My Experience with Solitude

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‘Let him who cannot be alone beware of community….
let him who is not in community beware of being alone…’
Dietrich Bonhoeffer


On one of my trips home from college (over 30 yrs ago), I excitedly told my parents about my new life two hours away. The long talks with my roommates, class discussions, social activities, church services, meals in the cafeteria, were all very new and exciting activities. After listening intently my dad asked, “When are you alone? It’s important to have times when you can ‘Be still and know that He is God.’” (paraphrase of Psalm 46:10)
Those words are some of the most memorable words I heard from my father. There are several reasons those words impacted me and stayed so clear in my mind. One, my father knew me even better than I knew myself. He knew that my tendency was to be very busy and fill my time with people, words and activity. And although I was attending a Christian college, he also knew dependence on God is an internal work not a group activity producing external conformity.


God used my father’s words to continue to call me into intimacy with Him in contrast to trying to earn His approval through frenzied activity for Him. I wish I could say I learned my lesson and never again struggled with the concept. But instead I can look back over the years and see a cycle of repentance from the sin exposed in me, appreciation for God’s grace, rest in His acceptance, passion to share His love, and movement into other’s lives (individually or through group ministries). But without fail every few years I hear my Heavenly Father’s words ‘When are you alone? Be still and know that I am God.’
Along the way I heard about the concept of silent retreats as a way to do that very thing. Several years ago I picked up a book entitled ‘Invitation to Solitude and Silence’ by Ruth Haley Barton. I read it and tried to incorporate moments of solitude and silence into my regular life but I also sensed a yearning to be brave enough to be alone with God for longer periods of time. As it turns out some of my best moments of solitude are road trips, especially very long ones. In order to stay awake I don’t practice silence but I embrace being alone and ponder with God all that is going on in my life. Listening to books on CD or some of my favorite spiritual songs has encouraged me and often times led to clarity regarding my walk with God.

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A few weeks ago I was finally able to pull away from my harried life to spend two nights and the better part of three days with the distinct purpose of being alone and silent with God. I’m not sure what frightened me more: the possibility that God wouldn’t show up or that He actually might. I was afraid of fear. Afraid I would be unable to sleep, full of anxiety wondering if the noises I heard outside really warranted calling 911. A few close friends knew about my plan and prayed for me. On the drive up to the mountain cabin a gracious friend allowed me to use, I listened to the book on CD titled ‘Battling Unbelief’ by John Piper. I chose to simplify the trip and stretch a little further by limiting my intake to a liquid fast for one day.

The first night I slept okay and the only fear I experienced was when I heard a noise in the dining area….it was an unlit candle that had fallen off its stand and rolled off the table, whew! The fire in the wood burning stove, the incredible view of a variety of evergreen trees outside every window and the occasional bird or squirrel all set the perfect tone for time with God. And by faith I believe He was there with me. But I must admit….I didn’t hear a voice from the clouds (or bush), I didn’t have a vision with directions about what to do next in my life or even ‘sense’ a certain calling. In between reading about solitude and silence I practiced praying relationally and wrote in my journal about the experience (I used The PAPA Prayer book by Larry Crabb as a guide).
I came away from this time with a renewed desire to ‘cease the striving’. So once again I’m turning away from my crazy busy-ness and trying to simplify my life a little. Asking myself the hard questions about why I do what I do and looking with fresh eyes where God is at work with a desire to join Him rather than trying to get Him to join me (a concept I first heard from Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby).
I invite you to reflect on your own life. When was the last time you were alone, silent, waiting and pondering the Greatness of God in the context of who you really are? In His presence is the only place we will find rest. We can never work hard enough to produce the peace He longs to give.

Listen to Jesus inviting you to be with Him.
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Mathew 11:28-30 The Message

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