Radical Strength from the Discipline of Solitude

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” (Mt 4:1-3)

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Dallas Willard reminds us that “solitude is the most radical of the disciplines for life in the spirit.” Until we have developed the discipline of seeking out solitude we cannot know the full presence of God unfettered by the myriad distractions of life. We pray and our thoughts wander to the other things on our desk or the sound of the neighbor’s dog barking. We worship but break the communion with the spirit by focusing instead on the bright shirt worn by the man three rows ahead. Submission is weakened by ego and meditation interrupted by scattered thought. The Christian who separates herself into the desert finds herself distanced from these enemies of discipline and completely open to the descending presence of the Lord.

The benefits of solitude extend to our other spiritual disciplines. The account of Christ entering the desert to be tempted is often read quickly to get to the temptations but this does a disservice to the text. We take note of the fact that Jesus seeks out the solitude for forty days before being tempted. He immerses Himself in the full presence of his Father and the Spirit to build the strength necessary to face the tempter. He fasts, removing all external influence so that he is single-mindedly prepared to face whatever will come. We can learn from this to build our own spiritual muscle. In solitude we know nothing and no one other than God. He becomes our sole center without any opportunity for distraction.

Our desire for solitude will be misinterpreted by others. Our friends and loved ones will want to know why we seek to be apart from them but we must be diligent in pursuing our life of discipline. Ultimately, the Father deals with each of us individually and corporately but we are not free to substitute one for the other. We must be willing to walk away into the desert leaving companionship and distraction engendered by those who surround us even though they have our best interests at heart.

Grace and peace to you..

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Seeking Solitude

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community….Let him who is not in community beware of being alone. . . .Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer Life Together

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Christians tend to think of solitude in spatial terms, as a place where one can be alone. The spiritual discipline of solitude approaches it as an attitude, as a state of mind. As we apprehend inward solitude we dispense with the normal fear of being alone because we know that we are not alone. We are in the presence of our Savior and as we are quieted our hearing is enhanced. We seek solitude as our Lord did to hear the quiet voice of the Father in the breezes that swirl around us.

Modern culture is especially hostile to solitude. Not only are we bombarded everywhere at every moment with dozens of noise and distractions, our constant connectivity has made us ever more reliant upon our ability to communicate with words. We struggle with silence, Foster reminds us, because it strips us of the power of our words. Without our words we feel out of control and as though we are unable to justify ourselves.

One of the primary fruits of seeking solitude is that we will become free to let God be our justifier. Stripped of our feeble language we must trust in the God who is our rock, our defender and redeemer. We start with small steps seeking out little moments of peace in which we deliberately commune with God. We learn to trust the silence and let go of our need for words. A place of solitude can be sought out to not only be quiet, but to place ourselves far from others as our lifeline recedes in the distance. Alone in the silence, we have no way to hide among the rocks and can truly be confronted by God.

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