Blog Post

Solitude and Your Spiritual Life

Listening to God is an essential aspect to the art of living a generous life. With so much to distract and distort our thinking it can be helpful to get alone with God for reflection and solitude. This week, guest blogger Cherie Harder offers some helpful insights into the art of being alone with God.

All of man’s troubles stem from his inability to sit quietly in a room alone.“
– Pascal

A study conducted by University of Virginia psychologists and released in Science magazine sought to measure how Americans handled undistracted solitude—and the results were disquieting. The study initially asked a group of nearly 150 college students to simply sit quietly in a room without distractions for 6 to 15 minutes. Most reported a great deal of difficulty and disliked the experience.

Researchers then planned follow up tests with a wider variety of ages and backgrounds. They left participants alone in a room for a similar period with no available distractions save a device that would allow participants to give themselves painful electric shocks. So great was the need for distraction among the participants that a quarter of the female participants and two-thirds of the men shocked themselves at least once during the 15-minute period. Many of those surveyed were unwilling or unable to simply sit quietly by themselves for a mere 15 minutes.

Solitude can shape us

Given our aversion to being alone with our thoughts, the biblical emphasis on the importance of silence and solitude is all the more jarring. Jesus Himself began His public ministry with 40 days of silence and solitude, and frequently stole away from His disciples for solitary prayer. Jesus even taught that “when you pray, go away by yourself, all alone, and shut the door behind you and pray to your Father secretly…” (Matthew 6:6).

Henri Nouwen asserted that, “Without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life. Solitude begins with a time and place for God, and Him alone. If we really believe not only that God exists but also that He is actively present in our lives—healing, teaching, and guiding—we need to set aside a time and space to give Him our undivided attention.”

Solitude and the spiritual life

But why is solitude so vital to the spiritual life? And given its discomforts, what benefits does it offer?

Solitude removes our “protective distractions.” Much of what makes solitude so uncomfortable is what makes it so vital: by stripping away distractions, we are left alone with our thoughts, fears, unfulfilled hopes, resentments, wounds, and worries. They press in with force and clarity, and our half-disguised, half-ignored faults and failures make themselves known. We begin to know ourselves—including recognizing where we fall short and how much we need redemption. Solitude provides space and time to focus on the invisible and eternal.

Silence enables us to better hear the voice of God. In the words of Mother Teresa, “God is the friend of silence. His language is silence. And He requires us to be silent to discover Him. We need, therefore, silence to be alone with God, to speak to Him, to listen to Him and to ponder his words deep in our hearts. We need to be alone with God in silence to be renewed and to be transformed. For silence can give us a new outlook on life. In it we are filled with the grace of God, which makes us do all things with joy.”

Silence and solitude erode pride and cultivate gratitude. The difficulty of a simple discipline offers a humbling insight into the limits of one’s own nature—and enables us to better see the glory and fullness of the God who made us, knows us, and loves us. Silence and solitude both erode our own grandiosity, and provide a fertile soil for gratitude to grow.

Engaging in silence and solitude is a discipline – requiring intentionality, work, even discomfort. But in contrast to the gnawing and numbing drive for distraction, sitting quietly in a room alone may yield surprising, even shocking, rewards.

What about you? What would it look like to take 30 minutes and create space for solitude? What fears and questions come up in your heart as you consider cultivating time for quiet?

This blog post is excerpted from a post on The Trinity Forum blog. You can read the original here.

Cherie Harder

About Author

Cherie Harder

Cherie Harder serves as President of the Trinity Forum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cultivating networks of leaders whose integrity and vision will renew culture and promote human freedom and flourishing. Prior to joining the Trinity Forum in 2008, Cherie served in a number of government positions, including in the White House as Special Assistant to the President and Director of Policy and Projects for First Lady Laura Bush. A native of New Mexico, Cherie now makes her home in Northern Virginia.

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