Last fall, I stepped out of my comfort zone and did something new that turned out to be the best thing I’ve done for myself. I attended a Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation called “Heaven on Earth: Finding the Center in Uncentered Times.” I knew going into this week that I’d be practicing silence and solitude. The following quote from Dallas Willard’s book The Spirit of the Disciplines explains what I mean here by solitude: “In solitude, we purposefully abstain from interaction with other human beings…silence goes beyond solitude, and without it solitude has little effect.” Henri Nouwen observes that “silence is the way to make solitude a reality.”
I was excited for this but nervous. I’d never spent extended periods of time in solitude or silence. It took me a day or two to get into the rhythm of solitude. We would begin and end each day with the “Great Silence.” We would leave evening worship in silence and remain silent until morning worship. We also spent several additional hours each day in silence. We were given suggestions of things to work on in the silence, but we could live that out in a way that was meaningful to us.
Since it was fall at Canyon Camp and the weather was gorgeous, I found myself experiencing silence outside. Moving my body helped center me to listen to God. This practice of silence became so freeing to me. I didn’t have to make small talk when I saw another person. No compulsory “Good Mornings” to anyone I saw on my way to get coffee in the morning. No words needed when passing someone else wandering outside during our times of silence. I found myself smiling and feeling full of relief. It was a sense of being un-tied, where all that keeps me knotted up was let loose.
I realize most people reading this don’t have the type of job where growing spiritually for five days outside the office is encouraged and supported. Thankfully, the leaders at Acts 2 saw this opportunity for me to grow deeper with God and in turn, become a stronger leader. Before embarking on my five-day retreat, I’d been practicing solitude in smaller ways for many years since reading the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster, and you may find those ways helpful even if you can’t get away for five days.
Solitude and silence are achievable in everyday life. As Richard Foster says, “Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place.” It’s not something you achieve so much as something you consent to. I’ve encouraged friends for years to find pockets of peace in their days to be mindful of God voice. What I’ve heard many times is a fear of the silence. People fill their lives with noise so they don’t feel alone. Foster reminds us in his chapter on solitude that we do not have to fear being alone because we aren’t actually alone—God is with us. Neither do we have to fear being with others because they do not control us.
I recommend finding those little solitudes Foster describes. In the early morning time in bed before your feet hit the floor, pause for silence. The times you are stuck in traffic can be moments of solitude. When gathered with your small group, have a minute of silence instead of a spoken prayer. Develop a quiet place in your home. Ideally, this place would be a room that can serve as an inner Sanctuary for the family. Turn off the TV, music, and phone, and take some deep breaths. Take a walk around the block.
In this season of Lent, I am reminded that Jesus sought out places for solitude. He also engaged in community. Our times of solitude allow us to offer compassion to those we share life with. Solitude creates the space in our life where God can reach us. When we create the space, we wait quietly and expectantly. “From this point on, the work belongs to God,” says Richard Foster.
I want to leave you with a few things I got personally out of my five days of solitude that may bless you as well.
- I am beloved by God. So are you!
- I have a unique and eccentric style all of my own, and it is significant in the world. You are unique and significant in the world!
- God’s intention for me is to be a human, fully alive. This is God’s word for all people!
I hope these words will encourage you to seek solitude and silence to make space for God’s voice.