Last Fall I was in Colorado, attending a conference by myself. The conference was at a beautiful resort in an idyllic mountain setting. My room had a big comfy chair and French doors I could open to enjoy the cool Fall breeze. It was an ideal place to be alone.
The night before I was scheduled to leave, the front desk clerk offered me a late check-out. “Um, okay, thanks,” I responded dully.
The truth was, I knew I would be down in the lobby well before check-out time. Even the nicest hotel room is no substitute for the presence of people. At least, not for an extrovert like me. Despite the rigorous 12-hour days required by the conference, I felt like I’d had plenty of time to myself. I didn’t want any more “me time.”
I was contemplating my experience this week as I prepared a lesson on the spiritual discipline of solitude. On that trip to Colorado, I had an amazing opportunity for solitude but I walked ran away from it. Why?
Solitude requires us to be quiet, calm and still to give our hearts and minds a chance to hear what God is communicating.
When I paused this week and tried solitude, the ugly truth surfaced:
I worried God wouldn’t show up and it would just be me and my thoughts.
I’m not good at being alone with my thoughts.
It’s not that I dislike my thoughts, I just don’t want to be alone with them. When we (my thoughts and I) are alone, they seem bigger, weirder and scarier.
I justify my neurotic behavior by telling myself a busy mind is a better, happier mind. I also tell myself I’m more productive if my to-do list is constantly in the forefront of my thoughts.
The truth is, I keep my mind busy because I’m afraid a quiet mind is a lonely mind, and a lonely mind is a sad mind.
How, then, can I find peace?
Henri Nouwen, a twentieth century Dutch priest, said:
Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives – healing, teaching and guiding – we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention.
Nouwen is right. I have to make a time and place for God, and God alone.
Not God and my to-do list. Not God and a great audiobook. Not God and my favorite television show. God alone.
Jesus, who was God incarnate, recognized the need for solitude. Jesus was intentional about solitude in a time of grief (when he learned about the execution of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:9-13)), before making a big decision (before choosing the 12 apostles (Luke 6:12-13)), after working hard (after he fed the five thousand (Mark 6:30-32)), and before undertaking a difficult task (before he was arrested and crucified (Mark 14:32-35, 39)).
What if I follow the example of Jesus? What if I choose solitude when grief overwhelms me? What if I make time for God before making a big decision, after working hard, or before tackling a difficult task?
I think it’s time to admit that checking things off of my to-do list will never produce peace because my to-do list will never be done.
Even with the small doses of solitude I practiced this week, I can see a very bright light. Spending time with God doesn’t leave me feeling lonely, it leaves me feeling relieved.
Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Really the Psalmist is saying, “Hey Beth — be still and know that you are not God.”
What a relief. Despite my to-do list, everything does not depend on me.
It turns out solitude doesn’t make me feel insignificant; it connects me with the most significant.
Are you good at being alone with your thoughts? Is solitude a spiritual discipline you practice regularly? Tell me about it in the Comments or send me an e-mail, I’d love to hear from you.