Sensing God's Presence in Solitude and Silence
Updated: Nov 19, 2022
Do you feel defined by your accomplishments and by how productive you are? Do you ever experience anxiety about how much you need to do and how you are going to get it all done? In a seminary class awhile back, we were assigned to spend four hours in solitude and silence and then write about the experience. Frankly, I was quite anxious about this assignment because I had difficulty initially in identifying four hours in which I would be free to "do nothing." I even contemplated completing this exercise in the middle of the night.
As it turned out, I was surprised by how refreshed I felt after engaging in the four-hour exercise of solitude and silence. I spent the first hour-and-a-half walking in our neighborhood and enjoying the Texas Hill Country views. The balance of the time was spent sitting by our lit fireplace as the day faded into night. In both settings, I sensed God's presence and speaking in my heart, much more so than when I had been rushing around earlier in the day trying to get everything done.
While unhooking and unplugging four hours might not be practical daily or even weekly, allowing ourselves at least ten to fifteen minutes daily for solitude and silence can help us create space to catch our breath from constantly doing and enjoy just being. In Sacred Rhythms, Ruth Haley Barton notes that "solitude [creates] space for God" and "silence deepens our experience of solitude" (1).
We may be under the impression that fellowship with others can suffice in our spiritual journeys. Yet, even Jesus practiced solitude. Very early in the morning while it was still dark, Jesus went out to a solitary place where he prayed (Mark 1:35). In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests that we need to seek solitude if we want to be in meaningful fellowship, and we need community if we desire to spend time alone safely (2). Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who is remembered for his courageous resistance to the Nazification of the Christian church in Germany during the 1930s and 1940s, wrote in Life Together: "Let him who cannot be alone beware of community...Let him who is not in community beware of being alone... Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair" (3). In other words, we need time in solitude to deepen our contributions to community, and we need community to better ground our time in solitude.
Have you had a chance this week to detach yourself from the demands on your time and to enjoy just being? A deeper sense of God's presence and speaking may be awaiting for us willing to take such a pause.
Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 29, 32.
Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 97-98.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: HarperCollins, 1954), 77-78.