The author, Richard J. Foster, wrote a great book entitled, Celebration of Discipline, and he begins the chapter on solitude in the following way:
“Jesus calls us from loneliness to solitude. The fear of being left alone petrifies people. A new child in the neighborhood sobs to her mother, ‘No one ever plays with me.’ A college freshman yearns for his high school days when he was the center of attention: ‘Now I’m a nobody.’ A business executive sits dejected in her office, powerful, yet alone. An old woman lies in a nursing home waiting to go ‘Home.'”
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the whole world into isolation, and although some restrictions have been lifted, all of us experience much less social interaction than before, some more than others. Even though most introverts have revelled in this forced isolation, we have all suffered from loneliness and have tried to fill in the emptiness and silence with radios, music, movies, series or comfort food, to name a few. Unfortunately, these activities may leave us even more empty than before.
Jesus shows us an alternative: solitude. But what is solitude? If loneliness refers to emptiness and fear, solitude is fulfillment and peace of mind. Many times in Jesus’s life on earth, He willingly retreated to quiet places to seek solitude. After Jesus’s baptism He spent 40 days alone in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). The night before His death on a cross, He went to pray in solitude at the garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-47). Foster says that “There is the freedom to be alone, not in order to be away from people but in order to hear the divine Whisper better.” Lord Byron similarly said it is “in solitude, where we are least alone.” The quiet contentment of solitude helps us to hear and see the hand of our Creator at work.
How do we practice solitude? How do we keep our silences and isolation from turning into loneliness? A first step would be not to try to immediately fill up our silences. This can sometimes feel scary, but it is so important. Treasure those quiet moments after you’ve woken up in the morning, drinking your coffee or tea, listening to the chirping birds. Don’t immediately reply when in conversation. Take advantage of the quietness for contemplation. James 1:19 tells us as believers to “be quick to hear” and “slow to speak” (ESV). All of us have said things that we now regret.
Silences and solitude can also be a great time for prayer and reading the Bible. The apostle Paul tells us that when we open up our hearts to God in prayer “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard (y)our hearts and (y)our minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).