Reflecting on solitude and silence might give you the impression that we are to cut ourselves off from everyone and everything and enter into isolation. As a spiritual discipline, I think it is more accurately stepping into the presence of God causing us to both empty ourselves and refill ourselves.
I see that in the life of the Lord during His ministry on the earth. He seemed to have the perfect balance in His life. We see Him teaching large crowds of thousands of people as well as more intimate times He spent with only His disciples. We see Him enjoying the companionship of close friends like Lazarus, Mary, and Martha and we also see Him slipping off for times of solitude alone with His Father.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:
“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community…Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.”
If we can grow into a mature balance of time apart in solitude as well as time with others, we are more likely to respond to others from the fullness we gained in solitude rather than from a point of neediness.
God designed us to be in fellowship with one another, to support, encourage, and exhort one another. It is in such a context we are gifted with accountability that produces growth and keeps us from slipping into the darkness that lurks about seeking to overtake us.
Every spiritual discipline has a purpose. Each is designed to help us grow and enable us to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called” as Paul writes to the church at Ephesus.
That calling includes being salt and light in the midst of whatever part of the world He has placed us. It includes being Him by loving others as He has loved us. To do that, be that, we must be regenerated, refreshed, renewed, and refilled by time alone with Him.
I so appreciate what Ruth Haley Barton says in this regard:
“If my experiences in solitude and silence don’t make a difference in this real-life moment, then I’m not sure any of this is worth much.”
In the 17th century a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris wrote a little book, The Practice of the Presence of God that left us a treasure trove of wisdom about intimacy with the Lord and the value gained by practicing it. One of his quotes gives evidence to his own times alone with God:
“One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquility, is not to let it wander too far in other times: you should keep it strictly in the presence of God; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings.”
We know Him through many and diverse ways, but it seems to me that just as it is with my closest friends, I learn to know Him best in intimate times alone with Him.
Time spent with Him is never wasted, never selfish.
He invites us to time alone with Him because it equips us through healing, restoration, and refreshment to be more like Him, more available to Him for His purposes through transformation.
If we observe the lives of those who walked the most closely with Jesus, those who were His most intimate friends, we see clear evidences of humanity and failing. But we also see the gradual transformation of character that resulted in those very ones being used by God to light a flame in the world ignited by His light that still glows today.
Listen to Ruth Haley Barton’s description of what happens when we have experienced solitude and silence with Him:
“Over time we become safer for other seeking souls, because we are able to be with them and the issues they are dealing with without being hooked by our own anxieties and fears. We are comfortable with our humanity, because we have experienced God’s love and compassion in that place, and so it becomes very natural for us to extend love and compassion to others in their humanity.”
Barton’s words also convict us of the truth of who we are and often are not:
“Sometimes we are downright mean and judgmental. But most, if not all, of our meanness comes out of the places within us that have been unattended and untouched by God’s love. Every broken place that has not been healed and transformed in God’s presence is a hard edge of our personality that slices and dices other people when they bump up against it.”
When we spend time alone with Him whether for a half hour or a day, our hearts are changed and filled to overflowing with the love that He is and when that is true, we leak more of that overflowing love to anyone around us.
How blessed that must make Him.