We live in a very busy culture. And it seems as if it gets busier and busier all the time. Have you ever wondered why this is true? I Suspect that it has to do with our fear of loneliness. You may not want to admit that you fear being alone, but I believe that the fear of loneliness is one of most deep seated fears that we face. And I believe that more of us face that fear than we know.
Because we are afraid to be alone, we surround ourselves with noise and busyness. We succumb to the crowds, and keep the constant hum of humanity around us at all times.
My generation was bad, but my kids’ generation is even worse. One of my daughters wears earbuds at all times, one in her ear, the other hanging down. My sons keep a radio station on in their room almost all the time. We even play white noise in the baby’s room. This keeps him asleep when the rest of the house is noisy. It masks the other sounds. I get that. But are we instilling in him from day one the fear of silence and aloneness?
But loneliness and noise aren’t our only options. There is another path we can take. We can develop the discipline of solitude and silence into our lives, and learn to live in that place, without the need for noise. Richard Foster, in Celebration of Discipline, says this: Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.
Remember the story in 1 Kings 18 and 19? Elijah has just experienced God’s victory over the pagan prophets of Baal and Asherah. Elijah had a showdown with these pagan priests. Each of them set up an altar with a sacrifice. Whichever God sent fire from heaven to consume the offering, well, that must be the true God. I encourage you to go read the story. God shows up in an incredible way, with an unmistakable display of power. It’s an amazing victory.
Right after this, the queen, Jezebel, tells Elijah that she is out to get him, and so he flees for his life into the wilderness. Out there, God speaks to Elijah. First there was a might wind. But God did not speak through the wind. Then came an earthquake, but God did not speak through that either. Next there was a fire. Again, God did not speak through the fire. Finally, there was calm, and Gos spoke in a gentle, quiet whisper. That’s how God communicated with Elijah that day.
God still speaks in a still, quiet voice today. And with our noise and clatter and busyness, we run the serious risk of missing out on what he has to say. We can’t listen if we are unable to hear his voice in the first place.
Henri Nouwen said that “without solitude it is virtually impossible to lead a spiritual life.” This is because in solitude, we find freedom. We are freed from the need to please others, freed from our own inner compulsions, and freed from the daily grind. And we are freed to love God more fully and to love others as well.
Solitude goes hand in hand with silence. Without silence there can be no solitude. Solitude requires silence because solitude requires listening. And you can’t listen if there are a million other things competing for your attention. The purpose of silence and solitude is so that we can free ourselves from every distraction in order to see and hear better. See and hear what better? We will be able to see the hand of God working and hear his voice speaking into our lives.
Solitude and silence are an integral part of the spiritual life. In our busy culture, this comes near the top of the list for being the discipline we need most in our lives, and lack almost completely. If we are going to hear God speak and be able to listen to him clearly, we need to learn the discipline of solitude. It’s a critical piece of our spiritual growth.
How do we do this? There are a lot of things we can do to cultivate solitude in our lives. And we will examine some of those things in the next part of this series. Until then, you can start by simply getting away from the noise. Turn off the TV and the radio, find a quite place with no distractions and simply be quite before God. Perhaps spend some time in the Word before hand so your mind is spiritually tuned. But set aside everything that competes for your attention and just be alone and silent before God.
You will be amazed at how this draws your focus onto the work of God in your life.
Do you practice the discipline of solitude in your life? What does that look like for you? You can share your thoughts in the comment section below.