If we look at the nature of God, he fundamentally is a God that desires relationships, and when he created Man in his image, he gave that same desire to Man. We crave and need relationships, both with God, and with each other. The "problem" that Solitude helps with is that we can get too focused on relationships with people (which we can see) and neglect building the relationship with God. Solitude is the withdrawing back from people, and spending time focusing on build a relationship with God.
Note, Solitude has a built-in limit, God WANTS us to have relationships with each other, so if a person starts to become a "hermit" and totally withdraw from society, this will normally displease God, so we need to find the right balance of Solitude and Comunity.
Foster quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer saying:
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community ...
Let him who is not in community beware of being alone ...
Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wnats fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.
Life Together, chapters "The Day Together" and "The Day Alone".
So we need a healthy relationship with God to build good relationships with others, and healthy relationships with others to have a good relationship with God.Back to top
Solitude is NOT just being alone, and in fact, we can achieve solitude when not alone, but it is easier when alone. Most of us, by nature, don't like being alone, because we inherently want to be with people. Loneliness is based on the fear of an inner emptiness, but Solitude is based on finding an inner fulfillment. in Solitude, we don't fear being alone, as we know we are NOT "alone", but in the presence of God.
Solitude is a state of mind, where we put off the noise, crowds, and the clamor of the world, and turn to focus on God. This is easier to do when those aren't present, but with practice, you can learn to get there when they are. Solitude is never done by itself, but always will be done with a practice of the Inner Disciplines.
The person who has developed Solitude has the freedom to be alone, and the freedom to be with people, as they no longer have the same control over them. They have developed the ability to quiet the world to hear the quiet whispers of God.
Solitude requires silence. It might involve an absence of speech, but it always requires an act of listening. If we don't stop to listen to/for God, we are not in Silence, and we aren't in Solitude. There might be noises around us, but to really achieve Solitude, we need to spend time in personal Silence, where we a just listening for God to speak to us. We spend time in Meditation on what he has done, and time in Study of his Word and Creation.
We likely also spend some time in Prayer, laying open our hearts before God, but we must give a chance for God to answer.
Note, it can sometimes seem that it would be easier to just be silent all the time rather than trying to find a good balance, but as is written:
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
There is a time for all things, and control and moderation are the key. Trying to stick to an absolute on something like this is just incorrect.Back to top
Note, this finding of the balance in life for speaking doesn't just apply during "Times of Solitude". but should become a part of all of our life. As, during our times of Solitude, we learn to defer to God and let him speak, and to trust in him. Then, when we are outside of times of Solitude, we can apply that learning and understand that we do not need to control and manage things, but leave them to God to take control.
This is one aspect that makes the Discipline of Solitude, (and its sub-discipline of Silence) one of the most powerful disciplines, because to truly practice it, we need to turn over control to God.
Solitude, while a "state of mind", also must have an outward expression.Back to top
Steps into Solitude
- Take advantage of the "little Solitudes" that can happen in our day. See the opportunity in what might otherwise be a problem or the small gifts of time.
- Find a "Quiet Place" you can go to when you need those moments of Solitude. Let people know that when you go into your "Quiet Corner" you prefer not to be disturbed.
- Find Quiet Places outside your home to go to. Parks, Cemetary, or the like.
- When possible, do your deeds of service without adding words to explain them.
- Practice letting your words be few, but meaningful. Think carefully about what you will say. Do what you say you will do.
- As an experiment, try to go a day without speaking (or texting, etc.), and find other ways to communicate.
- Several times a year, withdraw for a few hours as a retreat to reorient your life goals, and evaluate what you have accomplished (to set reasonable expectations for the future).
Note, a fruit of the Discipline of Solitude, is that as you improve your relationship with God, you will increase your sensitivity and compassion for others. You will develop the freedom to be with and interact well with people.Back to top
Dark Night of the Soul
The next section, which is part of Foster's discussion of the Discipline of Solitude, is on a condition called "The Dark Night of the Soul". This can be a confusing topic for those not ready for it, so for a beginner, it might make sense to skip straight to the Discipline of Submission. If you sometimes feel you are getting stale, or not satisfied with how you are doing, and wondering if there is more, you may want to read the section of the Dark Night of the Soul.Back to top