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Five Reasons to Practice Solitude

Five Reasons to Practice Solitude

Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. John 16:12

We are afraid of being alone. So much of our self-worth and self-image is tied to what others think about us. We can so easily fill our schedules with other people and activities to keep us busy. Even when no one else is physically around, the whole world is just one click or swipe away. We can endlessly distract ourselves with noise and images from TV, social media, music, podcasts, and so much more in this digital age. We use other people, endless activity, and entertaining technology to keep ourselves from ever truly being alone.

The intentional practice of solitude can be scary, but it has deeply formed Jesus-followers for over two-thousand years. Here are five reasons to engage in the discipline of solitude.

 

 

1. Jesus practiced solitude.

 

As disciples of Jesus, our goal is to become like him. We must imitate our master Jesus for that to happen. He was not afraid to be alone because he knew his Father was with him. He practiced the discipline of solitude daily throughout his life to commune with God, even as others would clamor for his attention (Mark 1:32-39). As Jesus approached the most difficult week of his life that would culminate in death and abandonment, he ultimately trusted his loving Father to meet him there.


2. Solitude teaches us to rely on God for identity and not others.


Whether it be a positive review from your boss or your friend’s laughter after telling a joke, it is so easy to rely on the opinions of others for our sense of self-worth. Intentionally taking time to be alone and connect with God through prayer and Scripture reading can teach ourselves to find identity in Christ and not in others. This is what Jesus did even at the height of his ministry so that he would not be caught up in others’ expectations of him (Luke 5:15-16). Jesus’ identity firmly rooted in God’s love empowered his ministry toward others.


3. Solitude empowers us to be present with God and others.


If you’re like me, perhaps you’ve found that your attention span steadily decreased as you began carrying your smartphone more. Technology has complicated the practice of solitude because we are never more than a swipe away from superficial connections with others. The intentional practice of solitude to remove ourselves from distractions like technology can clear our minds of distracting thoughts, and retrain our brains to have longer attention spans. This enables us to be present with God while reading the Bible and praying. It can also change our habits and patterns so that we can be more attentive as we interact with others. 


4. Solitude can open us up to the Holy Spirit’s gentle correction.


Often the fear of solitude stems from unresolved guilt and shame. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “We are so afraid of silence that we chase ourselves from one event to the next in order to not have to spend a moment alone with ourselves, in order to not have to look at ourselves in the mirror.” As God’s beloved children, there is no need to fear shame or judgment from him (Hebrews 4:16). When we are alone with God without anything to use as a distraction, God’s Spirit can reveal ways we are living and thinking that are different from the abundant life God wants for us. In solitude, we can confess these things and receive God’s forgiveness and empowerment to change.


5. Solitude develops contentment within us.


As we sit alone with God, we can develop a sense of contentment in him. Other pleasures or accolades can be seen in proper perspective to God. Practicing gratitude in this time of solitude can shift the focus from what you don’t have to how God has already blessed and sustained you. This contentment reminds us of God’s love for us and empowers us to say “no” to lesser things that ultimately won’t satisfy us.

One avenue for creating a daily discipline of time with God is theFormed.life an online daily devotional resource. 

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Equally Revering Work and Rest

Equally Revering Work and Rest

A Kaleidoscope of Personality Assessments

I’m a big fan of personality assessment tools. DISC, StrengthsFinder, Working Genius, Myers Briggs. You name it, I’ve done it. I’ve found them to be a helpful tool on the journey to discovering who God made me to be. I’ve also found them to each have various strengths and weaknesses, which means they become exponentially more helpful when viewed as part of a whole. DISC helps me communicate more effectively with others. Working Genius helps me see where I fit on the team and within the project life cycle. 

And the Enneagram? Well…that one sort of feels as though it sees into my very soul. 

And before you get nervous, don’t worry. I’m not here as an Enneagram evangelist. I promise. More than enough of those exist in the world. No, what I actually want to promote is the musical project Sleeping At Last, led by singer-songwriter Ryan O’Neal. Ryan got his start in the early 2000’s about 45 minutes from where I grew up, so he’s been a part of my life for the better part of two decades. Over the years, Ryan has undertaken a number of ambitious and innovative projects, including Atlas: Enneagram, his album that contains songs he wrote for each of the nine personality types within the Enneagram framework. 

