Are you finding it difficult to catch your breath and to have a quiet space to think? Many of us are bombarded with noise, interruptions, and other distractions. We may try to tune out these distractions with other distractions, such as scrolling through the feed on our mobile devices, which also compete for our attention and focus. Even if we desire a greater sense of God’s presence and speaking in our daily activities, we may find at the end of our day that we devoted nary a moment to nurture that desire. Instead, we focused our attention on everything other than our relationship with God.
Spending time in solitude has been recognized as critical to allow space for us to be attentive to God and the significant questions in our lives. Solitude can be considered a place in time, a physical space, and place within ourselves in which we can “unplug and withdraw from the noise of interpersonal interactions” and release ourselves temporarily from work, noise, and technology (1). The late Dallas Willard, a pastor and professor of philosophy, considered solitude as one of the most fundamental disciplines of our spiritual lives that also prepares us to engage in other spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, service, and celebration (2). In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster suggests that “solitude is more a state of mind and heart than a place...we do not fear to be alone or with others” (3).
It is interesting that we can practice solitude even when we are around other people. In the residencies associated with my training as a spiritual director, we would eat some of our meals together in silence. At first, I found this arrangement uncomfortable. How could I eat a meal with four or five people at a table without talking with them? Over time, I discovered this practice to be freeing in that I felt the peace and companionship of my fellow trainees around me, yet able to focus more on God and what I was eating.
So how do we practice the spiritual discipline of solitude? First, we set aside time to practice solitude such as daily in the morning or evening or another time period that works with our schedules and responsibilities. The length of time will vary depending on the season of our lives. Setting a short period of time to begin with, such as 10 to 15 minutes, can help us develop and maintain this practice. Some of us may relish the opportunity to sit quietly in a favorite chair. Others may find it difficult to sit still for even 10 minutes. For those who are constantly on the move, solitude can be combined with taking a walk outdoors. It is significant that Jesus is reported in the Gospels as going up the mountain by himself to pray (Matt. 14:23) and getting up early in the morning to go to a deserted place where he could be alone in prayer (Mark 1:35). He understood the importance of being alone with his Father in heaven with respect to his mission and ministry on earth.
For those of us who struggle being alone in silence and/or without some structure, several smartphone/tablet apps may be useful, even though they require engagement with technology. Some of these apps include Abide – Bible Meditation and Prayer, Soulspace – Christian Meditation, and Lectio 365. These apps can be located and downloaded by using the search function in the App Store on your smartphone or tablet. Along with prayer and scripture, participants are invited to pause silently and meditate on specific questions relevant to their spiritual lives.
You may discover that regular engagement with the practice of solitude benefits your spiritual walk and even increases your sense of general well-being. In her Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, Adele Calhoun notes that the practice of solitude helps quiet the internal noise within ourselves so we can listen better to God, frees us from living primarily in response to other people's agendas and demands, liberates us from the constant need to keep busy and stimulated, and opens up space for the practice of other spiritual disciplines (4).
Are you ready to spend some time in solitude and maybe even to develop this life-affirming practice as a new habit? Be assured that God is ready to embrace you in His love and grace as you engage in spending time alone with Him.
1. Ruth Haley Barton, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 32.
2. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines (New York: HarperCollins e-books), Ch. 9. “Some Main Disciplines for the Spiritual Life.”
3. Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth (New York: HarperOne, 1998), 96.
4. Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 111.