Even if you have all the craft books you could ever need on your bookshelves, you’re not fully equipped to write. Because your craft isn’t the only thing you need to work on. So join us in this podcast, the first of a new series on activities that draw us closer to God, as we explore solitude.
But first, thank you to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
As Christian writers, most of us would wholeheartedly agree that the deeper our relationship with God grows, the more at peace and on target we’ll be as we live—and write—within God’s will for us. No matter the path, no matter the difficulty, we can remain steadfast and purposeful in seasons of ease and seasons of hardship.
But the catch, of course, is in how exactly we are to deepen and maintain our relationship with God. Let’s face it, few of us can say we’ve arrived at our best and deepest relationship with him. It’s a process, and sometimes a very difficult one.
It just so happens that there is a Biblical model for spiritual growth and development, for building and deepening our relationship with God, and Jesus himself modeled it for us, as did the apostles in the Bible. Yet few of us faithfully follow in the footsteps of our spiritual models. Few of us truly do the things they did.
What are these things? We’re glad you asked, because we’re going to be talking about them in various upcoming episodes over the next few months. You’ve probably already heard of these things, these practices. Some people call them spiritual disciplines, but let’s not think of them that way. Because they’re not disciplines for discipline’s sake. We’re not doing hard things just to make ourselves spiritual.
These are activities. They’re practices that are all about spiritual growth. They’re about tightening our connection to God and blossoming in our conformity to Christ and in our role as his witnesses.
Today we’re going to focus on the practice, or let’s call it the relationship-building activity, of solitude.
That might sound crazy. How can solitude build a relationship? What we mean when we say solitude in this context is simply the practice of withdrawing from human-to-human interaction in order to focus on God. To listen for him, to listen to him, and to talk with him.
By solitude, we also mean taking a break from the onslaught of this world and all the opinions, values, and agendas that perpetually bombard us. To get away from wondering if what we’re saying or thinking might be “liked” on social media.
What we’re talking about is not just being physically alone—being some place where no one else is—but also consciously isolating our minds from the input of other people, from what they’d say or think. A place where you’re separated from human companionship, attention, and influence, and where you’re fully available in God’s presence.
We know that there are extroverts—like Karen—out there for whom being cut off from people feels awful. And there are introverts like Erin who may be thinking, “Bring it on. I’m fine without people!” But we’d all be missing the point because we’d be focusing on how this practice makes us feel rather than on the purpose and usefulness of this activity.
Let’s talk for a few minutes about what this activity of solitude is and isn’t:
First, it isn’t the same as “loneliness.” An article in Psychology Today talks about the difference between loneliness and solitude. It says, “loneliness is harsh, punishment, a deficiency state, a state of discontent marked by a sense of estrangement, an awareness of excess aloneness.”
That does sound awful!
Solitude, the same article says, “is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself.”
Solitude is meant to be a constructive state. It’s meant to be good for something, and one of the things they say it’s good for is engagement with oneself.
While we’ve mentioned that a main purpose for solitude is to help us engage and listen to God, it’s also important to engage and listen to ourselves. If you’ve ever been in a very noisy environment, you might’ve used the expression: “It’s so loud in here, I can’t hear myself think.” Well, our world is often so loud that we can’t hear ourselves think, and if we can’t think, we can’t truly know ourselves.
If we don’t know ourselves, how can we be truly authentic in our relationship with God? How do we know what we think about what he’s saying, about who he is?
Inauthenticity doesn’t necessarily we’re trying to lie, or misrepresent ourselves to God. That doesn’t work when we’re dealing with an all-knowing God, anyway. But we’re saying that there’s a barrier in our communication loop with God if we don’t know ourselves. We can’t have deep relationships without authenticity.
This may be one reason why the idea of solitude can be uncomfortable for some people. It means we have to be vulnerable with ourselves. We’re dropping our mask and taking a good look at who we are and what we think. What if we don’t like what we see?
Sometimes that’s actually good. It helps us see where we need to make changes to move toward becoming the kind of person we will like when we take a close look.
Sometimes not liking what we see isn’t good, because it isn’t an accurate picture. But when we’re letting God into that place with us, where we’re completely vulnerable and exposed, we can let him tell us what HE sees. We can let him show us the truth of how he sees us. That truth is always delivered with a profound, unconditional, unchangeable love. The kind of love that heals and builds us up for the work God has tasked us with.
Benefits of Solitude
One of the wonderful benefits of solitude is that we learn to know ourselves. We get a more accurate view of who we truly are and aren’t, and that can help us become better people.
We’re not saying all this is easy. Our world today makes it far easier to live in a state of distraction and disconnection. That’s a state that doesn’t demand anything from us. Reconnection does demand things from us. We pretty much need to force ourselves to reconnect with our thoughts and feelings, and it’s hard. But the rewards are great.
Benjamin Franklin writes in Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1750, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.”
Breaking Patterns of Conformity to Culture
Another benefit of solitude is that, by giving us distance from our society, we’re better able to identify and break any destructive patterns of thought that we’ve fallen into through our immersion in our culture. Every ad on social media, on television, in print, on buses and billboards, has an agenda, a perspective. So do the movies we watch, the novels we read, the streaming services we binge.
More often than not, this agenda is not in agreement with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s not in agreement with the biblical revelation of who God is, and the truth of how we are to live as Christ followers. Colossians 3:1-3 says:
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” NLT
We need a break. We need time to pull away and recenter and make sure our hearts and minds are fixed on God, not on earthly things.
