Exploring Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude
After my freshman year of college, I took a job working as a counselor at a local summer camp in Searcy, Arkansas. The camp started two weeks after the semester ended, and I didn’t feel like making the drive from Arkansas to North Carolina back to Arkansas again just for two weeks. So for those two weeks, I lived in a cabin alone in the camp, doing odd jobs and manual labor. Most days, I would interact with two people at most, and usually for an hour or less. The rest of my time was simply spent by myself, either working or reading (thankfully the internet was very poor and this was in the days when data caps were the norm, meaning my time online was severely limited).
And the amazing thing was that this was one of the most profound times in my life.
I did not used to be someone who thrived on being alone. Once upon a time I would have described myself as an extrovert, and although I’m certainly more of an “introvert” now, I think those labels don’t exactly capture the ways in which humans relationships work. But what is true is that being alone used to rise to the level of a fear in me. I dreaded alone time, because it felt that I was eschewing my relationships, and also that I would have to engage with myself internally. But when we lean into that solitude, we can learn a lot about ourselves and become more thoughtful and, in fact, have healthier relationships. During my two weeks alone, I read through the first five books of the Old Testament and the Gospels. And what I learned was that letting those words dwell in my heart in solitude and silence allowed me to nurture them in a way that I hadn’t been able to achieve before.
When we practice solitude, we first free ourselves from the requirements of our busy, modern lives. You may have noticed that this is a trend with the spiritual disciplines, and rightly so. Solitude is the spiritual discipline thus far that is perhaps most explicit about this intention. Solitude is intentionally separating ourselves from the requirements of our work and relationships with others in order to exclusively foster our relationship with God and ourselves for a time.
Solitude can also help us become more aware of our own necessity to fill the empty spaces. When we practice solitude, we learn to become more introspective; to realize that we don’t always have to break the silence with words; that there is a lot of value in simply listening to others and choosing what we say very carefully rather than always feeling like we must have something to contribute. Learning to control our tongue and choose our words carefully is an integral part of practicing solitude.
An hour of personal solitude today can be life-changing. If you have the time and resources, I would even recommend performing a solitude vacation; rent a tiny home in the mountains or at the beach for a few days or a week and spend time with the Bible and with yourself. When we begin to look inward, we can discover a lot about ourselves and about our God.