My discipline of sitting outside alone has reawakened the need in me for solitude. Also, meditating outdoors has reminded me of the tremendous benefits of solitude. I will actually be preaching about this on Sunday as a continuation of a series I am doing on spiritual disciplines. The book, Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, is the primary resource I am drawing open for this series. I selected solitude as a topic because this discipline is desperately needed and misunderstood.
We live in a culture where we are constantly bombarded with inputs. Smart phones make us constantly interruptible. We live on demand. And frankly, many of us are addicted to that input.
A Virgin Mobile study revealed that smart phone users have 427% more messages and notifications than they did a decade ago. They also send 278% more texts. Studies have also shown that the habitual use of smart phones can have many of the same psychological effects as gambling. Side effects include: sleep deficit, lower concentration, creativity blocks, anxiety, insecurity, impaired relationships, loneliness and more.
Solitude on the contrary can produce almost the exact opposite of the effects. It can reduce stress, increase concentration, awaken creativity, reduce anxiety, increase security, improve relationships, and help us experience revitalizing “aloneness”, rather than life-depleting “loneliness”. And, when we practice solitude for the purpose of withdrawing to spend one-on-one time with the Lord, we can dramatically improve our relationship with the Lord.
Jesus frequently sought solitude.
As followers of Jesus Christ, following his example just makes sense. Jesus appears to have frequently withdrawn from crowds for prayer and reflection. In fact, withdrawing into solitude is how he began his ministry. We are told in the gospel of Mark, “At once the Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert, and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” (Mark 1:12)
Other examples of Jesus withdrawing include, but aren’t limited to the following accounts:
“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house an went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) Everyone was looking for Jesus, but after his time in prayer he told his disciples that it was time for them to move on to another village.
Despite Jesus’ plea that his miracles be kept secret, the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16; see also Mark 1:45)
“Jesus went out to a mountain side to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him.” (Luke 6:12-13. See also Mark 3:13)
“When Jesus heard that John the Baptist had been beheaded, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13)
“Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.” (Mark 6:31-32)
“After Jesus had dismissed the crowds, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was still there alone.” (Matthew 14:23; see also Mark 6:46)
“Jesus entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.” (Mark 7:24)
I could list multiple other verses, but this gets the point across.
A solitary place
Note how many of the scriptures describe him as going to a solitary place. Or, in certain instance, the word of God says he went to a “certain place.” Finding solitude is much easier to do if you have a designated place to be alone and uninterrupted.
Right now, I am using my backyard. I enjoy this space tremendously. My back up spot out doors if it rainy is my front porch swing which is cover.
At some point though, I recognize that the weather will turn beastly hot, buggy, or cold. I have created a prayer closet to accommodate my need for solitude when that time comes. Also, I use my prayer closet frequently in the evenings. I was lead to create my closet recently while praying. I love having a prayer closet. I have had one in almost every house we have lived in, but for some reason I never established one here until now.
About my prayer closet
I literally gutted one of the closets in a guest bedroom that was mainly housing out of season clothes, costumes, and baby and children’s clothing that our kid’s once wore long ago. I divide all of these up among other closets and also purged a few items.
My prayer closet is quite simple. It was a bedroom closet with bi-fold doors and two clothes rods. I removed the lower bar and placed a small table and chair in the closet. The table holds a candle, a bible, a journal, and small bowl that I burn sage or incense in as a way to initiate my prayer time. That’s not 100% percent necessary but I find having an opening routine like lighting a candle and some incense, engages more of my sense and help trigger me in a positive way to be full present to God.
My closet happens to have a plugin. So, I have a small lamp in the closet which allows me to easily control whether I have reading light, or soft candle light.
Here are couple of pictures of my prayer closet:
You don’t necessarily have to have any of the above, if you want to create a dedicated prayer space, it does not even have to be a closet. You can simply As people start to realize this is your prayer space, I find people naturally begin to respect your privacy.
Your quiet place, doesn’t even necessarily have to be at home. In most communities I had a sit area outside that was in a wilderness area nearby. If you decide to go this route, try to get something you can get to in five minutes or less. If it’s not convenient you likely one take advantage of it enough.
So why is solitude important?
Solitude allows you to be free from the distraction of everyday life and can allow you then to:
- Connect more deeply with God
- Take a mental and emotional break
- Reflect for greater self-awareness and self-discovery
- Shift perspective and confront large issues in your life productively
- Release negative emotions
I find that all of the above makes me a more grounded person. I am less tugged around by circumstance and peoples expectations. I am clearer on my priorities, so I make better choices. And the time communing with God has away of spilling over into a time outside of my quiet place. Which brings us to a really important point.
Solitude is neither loneliness, nor is it restricted to being alone
Richard Foster says this, “Our fear of being alone drives us to noise and crowds. We keep up a constant stream of words even if they are inane. We buy radios that stop to our wrist or fit over our ears so that if no one else is around least we are n to condemned to silent. T. S. Eliost analyze our culture so well when he wrote, “Where shall the world be found, where will the word resound? No here, there is not enough silence.”
But loneliness or clatter are not our only alternatives. We can cultivate an inner solitude and silence the set us from from loneliness and fer. Lonrielinss is dinner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. Solti is not first a place but a state of mind and heart. There is a solitude of heart that can be maintained at all times.”
So, ultimately, you don’t have to have a sit spot or prayer closet to experience solitude, but it is an ideal and amazing environment to cultivate an inner solitude that you can carry with you into the most stressful situations. Solitude is not a destination, but a trait that can be cultivate by spending time alone. We practice solitude apart from others, that we might bear it with us everywhere.
Lastly, if you practice enough solitude other people will sense and be calmed by it. You will be like a pocket of peace moving through a chaotic world. Back in college I spent a week at a monastery and learned centering prayer while I was there. I spent many hours, in the chapel alone in contemplative prayer and quiet reflection.
I recall vividly the day after I came home. I had this sacred silence that I carried about with me everywhere. I was a van driver for a hotel at the time. I came in about 6 pm and there was a chaotic daily shuffle to get people to and from the airport as the shift changed. I felt nothing but peace and calm in the midst of it. I recall picking up my first passenger from the airport, and by the time we got back to the airport, she noted, that I seemed in this amazing place and she wonder why and what it was. She could feel it and it was incredibly comforting to her.
There is so much more that could be said about this subject, but I am going to leave at this.
Questions: Where is a convenient place you could regularly go to be alone for prayer and introspection? Actually, think through several options. In one community, I had four at once: a closet in my home, a spot in the woods, a chair in the corner in my office, and a prayer room at a hospital half way between my home and office. I used all of them. What would be a simple routine you could follow when you are there?
If you are not sure where to start here are a couple of routines I have used in my prayer closet in the past. You’ll also get sneak peak at a prior prayer closet I had.
Prayer Closet, My Lenten Activity Commitment.–This post includes a prayer discipline I did for a prior lenten season, along with pictures from a prayer closet I had in our last house.
A behind the scenes look into my daily devotional life –This post includes a video tour of my prayer closet in our last house, along with one of the devotional routines I used in my past very similar to what I do today. I walk you step-by-step through my routine.
A Collect for Solitude:
Holy God, who transcends time and space, help us to set apart both time and space to encounter you deeply in solitude, so that we may carry a sacred silence into the world that is healing to those around us, through Christ we ask this. Amen.