Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Silence and Solitude

Practicing solitude with silence is a very important spiritual discipline for people today. In our busy, noisy world we need to “unhook” and get away in order to be alone and be ourselves with our Lord. How often do you get away by yourself? How often do you allow yourself to be "unavailable" to those around you. We find in many places in scripture where people went off by themselves. Elijah went to Beersheba and left his servant there and then traveled alone into the wilderness, Jesus often went to lonely places to pray. All over scripture we see people getting alone to pray.

Jesus began his public ministry with 40 days of withdrawal into the desert wilderness to fast and pray in solitude and silence. He was alone, hungry, hot and thirsty, surrounded by wild animals, and tested by Satan. We read this and we feel sorry for Jesus, thinking he was so depleted as to barely survive! But the truth of Jesus’ fast is that the Father, the Scriptures, and ministering angels strengthened Jesus! His time alone with God and quietly focused only on him empowered him to resist Satan’s temptations (which came at the end of the 40 days) and it focused and prepared him for his public ministry. Interspersed throughout Jesus’ ministry of preaching, healing, and discipling we see him withdraw from the crowds again and again – often getting up very early to do so – in order to be quiet and alone with the Father (e.g., Luke 5:15-16, Mark 1:35, 3:13, 6:31, 46). Jesus taught his disciples to follow his prayer practice. “Because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to [the twelve apostles], ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (Mark 6:31-32).

Paul knew very well the importance of silence and solitude. For instance, after his encounter with Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road, he spent three days in solitude and silence for prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9). Then after being ministered to by Ananias and visiting with the disciples he withdrew for three years in the isolation of the Arabian desert to learn from Christ (Galatians 1:15-16).

So Silence and Solitude are obviously important, but what are they? Solitude and silence are disciplines of abstinence to help us learn to engage more deeply with the Lord and become more like him in daily life. Solitude and silence make space — space in our souls and space in our lives — for God to do a deep work inside of us and through us in our interactions with others. It’s a training that may be difficult, especially at first, but will probably be the most beneficial thing you will ever do. The normal way to practice solitude and silence is get alone with God in a quiet place for some hours or days. Perhaps you take a walk through the woods, ride a horse across open fields, or sit beside a lake or a creek. Or a quiet spot in a park or your backyard may work well. Even a secluded chair inside your house may work — as long as all your communication and media devices are turned off! And you are totally tuned into God. This is not time for you to pray a laundry list of items, as a matter of fact the only prayer you need to say is "Speak lord, your servant is listening." The point of your time in solitude and silence is to do nothing and don’t try to make anything happen.

Do nothing.

Don’t try to make anything happen.

In solitude and silence you’re learning to stop doing, stop producing, stop pleasing people, stop entertaining yourself, stop obsessing — stop doing anything except to simply be yourself before God and be found by him. 

Fortunately, we don’t need to become monks living in private huts in the desert to practice the disciplines of solitude and silence!  We can apply the way of the Desert Fathers in the context of the lives we’re living. The obvious way to do this is in daily devotions in the Scriptures. Less obvious is to find quiet interludes during the day to focus our minds on God. A great way to do this is to devote fifteen minutes or more to recalling a favorite scripture and meditate on it. And most people spend time alone driving in the car to work or running errands and this is a great opportunity for solitude and silence if you turn off the radio, CD player, and iPod in order to listen to God. And it’s immensely valuable to periodically set aside a day or longer for a retreat with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at a quiet place that you can be left alone for long periods of time. Think of this as spending time alone with Jesus, doing something that you want to do with your Best Friend, something that will renew your soul!

Before you begin a time of extended solitude and silence you need to make arrangements with your family or others that you live with. Help them understand what God is calling you to do. Negotiate a time that works best for them. If a loved one will be picking up some of your responsibilities for you be sure to give thanks for this and to return the favor.