Deep Reading and Reflection
Another benefit of solitude is that it gives you the opportunity for deeper reading, and more than that, for reflecting on what you read. Imagine if you took time in solitude, with no distractions, to read your Bible more deeply and to spend time just thinking about it. What might the Holy Spirit say to you or do in you if you wait for Him? If you sit quietly and ponder the implications of what you’re reading? How much more grounded could you be in God’s truth?
You could also read other things in your practice of solitude. Inspirational biographies, theology, poems, or whatever can help you develop your thoughts and beliefs and reasoning skills. The technology in our fast-paced world is pushing us into shallow thinking. We’ve talked about this before on the podcast. But you can be training yourself to be a person who is characterized by thought and reflection rather than someone who might spout off quick reactionary responses that today’s social media constantly tempts us to do.
Another activity you might do in solitude is singing worship songs. Solitude need not be all carried out in silence. You can sing as loud as you want with no one to overhear, which is especially nice if you can’t carry a tune worth beans. The Bible encourages us to sing to the Lord, so we should. And not just to sing, but to sing new songs. You can make them up on the spot, about whatever you’re thinking and feeling. Let your creativity come out. We’re creative people, made in the image of our Creator. We honor him when we use our creativity to express ourselves in worship.
Another benefit of solitude is the opportunity to get out alone and experience the wonder of God’s creativity and design in nature. To immerse ourselves in it. Romans 1:19-20 tells us that what can be known about God is plain to us because God has made it plain, “for since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (NIV)
God intends for us to see his fingerprints in nature. But we have to take the time to do it. To go out and soak ourselves in it and let the heavens declare God’s glory to us.
Psalm 96:11-12 says,
“Let the heavens be glad, and the earth rejoice! Let the sea and everything in it shout his praise! Let the fields and their crops burst out with joy! Let the trees of the forest sing for joy” NLT
Take the time to go listen to all this wonder, this praise!
Solitude can also give you the opportunity to foster creative growth. It gives you time with your Creator, where he can speak new ideas and inspirations to you. It gives you time and space to consider new creative connections, explore new ways to solve problems.
It can also give you an opportunity to go experience other forms of art—go to a local gallery or exhibit. Don’t just wander through, but take the time to sit and ponder the works, or maybe just one piece. How does it speak to the human condition? What does it imply about God?
Or listen to some new music. Something you haven’t heard. Something that’s different. Let it speak to you. How does it inform or enhance your own creativity? What can it inspire?
Requirements of Solitude
We’ve covered some of the ways solitude can refine you and grow your relationship with God. Let’s talk now about putting this activity into practice.
First, solitude is going to require planning, especially if you don’t live alone and you have family responsibilities. Solitude can be nearly impossible to come by. I (Erin) remember the days of having preschoolers at home—you can’t even go to the restroom by yourself.
Making a plan for when you can get away for solitude will require a few conversations and the cooperation of your family, and probably friends, too. You’ll want to talk this over with them and be sensitive to those who may not understand why you need solitude, who may even be hurt or offended.
You also need a plan for where you’re going to go. Where will you find a place to be alone? You want to plan ahead so you’re not wasting your solitude time looking for a place to be alone.
It might be as simple as sitting in the car in your garage, or on your back porch. Or it might be a walk, or a drive to someplace specific. Get a plan, and get it on your schedule. Otherwise it won’t happen.
The next thing solitude requires, and this is probably obvious, is time. Time is a precious commodity. We can never get more of it—there’s always 24 hours in a day. But we hope this podcast helps you see why solitude matters. Why it deserves some of our precious time. We need this break.
In Dallas Willard’s book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, he calls solitude one of the most fundamental disciplines for spiritual development.
Even if all you can manage is a half an hour once a month, that’s a great start. Hopefully as the seasons in your life change, you’ll be able to set aside more time in the future.
The last requirement we want to talk about is commitment. For some of us, solitude will at first be awkward and uncomfortable. We may find it hard to begin, hard to sustain, and hard to continue with. We encourage you to make solitude a true commitment. Again in Dallas Willard’s book he says about solitude that it “must be returned to again and again” as the spiritual life develops.
In other words, it’s not a one and done. It’s a continuing practice that helps shape us, that helps us grow in our likeness to Christ and makes us better able to avoid conforming to the patterns of this world.
That’s the goal of all the disciplines, or activities we’ll be talking about in this series. We’re meant to be in the world, but not of it. We need these God-given activities to help us do that. To train us. To foster our growth and our connection to the God who has called us to be his own. To be his witnesses in a hurting, weary world.
It’s so worth it. We need to take the time to do these activities and draw closer to him.As Christian writers, we need more than great craft. In this podcast we'll talk about what more we need and how to get it! #amwriting #christianwriter Click To Tweet
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What do you think about solitude? Does in feel inviting, frightening, or something else altogether?
Thanks to all our patrons on Patreon! You help make this podcast possible!
Thanks so much to our October sponsor of the month, Tammy Partlow! She’s a speaker at women’s retreats, and her debut novel Blood Beneath the Pines, a suspense set in the deep South, is now available. She’s hard at work on the next book in the series!
Many thanks also to the folks at Podcast P.S. for their fabulous sound editing!
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