The Forgotten Discipline of Solitude, Pt. 2
Alone with your thoughts or an electronic shock to distract?
Shockingly, 67% of men and 25% of women choose the shock rather than facing solitude. For Christians interested in learning more about themselves, their spouses, and God, it is crucial to follow the psalmist’s admonition, “be still” (Ps. 46:10).
In today’s hurrysick world solitude will require discipline.
In his advice to a young Christian leader the apostle Paul writes: “train yourself to be godly” (1 Tim. 4:7). The word train comes from the Greek word gumnasia from which we get our English words gymnasium and gymnastics. The King James Bible translates gumnasia into the word exercise, while the New American Standard opts for the word discipline. What Paul is telling Timothy to do is begin to exercise or discipline himself in his pursuit of God and the lifestyle he has called us to embrace. The difficulty is that for many of us the idea of discipline has fallen out of favor. David Whitney, an author who studies spiritual discipline, writes that many Christians he meets are “a mile wide and an inch deep. There are no deep, time-worn channels of communing discipline between them and God. They have dabbled in everything but disciplined themselves in nothing.”
If we are serious about pursuing God, why start with solitude?
Many who study the spiritual disciplines argue that the practice of solitude is the fundamental discipline. It is the decision to voluntarily abstain from speaking or exposing ourselves to outside noise or stimulus in order to open ourselves to Spirit-led introspection. In order to change how we view ourselves and others we must allow the Spirit to not only bring to light our perspective, but also challenge it. “Search me, O God,” declares David, “and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Ps. 139:23). The difficulty is that in today’s techno-savvy world we have developed an aversion to silence. To combat this, we must intentionally carve out times to listen to the promptings and insights of the Spirit. This can happen in two significant ways:
Create pockets of solitude:
In our fast-paced, social media saturated world spending a day or afternoon alone is difficult. However, get into the habit of cultivating pockets of solitude throughout the day. Instead of jumping out of bed to join the rush, spend a few minutes asking God to direct your thoughts about your relationships. Before you turn on the computer or check text messages, take a minute or two to be silent. Turn off the radio during your commute to work or class and tune into God’s perspective.
Create an environment of solitude:
When is it the most quiet in your house or apartment? Early in the morning or late at night? During the week select a few days to set the alarm twenty minutes early to have the downstairs to yourself before the mad rush of getting out the door begins. If morning doesn’t work, leave the Nano and cell at home and go for a late walk alone.
Sound inviting? Be warned, those who have tried to carve out pockets of solitude confess it’s much harder than they thought. In our last installment, we’ll consider the many obstacles to cultivating stillness before God.
If the topic of solitude in relation to our marriages interests you, check out Tim’s book, I Beg to Differ: Navigating Difficult Conversations in Truth and Love (InterVarsity Press).
 Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 1997), p. 21.
Tim is a professor of communication at Biola University in La Mirada, CA, and is the co-director of the Winsome Conviction Project which seeks to reintroduce humility, civility, and compassion back into our public disagreements. He is the co-host of the Winsome Conviction Podcast and his latest book is, Winsome Conviction: Disagreeing without Dividing the Church (IVP)