When it comes to determining which Enneagram number you are, it’s preferable to take a “narrative” approach (as opposed to an assessment-based approach), to map your life and carefully discern your type. I’ll never forget the moment I first heard the Enneagram 3 song from Ryan’s Atlas: Enneagram album

From the opening line, Maybe I’ve done enough… all the way to the final stanza, I only want what’s real / I set aside the highlight reel / And leave my greatest failures on display with an asterisk / Worthy of love anyway.  Virtually every word connected viscerally with my heart and soul. 

But there’s one stanza in particular that recently I’ve been unable to shake.

 

The Gift of Sabbatical

I have been the recipient of a sabbatical. Our church’s commitment to this spiritual discipline is extraordinary and unique, and a great gift to the pastoral staff. The time away was an incredible blessing of renewal, restoration, refreshment, and rest.

And it’s that last word, “rest,” that connects back in with the Enneagram 3 song. Famously, Enneagram 3 personality types (known as “The Achievers”) are really good at working hard, and really bad at resting well. 

Now, it’s good to work hard! God is the first worker, and he created us to image him in that way. Jesus, too, knew how to work hard and engage with fullness. But look closely at Scripture and you’ll also see not just divine work, but also divine rest

In six days God created the world, and then on the seventh day, God rested. Jesus worked hard all day, serving, healing, helping. And then, Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] got up, went out, and made his way to a deserted place; and there he was praying (Mark 1:35). Or later, after the disciples have had their own busy day of working and serving: [Jesus] said to [the disciples], “Come away by yourselves to a remote place and rest for a while.” For many people were coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat (Mark 6:31).

Or how about what can brilliantly be called “The Great Invitation” from Jesus at the end of Matthew 11: “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

The witness of Scripture is clear: In the eyes of God, both work and rest are “equally revered.” Now, that phrase, “equally revered,” is a direct quote from the Enneagram 3 song that so deeply impacted me. Here’s the whole stanza:

I only want what’s real
To let my heart feel what it feels
Gold, silver, or bronze hold no value here
Where work and rest are equally revered

To “revere” something is to have deep respect and admiration for it. To value it. To uphold it.

And I can honestly say that until my sabbatical, while I conceptually agreed with the idea of work and rest being equally revered, I had never fully lived into it. Which is why those days of rest  were such a gift. And why I’m attempting to re-order some priorities.

Because while work matters, so does rest.

 

Rest as Silence & Solitude with Jesus

Now, soul-level rest can (and should!) take many forms. I’m not going to prescribe my rest-discovery journey to you. Part of the joy is the journey! But there are a few universal forms of soul-level rest that faithful apprentices of Jesus have engaged in for generations. 

One such example is “coming away” (Mark 6:31 again) for times of silence and solitude with Jesus. John Mark Comer’s chapter on this in The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry makes an incredibly compelling case for the vital universal need for this. The whole chapter (and whole book, honestly) is worth a read, but here’s a quote from the final section of the chapter:

In our ears we sense his voice cut through the cacophony of all the other voices, which slowly fade to the deafening roar of silence. In that silence we hear God speak his love over us. Speak our identities and callings into being. We get his perspective on life and our humble, good places in it. And we come to a place of freedom. Our failures slowly lose their power over us. As do our successes. We get out from under the tyranny of other people’s opinions — their disapproval or approval of us. Free to just be us, the mixed bag we are. Nothing more than children with our Father. Adopted into love. Free to be in process, yet to arrive, and that’s okay. In silence and solitude our souls finally come home. That’s what Jesus meant by “abide,” the verb of abode or home. The place of rest. We come back to our places of soul rest. To what Thomas Kelly called “the unhurried [center of] peace and power.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Sounds like something to revere doesn’t it? I’m certainly on that journey. Will you join me?