"But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." Luke 5:16
What comes to your mind when you think of solitude? Dread? Maybe you think of a prisoner in solitary confinement or an intense monk disconnected from reality. Or maybe you think of the last time you were the only one home and you got to enjoy the quiet. Most of us have extreme opinions of solitude: either it makes us uncomfortable and we never engage in it or we have a tendency to become too isolated. Richard Foster said, “Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment. Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place.”
The Balance of Solitude
In every generation, the church does well in some areas of focus, while other areas become neglected. Many churches these days emphasize living together in community. This is biblical and wonderful, but in the process of emphasizing the role of community many Christians have neglected the spiritual discipline of solitude. If individual Christians do not seek solitude in their own spiritual lives, the entire community will be weaker for it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer explained this well:
One who returns to the Christian family fellowship after the battle of the day [alone] brings with him the blessing of his aloneness, but he himself receives anew the blessing of the fellowship. Blessed is he who is alone in the strength of the fellowship and blessed is he who keeps the fellowship in the strength of aloneness. But the strength of aloneness and the strength of the fellowship is solely the strength of the Word of God, which is addressed to the individual in the fellowship.
Basically, Bonhoeffer explains that a day spent in solitude is not only for the benefit of the individual, but it is also vital to the entire community.
A Posture of the Heart
Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than an actual physical place. Think back to one of your most hectic days. How did you get through it? Were you able to close your eyes for a moment, take a deep breath, and connect with God? All of us, from the sought-after businesswoman to the busy teacher or stay-at-home mom, have moments when we need to refocus and reconnect with our Father. The discipline of solitude trains us to do that. Whether we are in a crowd or on a desert island, we can enjoy solitude. It is truly an inner posture of the heart. As Christians, we are never truly alone because we always have access to communion with God. A busy woman hounded and harried by the demands of life can inwardly withdraw to have her needs met by God.
It sounds great to be able to have this kind of connection with God, but many of us aren’t sure how to get it. The secret lies in our understanding of our identity in Christ. When we base our identity in who we are in Christ, we know our personal value comes from who God says we are and Christ’s work on our behalf. That relieves a lot of pressure. In the peace that comes from that assurance, we can relax and draw close to Him. There, in our solitude, the Lord is able to refocus our hearts, bringing us the freedom and joy that the abundant life in Jesus promises.