Intro: Without question, we need community and the fellowship of believers to grow in our relationship with Jesus, but one practice that we often neglect in our journey of faith is solitude, a place where we can give space to God to create in us a calm, peaceful center from which to engage the chaotic world we live in.
Parker Palmer writes about solitude:
The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, self-sufficient. It knows how to survive in hard places. But it is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. But if we will walk quietly into the woods, sit patiently by the base of the tree, and fade into our surroundings, the wild animal we seek might put in an appearance. (A Hidden Wholeness)
Read: Mark 1:35; 6:30-32
1:35 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.
6:30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves.
Have you ever wanted to see a deer or bird or some wild animal? The last thing you should do is make lots of noise or go crashing through the woods thinking that will draw it out. Instead, you walk quietly; you sit patiently; you try to fade into your surroundings; and you wait.
As Palmer says, our soul's are like wild animals. We aren't always very safe places -- even for ourselves. When we want to create space for God to work in us, we tend to short-circuit the process by looking into our hearts and judging, evaluation, and discounting what we find there instead of quietly listening, welcoming, and receiving what we find deep within and holding it before God to reorder or bless as He sees fit.
The reality is that most of us are exhausted at the soul level. We will not go deeper in our relationship with God until we find the rest we need. Solitude is a place where we can let go of our striving and our hard work and just be! It's a place where we stop our crashing about and sit quietly at the base of our proverbial tree.
Consider Mark 6:30-32. The disciples had just come back from a very successful time of ministry. They are excited to tell Jesus all about it. They're so excited to do even more! But Jesus immediately whisks them away for a time of solitude and rest in God. He's less interested in hearing the results of their ministry than he is in making sure they take care of their hearts. It isn't that he doesn't appreciate what God has done through them, but he wants them to refresh, refocus and find the rest they need in the Father who loves them.
We often find solitude difficult because it threatens our sense of who we are. We tend to find our worth in what we do and how well we do it. We tend to find our identity in our busyness and our accomplishments. But Jesus wants us to find our identity and our worth in our relationship with him. He wants us to stop striving and seeking approval and to learn to rest. We need to realize that he meant it when he said that apart from him we can do nothing (see John 15:5).
Find a place that is comfortable and free from distractions. Sit quietly for a few minutes and take several slow deep breaths. Express quietly your desire to be present to God and the truth that he is present with you.
Seek to quiet your thoughts. Don't try to make things happen. Simply notice what is true about your life these days. Ruth Haley Barton suggests: "Let your soul venture out and say something to you that perhaps you have a hard time acknowledging: Is there a particular joy you are celebrating? A loss you are grieving? Are there tears that have been waiting to be shed? A question that is stirring? An emotion that needs expression?"
Whatever comes to mind, just sit with it. Hold it before the Lord. Notice the difference between trying to fix it and simply being with it. "What does it mean for you to be still and let God fight (or work) for you in this particular area?"
Solitude is challenging. There is no right way to do it. It takes practice. Try to set aside time regularly to sit with the Lord and do nothing but be present to him. You will be surprised at the many blessings you will find! Who knows, you might even see a wild animal or two!