This week we celebrate one of the greatest examples of solitude in Scripture as Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He left most of the disciples to sit and pray in the garden while He went off with Peter, James and John. Then, leaving them to watch and pray with Him, He went a little further on His own (read Matthew 26-27 for context).
Jesus was by Himself in more ways than one. He was physically away from everyone, but those who were supposed to pray with Him fell asleep. Then as the guards came, everyone scattered and abandoned Him. From a human standpoint, He was completely alone to carry the burden of our sins to Calvary.
But He wasn’t alone.
When He went to pray, He went to be with the Father, to commune with Him, to hear from Him. To be with Him.
When we think of solitude, we often miss the point. It isn’t about being alone, it is about spending one-on-one time with our Lord. It is about leaving behind the things of this world for a little while so that we can spend time with Him.
Solitude also includes silence. When I speak of silence, I am not talking about the idea of emptying your mind, per se, but of crowding out the earthly noises that are around us at all times. The constant sound, whether it be radio, TV, social media, or just the constant chatter that is in our own head.
To be honest, silence has often been a challenge for me. I am someone who likes to have background music on when there is silence. Yet, if we always have noise around us, how can we focus intently on God? Notice that this comes further along the road in the spiritual disciplines… if we aren’t drawing closer to God through prayer, fasting and study, and we haven’t simplified our lives, we won’t be ready to hear God as He speaks to us because we can’t hear Him if we aren’t tethered to Him.
To gain more insight on the topic of solitude and silence, I strongly recommend you read the chapter on solitude in Celebration of Disciplines (which we have been going through on Sunday mornings).
Spending time alone with our beloved…
God is to be our beloved, the highest priority for us. One of the ways we show Him we love Him is by spending time with Him — undistracted time.
So if we want to hear from God, then finding a way to step away from the busyness of life is what we need to do. The challenge for me has been to get away and spend one day with the Lord a month. I find that it often takes me at least half a day to get to the point where I have worshipped, read, and prayed all the things I need to so that I can sit back and be silent – focusing on God alone.
Build up those muscles!
A day alone with the Lord may seem intimidating, especially if you are just used to doing a quick devotional in the morning or saying a quick prayer at night, so build up. Someone who wants to build their muscles doesn’t just stack the bar with weights. Someone who wants to run a marathon doesn’t start by running 26.2 miles. Feel free to start with an hour or two. Hopefully if you have been practicing some of the disciplines already you have been working in more time with the Lord.
And whatever time you spend with Him, try to plan some of that time to be distraction-free. Whether you start with Bible study, prayer, or meditation, try to drown out all of the earthly concerns and noises and focus your mind on God. This will be the biggest challenge, as our minds are rarely still unless we are sleeping. Try to breathe, and listen. You may be able to only do this for a minute or less, but it will get better the more you practice it.
If you want to mature in your faith and move beyond infancy, you will need to find a way to spend time alone with God. And this doesn’t always mean that you are completely alone. As Richard Foster points out, this is a state of the heart.
Another book you might find helpful is Brother Lawrence’s Practicing the Presence of God. It is a compilation of short letters he wrote, but they give great insight into the idea of solitude, even when you find yourself in a crowd.