Solitude is a main discipline of abstinence in which we refrain from interacting with other people for a few hours or some days in order to be alone with God and be found by him. For solitude to be effective it needs to be completed by silence.
We read in the Gospels that, “Jesus often withdrew into lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Practicing solitude and silence is an important way that Jesus fostered his intimacy with the Father, from which he heard his voice and was empowered for his ministry. He taught this same practice to his disciples.
Solitude with Jesus is Essential
For most Christ-followers solitude is the most important discipline they can practice. Pastors burnout from ministry and Christ-followers of all kinds lose heart for God, largely because they don’t maintain good personal boundaries and learn to practice solitude with Jesus. Their practice of other disciplines for the spiritual life runs out of steam because you just can’t go far with any spiritual discipline except as it’s coupled with or grows out of Solitude and Silence in God’s presence.
When through practice you learn to withdraw from everything in your life in order to seek the Lord alone and find your sufficiency and joy in him then your life changes dramatically! Your intimacy with Jesus becomes the secret center of strength in your heart as you do all that you do. No one or nothing owns you or controls you — you’re free from the grip of all the pressures, distractions, and stimuli that constantly pull on you — Jesus alone is your Master and he loves you passionately and perfectly!
Overcoming Difficulties in Solitude
At first solitude is likely to feel unpleasant as your body goes through withdrawal symptoms from all the things that have been activating and exciting you. You’re body may be jittery and antsy. You’re mind may flit about like a water bug. Stripped of your achievements and pleasing people you get in touch with your naked self. You may not like what you see. You may feel empty.
If you stay with the solitude long enough you’ll begin to experience the Good Shepherd restoring your soul in his green pastures and beside his still waters (Psalm 23:2-3). You’ll realize that you are not alone and that your true self is accepted, just as you are, in the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
To learn how to make good use of solitude it helps to have the guidance of a spiritual mentor or to practice it as part of a praying community.
Some Prayers to Help you Practice Solitude
The way to become proficient in the use of Solitude and Silence is to experiment with them, looking to Jesus to guide and strengthen you. Here are some prayers to get you started:
- Try my Breath Prayer inspired by Psalm 62:1, 5: “In Christ alone my soul finds rest… Selah.” (See, “In Christ Alone.”)
- Take a prayer walk and “Pray a Psalm in its Nature Setting.”
Other Disciplines Related to Solitude
These Biblical disciplines of abstinence are related to solitude:
- Silence: Not speaking in a quiet place in order to quiet our minds and whole self and attend to God’s presence and words.
- Sabbath: Doing no work to rest in God’s person and provision; praying and playing with God and others.
- Retreat: Setting aside the stress of your normal activities and routines to spend a day or more at a retreat center, privately or in community, in which much or most of the time is spent in solitude in order to hear God’s voice and be renewed in your relationship with him. (See “Benedictine Spirituality Retreat” for an example.)
Additional Resources on Solitude
These resources will help you to better understand solitude from a Biblical perspective and how you can use this discipline to grow in your intimacy with Jesus and effectiveness in ministry to others:
- “Solitude and Silence“: Soul Shepherding Article/Class
- “Jesus’ Rhythm of Life“: Soul Shepherding Article/Class
- “Bible Verses on Solitude and Silence“: Soul Shepherding Bible Study
- “Suggestions for Solitude with Jesus“: Soul Shepherding Experience
- “Lunch with Jesus“: Soul Shepherding Devotional