it down, lift it up to the Lord and then resume your silence.”
The joy of silence and solitude is that it requires no tools. I don’t need a Bible, pen, journal, or a book. Just God and me, and I’m ready for this wonderful, frustrating, enlightening, terrifying, satisfying journey into my naked soul. (BTW, I still read my Bible during my quiet time. I’ve just added the silence and solitude in the beginning.)
Your Experience This Week:
Please share your experience of solitude and silence this week. Did you struggle as I did with distractions? Experience a soul revelation you’d like to share? Hear only silence in the silence? Remember, the comments are a place to share our hearts, but we’re not called to “fix” each other. It’s in the silence and solitude that God does the transforming.
- Being alone is radically different than cultivating sacred solitude.
- It is the freedom of word-less-ness that coaxes our souls to divulge deeply hidden truths.
- The goal of solitude is to lay bare our souls before God so He can decide what to do next in us.
- We’re not called to “fix” each other. It’s in silence and solitude that God does the transforming.