Without alone time, your head would explode! This definitely holds true for those of us who spend time with children, especially in group settings. I work as a soccer coach on weekends with elementary school-aged children and I also volunteer for my church’s youth group. Man, these kids can wear a person down!
Just this past weekend, my family celebrated my cousin’s ninth birthday. And there were tons of little firecrackers running around the backyard party. It was the Armageddon of fun: A water balloon war, Frisbees flying in formations like jets, water gun crossfire (with the occasional surprise blast from behind!), and a foam rocket device that pressurized the garden hose into the front yard’s most feared tactical implement. At the end of the party, I was beat… and soaked! Kids’ energy never ends, but mine certainly does!
At the end of a crazy, exhausting day like this, it is important to escape from the commotion of the crowd and take a deep draft of restful solitude. Nobody can sustain high levels of exertion and involvement for long. Ask any athlete, and they will tell you the importance of rest for competition. Without taking breaks, burnout is inevitable.
But even outside of social activity and physical exercise, the need to recuperate remains. As a student, for example, it is impossible to constantly learn new material. Without studying and reviewing, knowledge will neither be solidified nor retained. And studying is a peculiarly independent discipline. Every student struggles with various aspects of a course’s material, so each one must devote different amounts of effort to different topics. However, during a lecture, the professor shoots the lesson at the classroom like a shotgun. And I do not blame him! Some of my classes at university seated hundreds of students, so clearly it is impossible for the professor to hold everyone’s hand. And right there is a major lesson of college: Academic success necessitates independent thinking and problem solving. Without healthy independent study habits, academic success is impossible.
Clearly in the social and academic spheres of our lives, solitary tranquility affords the opportunity for study, reflection and rejuvenation. However, the strategic use of solitude can extend far beyond the social and academic areas of our lives. Alone time “offers a way for us to listen out for the quieter suggestions and perspectives of our deeper selves,” says a fellow blogger. Socrates also famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And there is some Biblical truth in these statements. Compare them with Psalm 4:4: “…when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.” The psalms emphasize intentional meditation in several places. “Blessed is the man… [whose] delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2). Solitude facilitates the process of quiet reflection and meditation.
Indeed solitude is an integral component of spiritual life. “We are humans, not machines. We were made for rhythms of silence and noise, community and solitude. It is unhealthy to always have people around, as well as to rarely want them. God made us for cycles and seasons, for routines and cadences,” says pastor David Mathis. We need time to decompress from the crush of life. God knows our worries and weaknesses, and He wants to renew us. King David spent quiet time under God’s nurturing care: “He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul” (Psalm 23:2). Solitude set aside with godly intentions bolsters individual faith.
Solitude naturally results from practicing spiritual disciplines. And spiritual disciplines create closer personal relationships with God. Bible study, prayer, meditation, and journaling are such disciplines that draw us closer to God; although they can be done corporately, they must be pursued individually. At the end of the day, faith in God must not depend on others. For instance, particular church membership may change, or a beloved brother or sister in the faith may be lost. But spiritual maturity implies independent ownership of faith. I feed myself the Word of God, and do not lazily rely on a pastor to give me a bottle, though instruction is useful and fellowship is necessary.
When Jesus lived on earth, He made solitude a priority in his life. But Jesus was not an obscure hermit. He was famous in his time, though not in the glamorous contemporary sense of pop culture. Even at his birth, He was known. The Magi searched for him and gave his family precious gifts (Matthew 2:11). His name was known by kings and powerful government authorities. For example, when He was born, a king tried to kill him (Matthew 2:13), and news of Jesus spread to prominent Roman officials during his ministry (Matthew 14:1). Furthermore, Jesus’ miracles attracted large crowds: “When Jesus returned, the crowd welcomed Him, for they had all been waiting for Him… the crowds pressed around him” (Luke 8:40-42). Jesus, on at least two separate occasions, miraculously fed crowds of thousands of people (Matthew 14:13-21; Matthew 15:38). To top it all off, some of Jesus’ followers wanted to crown him as king of Israel: “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself” (John 6:15). People constantly bombarded Jesus, and Jesus lovingly taught and served them. However, Jesus needed alone time with His Father.
Christians are called to imitate Christ: “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Jesus models spiritual solitude: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35); in addition, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Therefore, Jesus calls Christians to practice solitude.
But solitude by itself carries no special significance. For example, the demoniac described in Mark 5 surely lived by himself: “He lived among the tombs” (Mark 5:3), and the living do not dwell in tombs! Therefore, solitude is not inherently beneficial but rather functions as a structure in which other spiritual disciplines must flourish. When Jesus sets out by himself in Mark 1:35 and Luke 5:16, he goes to a solitary place and does something. He prays. Solitude does not equate to idleness. Spiritual solitude entails productivity.
Holy solitude develops our personal relationship with the Lord. What is more productive than directly connecting with the source of all power and strength? The smartest phone is useless without a charge, and likewise humans cannot do anything without Jesus:
“I am the vine and you are the branches. The one who remains in Me, and I in him, will bear much fruit. For apart from Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5).
Amen and Amen! Personally, I would not have the motivation to wake up in the morning if Jesus did not bring hope and purpose to my life. David knew that a willing spirit comes from the Lord (Psalm 51:12). When we set aside time for God, He strengthens us: “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4:8). Therefore, solitude – coupled with spiritual disciplines – is a way to “draw near” to Jesus and “remain” in him.
Finally, the necessity of spiritual solitude reveals God’s personal nature. A factor of solitude is that God desires intimacy with us at a one on one level: “… he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit” (1 Corinthians 6:17). God is personal. “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). He knows everything about us; he knows what we need before we ask him, and he knows the number of hairs on each person’s head. And those who are bald make his job of keeping track a little bit easier! But in all seriousness the point is this: While corporate worship and corporate activity are important, solitude spent with God is just as important than communal functions.
The words sanctified and holy basically mean the same thing – set apart for God’s purposes. Is your alone time sanctified? Is it dedicated to God for His glory in our lives? “It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:3). Time alone should be dedicated to the Lord. “… when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Mathew 6:6). Do you honor God with your “secret” time?
God calls you to invest personal time into your relationship with him. If you cannot sacrifice a little time for God, how will you obey him when he calls you to make greater sacrifices? He called Abraham to sacrifice his own son on whom God’s promise depended (Genesis 22:2)! He called the Jews to sacrifice their status in the synagogue when Jesus came (John 9:22). He called his disciples to lay down their lives for his sake (John 16:2). Do you daily devote solitary time to God?