It’s good to learn about one or more of the spiritual disciplines – prayer, meditation, Scripture study, and more – but to actually practice them presupposes solitude, or the clarity of mind and heart that come from it.
In these days of the pandemic, many may say, “With social distancing and staying home, I have more than enough time alone.” But solitude is a different animal from enforced time alone and the loneliness that can produce.
So what is solitude, and how is it different from plain, old loneliness?
Solitude is a state of heart and mind that sets us free from loneliness and fear. Its purpose is not escape, but rather the renewal of our abilities to experience God’s living presence, and the opportunity to bond with God. Yet it is hard to see and hear anything calling to us when we are running hard in the opposite direction: cramming our days, packing our calendars and schedules. As one author puts it, “We are starved for quiet, to hear the sound of sheer silence that is the presence of God himself.”1
Despite looking similar on the outside, solitude and loneliness are opposites. Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation, but solitude is being alone without being lonely. Solitude is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself ad well as with God. It suggests peacefulness and a sense of inner richness. Solitude is something we choose, not something imposed on us by others or our outward circumstances.
There are many ways to enter into solitude. For example:
- Take advantage of the “little solitudes” that fill your day, what Bonnie Gray calls “spiritual whitespace.”
- Develop a quiet place in your home for silence and solitude.
- Find places outside your home, as well: perhaps a place on your property, in a nearby park, or in a church sanctuary.
- Go for a walk to be with God: notice signs of God’s love and thank God for them.
- Slowly read a psalm out loud, such as Ps. 16; 19; 23; 42; or 51. What do you hear God saying to you? What is your response? Write your own psalm to God.
- Worship God through listening to songs or by singing them.
- Read one of the scenes in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. Put yourself in the story. What is God saying to you?
Even small moments spent with God matter. We can give ourselves the gift of periodic solitude to bond with God as a partner in God’s presence.
1 – Ruth Haley Barton, Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence, www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/47409,Ruth_Haley_Barton.