Spiritual Formation, Spiritual Disciplnes (part 6)




My youngest doesn’t like to be alone. Not even when we are in the next room. Sometimes he’ll come wondering in from somewhere else in the house and sit close beside me without saying a word. I’m usually aware enough to know what this means. He was alone and maybe just a little afraid.


I can’t say that I blame him. The world is a big, scary place when you’re all alone. Wild things come out when you’re alone. Especially at night, and especially when you’re only eight.


Wild things come out when you’re alone as an adult too. That’s part of the problem when we start talking about the discipline of solitude.

Most people think that solitude is simply being by yourself. The Christian discipline of solitude is not quite that simple, or easy. Solitude is being alone with God.

In solitude you are likely to encounter God, and yourself. Both can be pretty scary. Both can be difficult to hear. Our defenses against spending time with either are well established and strong. Your adversary is likely to be there too, pleading with you to leave this barren place and rejoin the security of the crowd.

Before we go any further, let me add that silence is so closely linked to solitude that for me to talk of one means to talk of both. Although they are separate disciplines, silence is usually observed to some degree when solitude is practiced.

One of, if not the, biggest problem we have with solitude is all the noise and activity around us.

Maybe I’m stating the blatantly obvious, but I think we’re addicted to noise and activity. Just look at what happens to most of us when we find ourselves alone and in the quiet. Our knee begins to bounce up and down, we become restless and agitated, an almost uncontrollable urge to get up and do something takes over. We look like junkies needing a fix. And I think that’s exactly what’s happening. We’ve become so used to the noise and bustle of our modern lives that we can’t operate without it. Rehab is a long process, years for most of us, but must be done if we are to learn to listen.

This is exactly the kind of world I’d design if my aim was to keep people from hearing a still small voice. Noise everywhere, words on everything in sight, Tv’s, iPods, computers, radio, newspapers, music in the background everywhere I went. And do it so long that it becomes the water everyone swims in, ceasing to notice it because it’s so “normal”, and “all I’ve ever known”.

Try an experiment sometime today, get alone for ten minutes and try to be still and quiet. Note how your body responds, where your mind wonders off to, what emotions or feelings you experience. See if it’s not true.

Most of the time I get three responses from people when we do this.

1. Restlessness and a desire to get out of there asap. 75% (not addicted, huh?)

2. They fall asleep. 5% (maybe a sign we’re out of balance?)

3. Relief that they can stop running at warp speed. 20%

The purpose of solitude is a multiple choice question that “E) All of the above” answers. The A-D answers are, (in no particular order except the first) to spend time with God, to get the noise of this world to be quiet for a little while, to get the noise/voices inside your head to be quiet too, to learn to listen to the still small voice of the one who loves you more than you love yourself.

You will think this is a waste of time. And in a world like ours running several miles a minute, it will be. But only as far as this world’s ends are concerned. What you are concerned with is an apprenticeship of sorts. We are learning the ways of Jesus. (see Matt. 4, Luke 5:16, Ps 46) Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing, and said only what he heard the Father say. Solitude is the place where you become attentive to the Father.

Start with 5 minutes and work your way up from there. Maybe soon you’ll start to look forward to this holy waste of time.


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