Many years ago, I helped lead a study for some high school gals based on Richard Foster’s The Celebration of Discipline, which described various characteristics of the Christian life. One characteristic in particular caught my attention then and has held it since—the discipline of solitude.
Solitude has always been comfortable to me. I’m an introvert, so time alone has never felt too lonely. As a kid I could spend many hours entertaining myself with my imagination or within the pages of a book. As an adult, solitude is now key for me to get recharged after being among people for a length of time.
But the way Foster described solitude made it lovely and purposeful in a way I had never considered. Here are a few snippets from that book:
We must seek out the recreating stillness of solitude if we want to be with others meaningfully. We must seek the fellowship and accountability of others if we want to be alone safely. We must cultivate both if we are to live in obedience. (97–98)[With solitude] there is freedom to be alone, not in order to be away from people but in order to hear the divine Whisper better. (97)
Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place. Crowds . . . have little to do with this inward attentiveness. It is quite possible to be a desert hermit and never experience solitude. But if we possess inward solitude we do no fear being alone, for we know that we are not alone. Neither do we fear being with others, for they do not control us. (96)
Solitude, therefore, should be sought as a regular discipline to:
1) hear the divine Whisper of God and enjoy His presence
2) love others without fear (not in order to gain their approval or acceptance)
Solitude is not to be used to escape or to hide. It should actually beckon us out of hiding, into the presence of God, first, and then into the presence of others. I think here of Moses, how God called him up the mountain for an encounter with the divine Whisper. Spending time in solitude, in God’s presence, made his face radiant (Exod. 34:28–30).
It is this radiance that we can give to others as we leave the mountain and go from solitude to the masses in need of love and care and a bit of God’s radiance. And then we can point the way for them to seek God—to pursue the discipline of solitude for themselves. It is this togetherness—found in solitude with God so that togetherness with God and others is possible—that I see as the benefit of completing Creative Stretch #4: Learning from Silence and Solitude. (Hope you’ll take the challenge! And be sure to come back to share your experience.)
Foster ends his chapter on solitude with this thought, a perfect wrap to this post:
Don’t you feel a tug, a yearning to sink down into the silence and solitude of God? Don’t you long for something more? Doesn’t every breath crave a deeper, fuller exposure to his Presence? It is the Discipline of solitude that will open the door. You are welcome to come in and “listen to God’s speech in his wondrous, terrible, gentle, loving, all-embracing silence.” (Foster 108–109)
<Watch for a follow-up post providing suggestions for how to pursue meaningful solitude.>