Planning Significant Solitude

“We must alter our lives in order to alter our hearts, for it is impossible to live one way and pray another.” –William Law

“The lover of silence draws close to God. He talks to Him in secret and God enlightens him.” –John Climacus

We live very busy lives, if left to our own devices and to the influences of the world.  Remember the words of Richard Foster, that our three main enemies to a strong spiritual life are hurry, noise, and crowds.   These can follow us to any place we live or travel if there is a cellular tower in the area. This onslaught of busyness, noise, people, whether in person or by our devices is sufficient to kill off most of times of spiritual refreshing our God has in mind for us. 

The answer to this pressure is solitude.  Yet most would respond to this answer with something akin to “But when will I ever find time for solitude?”  The truth is, we will never find time for it.  Our enemy, Satan, will see to that.  If we would pursue our God, to know Him intimately and love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, finding time is not the answer.  We must make time.

We must make the time, carving it out of our busyness and the lesser pursuits that crowd out our time alone with our God.  Making time for significant solitude is not just for pastors and missionaries, by the way.  It is for everyone who takes seriously the call to discipleship and communion with our God.  Communion with our God is the principle reason for which we are saved, and if we do not embrace that as our personal calling, we disagree with our God concerning our salvation.

How do we plan for significant solitude?  First, we put it on the calendar and make it the highest priority for that time period, whether one day or many.  For me, I have put five time-frames aside on my calendar stretching through July of next year. These are as important a calendar priority as a wedding in the family or a job for me in another city.  The shortest is three days, and the longest is seven.  Some are wilderness experiences, but some cannot be due to the unforgiving nature of winters on the northern plains.   For those I will be going to some cabin settings that are year-round and not in a busy setting.

Disclaimer:  Currently I am self-employed with no set business hours during which I need to be present each day. This means I can take a couple of weekdays to make a four-day weekend.  That makes it easier for me than for many.  It has not always been this way.  My business is less than two-years old.  Prior to this I had a job (a “real job” as my friends like to say), but I still did the solitude thing daily, and solitude trips several times each year.  They tended to be one or two-day events with an occasional longer trip thrown in.

What will happen at the solitude location?  I really don’t know how these unfold until I am there, and then only on a day-by-day basis.  I hold to the planning strategy I posted in the previous post:

The best way to design a solitude retreat is to let the Holy Spirit guide you each day.  He knows what is best for us every day, and desires to guide us to that best.  And He will, if we are in the habit of listening for and responding to His leading.  My experience has been that if I over-plan the retreat, I am in control and not the Spirit.  I will get mostly what I have, which is not enough and not the purpose.  I want what the Spirit is planning and must yield to Him in the details of the day.”

Here are some recommendations:

  • Determine that you will spend time alone talking with your God and listening. Walk and talk.  Sit and talk.  Enjoy a view and talk.  Read and talk.  Rest and talk.  Do not make it about praying your grocery list of requests, although praying for these requests can be done at some point.
  • Always take a journal and use it copiously. Journal for your daily solitude times to get the hang of it, and never stop journaling.
  • Always study the scriptures, and without a “curriculum.” Ask the Spirit to teach you, for Jesus promised the Spirit would guide us into truth.  Read, then wait for Him to fill your heart.  Journal your findings.
  • Bring a good, deeper-life book. Read it when you are not doing something else on this list.  Journal your findings.  Read Tozer, Juan Carlos Ortiz, John Eldredge, Watchman Nee, Brother Lawrence.
  • Don’t bring a TV or other video device. Don’t listen to tunes.  Don’t bring games or fiction books. Don’t make it a sight-seeing trip.  If you have been living on a diet of entertainment, the withdrawal will be significant.  But go with it and learn to experience God alone.

“So when we sing, ‘Draw me nearer, nearer, blessed Lord,’ we are not thinking of the nearness of place, but of the nearness of relationship. It is for increasing degrees of awareness that we pray, for a more perfect consciousness of the divine Presence. We need never shout across the spaces to an absent God. He is nearer than our own soul, closer than our most secret thoughts.” –A.W. Tozer

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