Solitude

Preaching and Worship Resources about Solitude

A classic spiritual discipline, solitude is deliberate, hopeful aloneness.

In Scripture

Solitude Precedes Spiritually Significant Events "Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak" (Gen. 32:24). "Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed" (Ex. 3:1 - 2). "At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, `What are you doing here, Elijah?' . . . and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence" (1 Kings 19:9, 12).

Commands of Solitude "It is good for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it" (Lam. 3:27 - 28). "But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matt. 6:6).

Jesus Practices Solitude "Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white" (Matt. 17:1 - 2). "Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, `Sit here while I go over there and pray.' He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be grieved and agitated. Then he said to them, `I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.' And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, `My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want'" (Matt. 26:36 - 39). "In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed" (Mark 1:35). "He said to them, `Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.' For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat" (Mark 6:31) But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray (Luke 5:15 - 16). "Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles" (Luke 6:12 - 13). "When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself" (John 6:15).

Points to Ponder

Solitude Precedes Spiritually Significant Events In Scripture, solitude frequently precedes a spiritually significant event. Jacob is alone before the wrestling match, his "magnificent defeat" that changed his life forever. Moses is alone before encountering the burning bush and the God who changed his life forever. Elijah retreated to a cave in which silence envelops him and God's still, small voice speaks to him. Jesus is frequently alone to pray, including on the night before calling his disciples. He is alone with Peter, James, and John when he is blindingly transfigured before their eyes. Jesus is alone in Gethsemane when he agonizes over his Father's calling to be crucified, to drink a cup he does not want to drink. He then drinks it to the dregs.

Jesus practiced solitude It is this example set by Jesus, and his counsel in Matt. 6 to pray alone ("in secret"), that has motivated his followers to imitate him by seeking the discipline of solitude. If even Jesus periodically needed solitude to in order to reboot, who are we to think we can ignore this classic discipline?

From the church's masters of spiritual disciplines Encouragements to practice solitude and descriptions of its benefits may be found in the writings of the church's masters of spiritual disciplines, including St. Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas à Kempis, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, and Henri Nouwen. Contemporary Protestant writers on solitude include Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Foster and Willard include choice quotes from some of the other classic writers.

Solitude as Abstinence Dallas Willard observes that solitude is a "discipline of abstinence," which is a form of self-denial, which is a form of "dying with Christ." What we abstain from is companionship — though companionship is not only not wrong, but often a blessing. So why periodically abstain from it? Because our companionship is not always a blessing. It so often meshes with worldly patterns of feeling, thought, and action that we then easily absorb into ourselves. In fellowship, we may stir each other up to scorn, envy, gossip, gloating, idle chatter, and much else. Or our companions become God-substitutes, distracting us from the "still, small voice" we should be listening for. In solitude "we find the psychic distance, the perspective from which we can see, in the light of eternity, the created things that trap, worry, and oppress us." We attempt to crucify these things, painfully dying to them. All this is, even from a Protestant point of view, the valid impulse in monasticism.

One is not alone in solitude Richard Foster observes the paradox of solitude: The Christian who seeks solitude wants aloneness from other human beings, but is aware that in solitude she is not alone. God is there, filling her with unmediated presence and love. "Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment." And one needn't travel to a retreat center to find it. Any site where one can be out of contact with others and silent is a place of solitude. A walk in the woods or along a deserted shore will serve. So will a cup of coffee before anyone else is up. Or a time alone in the back yard before bed, drinking in the darkness and the stars. Solitude is a time for prayer that centers on Jesus Christ, the one who so often sought solitude; it's a time to gather his passion, gentleness, and love. With these gifts the Christian emerges from solitude. He had entered solitude in hope of recovering his spiritual health. Now, having gathered the gifts of Christ, he hopes to offer them to companions from whom he had withdrawn, wanting to bless them now with gifts from Christ he could have recovered only in solitude.


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.