For many of us words like “silence and solitude” are strange and even a little scary. Whether we like it or not, we all will have to embrace some degree of solitude in the coming weeks due to the coronavirus. For many, this will extremely difficult, but for others, this will be a gift of grace to go deeper in our relationship with God. Perhaps this season of “social distancing” is a gift of what Timothy Tennent calls disruptive grace.
I think we desperately need solitude and here is why. Words, they are everywhere. You can’t escape them because they are everywhere: words in print, words on signs, words on billboards words on TV, words on computers, and Facebook, and Twitter, and text messages…need I go on? The average American is bombarded with over 3,000 advertising messages a day!
The Bible warns us, “In the multitude of words, sin is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). Even though words are everywhere, we have become desensitized to their importance, especially when it comes to the spoken word. This has led to a breakdown in communication in our society. With the proliferation of words has come the rise of social media, like Facebook and Twitter, where you can have thousands of friends and followers.
The result: talk is cheap, and relationships are superficial. People would rather text than talk and spend quality time with one another. In spite of all of our communication and technological advances, people are more depressed and lonely than ever before!
In the midst of such a loud culture, one of the much-needed disciplines that we need to rediscover is the power of solitude. The devaluing of words has had a profound effect on how we pray and communicate with God. Many of our prayers are shallow, selfish, and lack any serious reflection upon the nature of God and the suffering of others. We don’t need prayers that are longer or louder; we need silence and solitude to help us pray in a more thoughtful and focused way that is centered on God and His kingdom.
More than ever before, we need to find stillness and solitude to commune with God. The Bible has a lot to say about the power of silence. The secret language of God is silence. I’m reminded of the line in the old Simon and Garfunkel song, “Sounds of Silence” which is about hearing without listening. Oh, how often are we guilty of hearing words without truly listening. Good silence enables us to listen to the quiet small voice of God.
Jesus and Solitude
We find this practice modeled by Jesus Himself as he would often depart from the crowds for periods of silence in order to center Himself and be with the Father. Consider the following Scriptures:
- “He went up on a mountain by himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.” Matthew 14:23
- “He departed and went into a deserted place.” Luke 4:42
- “So He often withdrew himself into the wilderness and prayed.” Luke 5:16
- “He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer.” Luke 6:12
- “He went up into a mountain and prayed.” Luke 9:28
- “He went out and departed to a solitary place and prayed.” Mark 1:35
- “He departed to the mountain and prayed.” Mark 6:46
It might be cliché to say this, but if Jesus was a proponent of this practice, perhaps we should find it to be vital for our lives today! Finding solitude and silence can be a surprising gift for us in this difficult season. Henry Nouwen reminds us, “In solitude we encounter not only God but also our true self.”
I believe that we can accept this as an invitation to sit at the feet of Jesus. We are reminded of this in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Mary sat at the feet of Jesus and heard His word, while Martha was distracted with much serving. Jesus said that Mary had chosen the best thing because she sat at His feet and was not distracted.
Ideas for Creating Space for Solitude
- Embrace solitude as a gift of grace. The Bible tells us, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” (Isaiah 30:31). Perhaps a little solitude is the very thing you need this season of Lent.
- Designate a quiet place. In a world full of distractions, we need a quiet place where we can allow God to speak to us. Create an altar in your home. It can be in a corner of a room or literally in a closet. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:6).
- Get out of the house and take a prayer walk by yourself. Prayer walking can become a private sanctuary in time regardless of whether we are in the big city or small town. One of my favorite quotes is from St. Augustine, “Solvitur ambulando” which is a Latin phrase which means “it is solved by walking.”
- Choose a scripture to daily meditate upon. This is where the lectionary can be such a gift. Prayerfully select a passage of scripture that means something to you. Let it either focus on the goodness of God, the promises of God, or the worship of God.
- Get creative. Use this season as a gift to rediscover your creative side. Paint, draw, write poetry, journal. Don’t just veg on Netflix, but use your extra time for creative contemplation. My family and I have made a goal to paint a painting every day until the Coronavirus is over. What can you do to embrace the gift of creativity?
- Ask God to speak to you during this time. This is the hardest part. Many people never hear the Lord speak to them simply because they don’t allow Him to speak. We need to allow time to sit and listen for the voice of the Lord. This was the difference between Eli and Samuel (1 Samuel 3). Samuel was open to hearing from the Lord. He said, “Speak, for your servant hears.”
Winfield Bevins is the Director of Church Planting at Asbury Theological Seminary. He frequently speaks at conferences on a variety of topics and is a regular adjunct professor at several seminaries. As an author, one of his passions is to help others connect to the roots of the Christian faith for spiritual formation and mission. His latest book, Ever Ancient Ever New: The Allure of Liturgy for a New Generation examines young adults who have embraced Christian liturgy and how it has impacted their lives. He and his wife Kay have three beautiful girls Elizabeth, Anna Belle, and Caroline and live in the Bluegrass state of Kentucky. You can find out more about him at his website, www.winfieldbevins.com.