I was recently challenged to do something that I didn’t want to do. It’s not my personality, really. To be honest, I was experiencing some excitement mixed with a bit more anxiousness as I approached this thing. What was it? I spent 36 hours in solitude.
No tv. No music. No one around. I was completely alone in a cabin in the woods in Kentucky. I brought two things with me: A bible and a journal. I’ve never done anything like this before. I am, by nature, a mixture of introvert and extrovert. I don’t mind being alone… but I’m pretty much done with it and ready for some human interaction after a couple hours. 36 hours was a stretch! I filled my time by reading some Scripture, praying a lot, sitting around a fire under the trees and stars, hiking miles of beautiful, wooded trails, drinking a ton of coffee, and thinking. I did a lot of thinking.
Solitude is an interesting spiritual practice. A spiritual habit is something that God uses to draw us closer to his heart and to form our hearts to be more like that of Jesus’s. We see these habits practiced in Scripture by prophets, kings, the entire nation of Israel at times, Jesus’s disciples, the Church, and Jesus himself. Practices like mediating on God’s Word, fasting, prayer, and solitude all were practices of spiritual formation. You often see in the Bible that Jesus would draw away from the busy crowds and even his disciples to go to a solitary place. Literally, Jesus would withdraw to the desert to be alone. Just him and God.
In times of preparation…
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. -Mark 1:35
In times of grief…
When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. -Matthew 14:13 [After the news of John the Baptist’s death].
In busy times…
At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place. The people were looking for him and when they came to where he was, they tried to keep him from leaving them. -Luke 4:42
As I sat by myself at the cabin and walked through the woods, I wondered: What did Jesus talk to God about in all these times? In most cases I must assume that Jesus was always talking to the Father about the cross. He knew it was coming and it was, after all, his mission. I can only imagine that Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane in Matthew 26 wasn’t the first time that he and his Father had had this conversation. What did Jesus seek and find in his times of solitude?
We see from the context that Jesus must have been tired from the constant crowds. He was overstimulated and overwhelmed. I imagine he sought rest in the Father.
He must have been heartbroken at all the sin and pain he witnessed. I believe he prayed for us.
We know he grieved over death. Perhaps he shared his anger, his hurt, and looked for comfort from his Father.
We also know that his Father’s glory and will was his priority. He must have prayed for submission and obedience.
One thing I realized when I was on my solitude retreat is that inputs matter. All the noise and voices we hear in a day have a dramatic effect on us. Music, conversation, tv, the articles we read, background noise, etc. They are all inputs. And we take them in constantly for 17+/- hours a day. Those things shape the way we think, behave, make decisions, respond to others, and how we relate to God. It’s fair to say, then, that our outputs are measured by our inputs.
I have just begun to learn about solitude. I am a novice, for sure. One thing I did experience in my time with God: I heard his voice a lot. Not necessarily audibly or only through Scripture. As I talked to him, walked in silence, and thought… I heard his still small voice in those times of reflection. New truths came to mind. I was reminded of things I had let slip. I was encouraged, filled up, and convicted of sin. I set new goals.
In some way I want to make solitude a habit. I have no idea how, yet. What I do know is that Jesus incorporated habits that connected him to God’s voice and heart. Away from the noise and busyness of life, Jesus sought conversation with his Father. He needed God’s voice to be quietly deafening in his life. We do, too.
White Oak Christian Church