The Beauty of Solitude

The Beauty of Solitude

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.

solitude-with-god

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 DisciplinesI 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

How I’m Getting Through

How I’m Getting Through

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 The Voice

3 All praise goes to God, Father of our Lord Jesus, the Anointed One. He is the Father of compassion, the God of all comfort. 4 He consoles us as we endure the pain and hardship of life so that we may draw from His comfort and share it with others in their own struggles.

One sermon a week on a Sunday morning has never been enough for me. I’ve always loved listening to Bible teaching at home or in the car. In the ’80s I had an insatiable appetite for the teaching tapes produced by Francis Schaeffer and L’Abri.
Since the arrival of the internet and podcasts I’ve been spoilt for choice – all the sermons I could ever want, at my fingertips.
In late 2012 and in early 2013 I was mostly listening to Joyce Meyer, Rick Warren and John Piper Early in 2013 Rick Warren’s son Matthew took his own life. Matthew Warren died on the 5th April ’13 and I remember exactly where I was when I heard the news. My reaction was to sit and cry, in solidarity with Rick and Kay’s broken hearts – just as some of you who never met Leah read my blog and cry in solidarity with our broken hearts. Then I prayed for the Warrens, as many of you do for us, which I appreciate so very much. How could we ever have got this far without the loving and prayerful support of God’s people?
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In September ’13 Rick and Kay Warren were interviewed about the death of their son, by Piers Morgan on CNN – read excerpts from that interview Here
On Sunday 28th July ’13, Rick & Kay Warren returned to the pulpit for the first time since their son died. Rick commenced by preaching a new series entitled “How to get through what you’re going through” I was really excited about this and listened eagerly to the first two episodes while in the bone marrow transplant unit, using my headphones.
However, as time went on and I was increasingly aware of how unwell Leah was, I found that this affected my concentration and attention span and I had difficulty focussing, so I stopped listening to online sermons.
A lifelong favourite pastime of mine has been books and reading. Since Leah was diagnosed last year however, I have found it very difficult to focus on the written word for any length of time. I still read, but it takes me weeks to read a book that used to take me days. I miss the pure undiluted pleasure that reading once brought me.
I’ve also lost my lifelong love of listening to the radio. I used to wear out the buttons on my portable radios – now they lie gathering dust. There’s so much ‘noise’ in my head that the additional noise of having a radio on just irritates me.
However, today for the first time since Leah died, I listened to an online sermon. I felt ready once again to listen to the sermon Rick & Kay Warren preached on the occasion of returning to public ministry after the death of their son: How we’re getting through – I found it very helpful. I also found it quite surreal listening to it again almost a year after I first heard it. The first time I heard this message I was sitting in the bone marrow transplant unit and I was looking for the strength to cope with being on my own, far from home, with my critically ill child. Now Leah is gone from this world and I’m deep in grief.

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Rick Warren describes the six phases of grief and loss as follows:

SHOCK: When your world falls apart
SORROW: When your heart is breaking
STRUGGLE: When you don’t understand
SURRENDER: How to experience peace
SANCTIFICATION: How God turns bad to good
SERVICE: How to use your pain for good

Rick does not however suggest that this is a neat process whereby you go through each stage and can tick it off and say “done that” – grief and loss is all very fluid and we can move backwards and forwards through any of these stages depending on what else is happening in our lives.
After the initial sermon, Rick then preached individual sermons on each of the above “stages” and these are available on iTunes as podcasts or via the Saddleback Church App.
Kay Warren talks about what she has done to help her hold onto hope and joy in her life. She said that she has compiled a playlist of songs to listen to, from which she derives comfort, which includes “Not For A Moment” by Meredith Andrews:

“And every step every breath you are there
Every tear every cry every prayer
In my hurt at my worst
When my world falls down
Not for a moment will You forsake me
Even in the dark
Even when it’s hard
You will never leave me”

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When God does the miracle we didn’t ask for

“Countless childhood surgeries. Yearlong stints in the hospital. Verbal and physical bullying from classmates. Multiple miscarriages as a young wife. The unexpected death of a child. A debilitating progressive disease. Riveting pain. Betrayal. A husband who leaves.

If it were up to me, I would have written my story differently. Not one of those phrases would be included. Each line represents something hard. Gut wrenching. Life changing.

But now, in retrospect, I wouldn’t erase a single line.”

I discovered this powerful essay on sustaining grace at Desiring God – to read the remainder of this post please click here: When God does the miracle we didn’t ask for