I am very much a people person – I really enjoy meeting people and spending time with family and friends. However I also enjoy solitude. The topic of solitude came up in one of my devotional readings this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Solitude can be defined as ‘the state or situation of being alone‘. It is very different to loneliness:
Language… has created the word “loneliness” to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word “solitude” to express the glory of being alone. –Paul Johannes Tillich
The Bible commends the practice of solitude, with verses like ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ Psalm 46:10. It’s hard to ‘be still’ when we are surrounded by people. During His adult life on earth, Jesus set us an example by regularly taking himself away to a quiet spot to pray. Matthew 14:23, Matthew 15:29, Luke 5:16, Luke 6:12
When our children were small I used to be glad of their nap time just to get a bit of time to myself; to read, to pray and sometimes just to think a situation through. In later years when I returned to working outside the home, it became very difficult to get time alone and I found myself struggling emotionally and spiritually.
Isolation is aloneness that feels forced upon you, like a punishment. Solitude is aloneness you choose and embrace. I think great things can come out of solitude, out of going to a place where all is quiet except the beating of your heart. –Jeanne Marie Laskas
Eventually a few years ago, after a particularly stressful time in my life, I came to the conclusion that ‘being sleep deprived was preferable to being God deprived’ and I made a decision to start getting up earlier in the morning, before anybody else was awake, in order to enjoy complete peace and quiet and to be guaranteed some time alone with God. It was one of the best decisions that I’ve ever made.
I often think back (with some amusement) to an incident that happened many years ago when I was young and single: my friend Julie and I were away somewhere overnight and we needed to get back on the road early the next morning. At bedtime I asked Julie what time she was setting the alarm clock for but I was very taken aback by her reply: she calmly explained that she needed to get up quite early in order to have time to read and pray before we set off for the day. I firmly told Julie that I needed my sleep and that she could call me shortly before it was time to leave. When I woke up the next morning Julie was already fully dressed and she was sitting quietly with her Bible and her copy of Operation World. I guess it took me another 20 years to learn from her example – maybe I’m a slow learner?!
In Bristol Children’s Hospital Leah could choose what time her day began. Unlike me, Leah wasn’t a morning person, so she usually didn’t start her day until 10.00 am. I generally started mine at 8.00 am, which gave me two hours to read, pray, shower, dress, eat breakfast and gather my thoughts, before Leah woke and needed me. That little piece of ‘solitude’ helped me to survive in what was a very stressful situation.
I remember being in the transplant unit with Leah and feeling terribly traumatised by how ill Leah was and by everything that was happening around us. I read up online about the effects of trauma and I discovered that there was such a thing as ‘post-traumatic growth’. There and then I prayed and asked God that no matter what happened in Leah’s situation, that He would help Leah and I to trust Him every step of the way and that the eventual outcome would be ‘post-traumatic growth’ and not ‘post-traumatic stress’.
I don’t find life easy by any stretch of the imagination, but getting up early most mornings to enjoy a little solitude, to read my Bible and pray and gather my thoughts, helps me to face the day. I believe that this practice has helped towards building resilience into my life.
In his sermon entitled Take a Break from the Chaos David Mathis tells us:
You need a break from the chaos, from the noise and the crowds, more than you may think at first. You need the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude.
This sermon is well worth reading, or for more in depth reading on the topic you can download a free PDF of David Mathis’ book Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines. I haven’t read the whole book, I’ve dipped in and out of it. I especially enjoyed the chapter entitled ‘The Clock’ which discusses ‘time management’ from a Christian perspective and his epilogue which is entitled ‘Communing with Christ on a Crazy Day‘, because there are some days when I find myself wishing that I had never got out of bed! In closing I will share a quote from this book that resonated with me:
We might get alone and be quiet to hear our own internal voice, the murmurs of our soul that are easily drowned out in noise and crowds. But the most important voice to hear in the silence is God’s.
– David Mathis