Is Solitude Possible in a Noisy World?
by Shelly Esser
A college friend who is a missionary in a Third World country was recently over for dinner while he was here for a mission festival. I was surprised when he mentioned the need for solitude in his life. I had just been thinking about resurrecting solitude - which is the temporary state of being alone for spiritual purposes ? in my own life, and that it just might be an anecdote to the daily stresses we all experience.
Before I made some necessary changes, I started observing my life. I became increasingly aware of how much noise filled my life and altered my inner peace. In the morning I turned on the TV to hear the news and weather, in the car to work I played Christian CD’s, once I got to work, I was immersed in busyness and interaction with others, on the way home from work I listened to more music. Well, you get the picture. With a flip of the switch, my life was being inundated with noise, with activity, with everything but solitude. And we wonder why we’re so stressed. Perhaps it’s because solitude has become an unwelcome part of our lives. We’ve gotten so used to the noise, that we don’t know what it is to experience solitude even when the opportunity lends itself for it.
Upon my discovery, I began intentionally not flipping on a switch and instead just learning to be comfortable without the noise. That was really hard at first, because I have developed such a noise habit. I think many of us are afraid of quiet. We feel guilty to just sit in quiet; we feel unproductive. Often, however, it is the very noise that contributes to our stressful lives. By turning off the noise switches in my life, a funny thing began to happen. I actually started to hear God’s whispers and experience a settling peace.
There Is Something Transforming About Silence and Solitude
There are times we need to eliminate the noises of the world so that we can hear the voice of God and what it is He wants us to spend our time on. Our spirits actually crave solitude and silence, but our culture conditions us to be comfortable with crowds and noise. In her book, Living the Christ-centered Life Between Walden and the Whirlwind, author Jean Fleming says, “We live in a noisy, busy world. Silence and solitude are not twentieth-century words. They fit the era of Victorian lace, high-button shoes, and kerosene lamps better than our age of television, video arcades, and joggers wired with earphones. We have become a people with an aversion to quiet and uneasiness with being alone.”
Those people that I know who have the deepest walks with God, who have heard His secrets and lead peaceful lives are those who have been often and long alone with Him. They have come to practice the discipline of solitude in their lives daily. For most of us, this will be a constant battle. The enemy is well aware of the stakes involved in a lifestyle that incorporates solitude into it. The great missionary Jim Elliott said, “I think the devil has made it his business to monopolize on three elements: noise, hurry, crowds…Satan is quite aware of the power of silence.” Unless we plan for times of solitude ? wherever they may be found – our lives will become one big ineffective cycle of stress and spiritual shallowness.
One of the things solitude does for us is to help us to become physically and spiritually replenished. We all have a need for refueling both inwardly and outwardly. Solitude can do that for us. Jesus told His disciples, “Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while” (Mk. 6:31) after a full schedule of ministry output. They needed to be refreshed and Jesus knew that solitude was the remedy.
Scripture uses many examples of people and references for the need for cultivating solitude into our lives regularly. Jesus in Matt. 14:23 “went up on a mountainside by Himself to pray.” In Mark 1:35, Jesus “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where He prayed.” Habakkuk 2:20 says, “But the Lord is in His holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him.” Zephaniah 1:7 says, “Be silent before the Lord God!” In Psalm 62, David says in verses 1-2, “My soul waits in silence for God only.”
So How Do You Build Solitude Into Your Life?
By capturing the moments in the dailyness of our lives. Solitude may last only a few minutes or for days. Instead of flipping the radio on in the car or the TV, capture those moments for solitude. I’ve found the car – without passengers ? to be one of the greatest opportunities to grab a few uninterrupted minutes of solitude. Other places might be while you’re “on hold” on the phone or in an elevator – you can capture the moments God readily gives you in your life and in your circumstances. Try to find those times in the routine to commune with God and watch how they will empower your busiest days and diffuse stress.
Find creative locations for solitude. They can be in your home, your workplace, your ministry setting, outside, or short or long retreats. I love the story of Susannah Wesley, the mother of John and Charles, and mother to 18 children! It was said that when her children saw her with her big hoopskirt pulled up over her head that she was not to be disturbed because she was praying ? she was capturing a few minutes for solitude! You may have to get real creative, but there will be a place.
How often are we alone with our own thoughts or God’s voice? Think about that for a minute. The busier, more hectic your life is, the more you need to capture those moments of silence and solitude.