We humans are terrified of being alone. Many of us are, in perhaps the most intense ways in our lives, experiencing that right now. Because of this, we often find ourselves mindlessly filling the void with whatever scrolls into view. And there is no shortage of things to fill the void these days.
But what if loneliness or mindless filling were not our only options? Richard Foster, in his now classic book Celebration of Discipline proposes that “we can cultivate an inner solitude and silence that sets us free from loneliness and fear.” “Loneliness is inner emptiness,” he says. “Solitude is inner fulfillment.” As we explore Spiritual Disciplines this week we are reaching for healthy new rhythms and routines. Of the “outward disciplines” Foster explores – Simplicity, Solitude, Submission and Service – solitude is one that seems particularly pertinent to our times.
Solitude, as Jeff Bethke pointed out in our Signs of Life podcast last week, is about allowing everything to go quiet. It’s about being in God’s presence and that being enough. It’s about getting quiet for long enough to actually experience something very different from the constant noise and filling.
Jesus did this often. In fact he went so far as to physically put himself in lonely, desolate places just to be alone with God. We read about one such time in Mark chapter 1, verse 35:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”
This word translated here as “solitary place” in Greek also means “lonely” or “desolate” place. It’s not an image, necessarily, of a place of comfort. The point is to be alone with God. There is, in true silence, an invitation and opportunity to listen. It is possible to be silent but not actually be listening. The hope of solitude, then, is to hear and see God – not simply to cease noise.
So try it today. Find a truly set apart place if you can – it might have to be a closet, it might be outside. Let everything go quiet and sit in that silence long enough for it to start feeling different. As we allow ourselves to experience life-giving solitude we will discover that it is “one of the deepest Disciplines of the Spirit simply because it puts the stopper on all self-justification. One of the fruits of silence is the freedom to let God be our justifier.” As we close our mouths and quiet our minds, many things fall away and we are left in the presence of a loving God. And that’s enough.
Grace and Peace,
Pastor Joel & Jeff