The Forgotten Art of Solitude

By November 17, 2009 culture, faith No Comments

All week I have looked forward to carving out a spot for Creative Stretch #4: Learning from Silence and Solitude. But the reality is, life is full and rather noisy. Seeking God in the quiet places requires that we first find the quiet places. My quiet places seem to have gotten lost somewhere.

I think it’s because silence and solitude are no longer natural responses to moments of free time—we have TV and telephones and e-mail and texting to fill the silent spaces. Even when we are alone we don’t have to be alone.

Solitude is a forgotten art.

But it isn’t lost. There are many great sources that help us develop this neglected pursuit. Richard Foster dedicates a chapter to solitude in his book The Celebration of Discipline, which I wrote about in my previous post.

In all his arguments in support of the practice of solitude, Foster does not leave the reader wondering how it works in reality. He provides many suggestions for taking steps into solitude, which I have summarized and organized in the following list. Hope this helps as you pursue this forgotten art.

1) Take Advantage of Momentary Solitudes

early morning moments before you hop out of bed | a quiet cup of coffee before you begin your day | waiting moments (in line, in traffic, etc.)

“These tiny snatches of time are often lost to us. . . . They are times for inner quiet, for reorienting our lives like a compass needle.” (Foster 106)

2) Designate a Place for Solitude

a comfy chair | a window seat | a patio or porch | a park bench

And I must add: After designating a place, be certain to make a habit of going there to meet with God and get your thoughts in line with truth.

3) Maintain Plain Speech

Foster explains that often we are unable to be with people meaningfully because we are ruled by them (and how we anticipate they will respond to us). When we meet God in solitude, coming to grasp who He is (our Redeemer and Justifier) and who we are (in need of redemption and justification), we can rest in God’s love, which softens the weight of the opinions of others. In this we are free to truly love others without needing something in return (their good opinion or their accolades).

To put all this into practice, we must also begin to live without the need to justify and explain and jockey. Jesus commands us to “let your Yes be simply Yes, and your No be simply No” (Matt. 5:37). Foster quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Much that is unnecessary remains unsaid. But the essential and the helpful thing can be said in a few words.” If we can simply live and let God be our Justifier and our Redeemer, we do not need to have perfect standing with anyone else to remain at peace and in solitude.

4) Quiet Your Tongue

Remember that game adults like to play with rowdy kids—“Let’s See Who Can Be Quiet the Longest”? It’s a ploy to settle the kids a bit. But what if we tried to go without words for a stretch of time—a whole day, perhaps? Foster recommends this as more of an experiment than a vow of silence. “Try to find new ways to relate to others that are not dependent upon words” (Foster 107).

5) Do Quarterly Life Assessments

Foster recommends that we find a few hours alone a few times a year to review our progress in:

life goals | discipleship and growth | physical health | daily priorities | service and ministry

We should also “be willing to dream, to stretch. . . . In the quiet of those brief hours, listen to the thunder of God’s silence. Keep a journal record of what comes to you” (Foster 107–108). Solitude gives us the opportunity to stop and make sure we are still heading in the right direction. It also allows God to reroute us in ways we would have never chosen for ourselves.

6) Take a Solitude Retreat

Take a day or an overnight or a weekend to getaway, be quiet, seek God. (Yes, you need to go by yourself.) Foster says, “Like Jesus, we must go away from people so that we can be truly present when we are with people. Take a retreat once a year with no other purpose in mind but solitude” (108).

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