The ancient church utilized a number of so called spiritual disciplines to aid in the process of spiritual growth. They were intended in various ways to encourage the emergence of a rich and healthy spiritual quality within a person’s life. Among these was the discipline of solitude. In the simplest of terms, it was an intentional commitment to times of withdrawal to be alone with God and one’s thoughts. A time to simply commune and listen to what the Spirit might say to a person.
Probably very few of us have ever actually engaged in this activity as a discipline. Certainly some have perhaps been thrust into it by the circumstances of life. I am thinking of our widows and widowers who too often pass many days and nights in a state of aloneness not of their own choosing. There may be others as well. The rest of us as often as not, find the idea of solitude a very desirable dream in the midst of lives where every hour is tasked to the maximum.
We rush from commitment to commitment, activity to activity with an occasional moment when we wish fervently that we could just get away from it all for just a little bit.
I fall into the category of those who have been committed to the fullest extent possible in days gone by, and also those who have had solitude thrust upon them by circumstances. During the past year, as I have served as an intentional interim minister, I was geographically distanced from my family and spent a fairish amount of time alone. At the end of the day, I live the life of a bachelor returning to my house where no one awaits. I have learned some new lessons about all of this. First, solitude can be very difficult. At first, it feels a great deal like loneliness. The hours can drag. It can feel like the house is closing in around you. The quiet is oppressive. There can be a temptation to simply go to bed and wait for tomorrow with its promise of distracting activity. It may not feel very spiritual at all.
On the positive side, I have “slowly” (I emphasize that word) learned how to transform aloneness into solitude. Solitude should be understood as solitude with God. I am learning how to read the Bible again with a devotional eye rather than an exegetical eye. I am learning afresh how to pray in a flowing manner where prayer extends for minutes stretching into hours. I am learning how to simply listen to my thoughts in the conscious presence of God and to allow the Spirit to critique my foolish notions.
It is dawning upon me that this window of my life was a wonderful gift, but I have found in a visceral way that it is also hard work. Like so many, there is probably a part of me that wants spiritual growth to come in easy doses, conveniently swallowed so that we may move on. I believe that it does not work that way. It is a labor of time.
I cannot tell you how to achieve this in your life, especially if you are among those who are scheduled for every minute of every day. I can only tell you it is worth thinking about and exploring as one is able. Do not expect it to be easy, but do expect it to be a gift.