We have a real problem in our day and age. We are all very tired. We are running on fumes but think we are not. Our bodies are telling us one thing, and our perception of our reality is telling us something different. We think that we are more connected but end up more isolated. Every waking moment is filled with some type of input. It might be your pocket vibrating with the next breaking news notification, a text, a busy coffee shop, shopping at Walmart, and the like. We are mostly active and seldom silent. Everything is running faster, our cell service is on demand, the internet is at lightning speed, Amazon can deliver a package in two days, mobile Starbucks ordering allows me to skip lines and people, and instant messaging gives real life accessibility. Our world is the antithesis of solitude. It takes intentional effort to not be disturbed in our day and time. That thought alone may be a bit overwhelming.
We live in a world that is busy and noisy and it will suck the life out of us if we let it. Our world is designed to consume us. Let that statement sink in. If true, think about the ramifications. You and I go each day in environments that are designed to syphon energy and life out of our souls. Sounds depressing, doesn’t it? This reality goes against all our nirvana views of our world. In our real world we are so drained. We typically don’t go through the work week feeling refreshed by Friday. We long for the weekends. Why? Because they are fun and life giving. The weekends are for spending time where we really want to. Typically, we aren’t being consumed.
Let me ask you a question. What’s the first image that comes into your mind when you hear the word solitude? The word itself feels very old school to me. I immediately think of a monk in a robe sitting in a dungeon-like room with one window. This image doesn’t feel refreshing. It feels like a jail cell where someone is about to be punished. Where is your happy place? For me, it’s listening to the waves on a blanket, in the sunshine, on the beach. The smell of fresh air, sea gulls in the background, with beach music playing on repeat, especially, if it’s getting closer to sunset!
The truth is, we have to intentionally create space for a deep life, a life that has had time to contemplate our world, family, reality, and even the supernatural. Our souls deeply need time to pull away, pray, pause, and reflect. I’m not referring to time to escape. Isolation and solitude sound the same but are very different. We are often deceived by the two. One is incredibly fulfilling and the other depletes us. One is like being in a thick fog, directionless, and the other is like a clear, sunny day. There is a difference between being alone and being lonely. So, what does it mean to create a space for solitude? Why should we even care?
What is Solitude?
- Solitude is a conscious choice to connect more deeply with ourselves and God.
- Solitude is willingly being alone.
- Solitude is the absence of distractions for long periods of time.
- It is an intentional discipline to quiet your world and listen: To be alone with your thoughts, to think about what matters to you, to get rid of the background noise.
- Letting your soul breathe fresh air.
- Solitude is a designed, quiet, uninterrupted time, to listen for His “still, small voice."
What is Isolation?
- Isolation is a defense. When we feel overwhelmed, too extended, or coming from a defensive place, we isolate ourselves.
- Isolation is the act of driving yourself away from any form of social contact.
- Isolation is usually avoided. Isolation is forced on us from the outside. It’s a defense mechanism. When we are isolated, it feels as if the walls are closing in on us and it makes a prison, draining the will and leaving us exhausted.
- Isolation can be like being lost in a thick fog, directionless.
- Isolation can be a negative state of mind marked by feelings of loneliness, emptiness, and an undeniable urge to receive attention from another person -any person, anyone who will offer you attention and, more precisely, a means of once again escaping your own thoughts, which you are forced to confront when you are alone.
- Isolation is to be socially isolated and alone when you don’t want to be.
In scripture we see several life-giving examples of being alone:
“The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.”
In Ecclesiastes...There is a time to be silent (3:7)
“But the Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him.”
"And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone" (Matthew 14:23).
"And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35).
Jesus got alone for one purpose: to commune with the Father (Matthew 4:1-11, 14:13, 14:23, Mark 1:35, Luke 4:42, 5:16, Matthew 6:6)
Be still and know that I am God (Psalm 46:10).
"Be still" means to focus on God and surrender to Him. It doesn’t mean to empty ourselves. God intended that we center ourselves in Him and not in anything else. We intentionally set aside private time to be with Him, to listen, and to prepare to receive from Him.
Don’t miss the significance that our Creator of the universe took time to be alone to get refreshed.
The reality is that we can only lead where we have gone. The depth of our spiritual walk spills over into all of our relationships and responsibilities. The same is true if our soul is parched. We have nothing to give to others.
What Happens When We Embrace Solitude?
- We Experience Clarity. Solitude allows you to dive into ideas, focus on problems, think outside the box, and reach deep within yourself and your imagination in a way that is not possible around others. Our focusedstillness allows rest for our mind, soul, and body. We are there for one purpose.
- We Experience Growth. We cannot grow at a soul level without solitude. The soul cannot surface if we fail to distance ourselves from the noise of the world -the people, the shows, social networks, and the like. In the words of Pascal (in the 1600's) "I have discovered that all unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they are unable to stay quietly in their own room.” When we are still, we grow. When we are moving, we are stagnant. It’s counterintuitive.
- We Experience a Renewed Perspective. Solitude is a personal choice that comes from an inner yearning. Making room for expansion, freedom of thought, and a chance to soar above the ordinary we gain a new perspective and come back refreshed and reinvigorated. Deep thinking can help us gain a new outlook, discover who we really are, and recharge our soul. Without time alone with God, the aspects of our life that need the most work often go ignored or unseen. Henri Nouwen once said, "Without silence and solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.” We must yield ourselves in order to gain a better perspective. We are able to see clearly, through a Godly perspective, what is important in our lives.
What Happens When We Are Not Still?
When we are not still, it’s inevitable that we will be inundated with our inner chaos and outer stresses of life. When we over busy ourselves we lose focus and bring the wrong things into our attention and care. Fear creeps in and we lose our true north. We feel directionless. We have wonderful intentions with an inept amount of fuel.
I heard it once said, “self-awareness is our only defense against our self-deception.” When do we take time to ask God to speak to us and just listen? It is when we intentionally set aside time for a deep dive in solitude. Life-giving solitude changes us and makes us better leaders, better people.
Pay attention to what is stirring in your soul right now. Is there anything important that you are neglecting or repressing? What is the cost of that neglect to our lives and to the people around us, when we are running on fumes? These are all important questions to ponder. I want to challenge you and encourage you to plan a time of solitude over the next twelve months. Go ahead and get your calendar out. Find a couple of days in the next few months that aren’t already planned. Schedule yourself some time to receive and reflect. Let your soul breathe fresh air. You won’t regret it.
I believe that our best days are before us…not behind us. We all need a little encouragement, wisdom, and help from time to time. We can’t accomplish our goals in isolation or always on our own. We need each other. Remember, you are not alone. It’s time to thrive. Let’s do it together. Click here to set up a Discovery Coaching call.