We’ve set out to explore the Spiritual habits and disciplines that can help strengthen us during times of trial. With a six-week worship series, we are unable to cover all of the many spiritual disciplines practiced by Christians over these thousands of years, so I’ll use these messages for the next several weeks to reflect on some of the practices we will miss in the worship series.
Perhaps the strangest one to talk about right now is the Spiritual Discipline of solitude. As I write this, many in this world are practicing solitude, albeit completely against your will. Meanwhile, others of us—like me—are quarantined with our beloved families, and we keep looking for new closets and hiding spaces to find just a moment of solitude from our children (and spouses)!
Solitude is perhaps the most fundamental of the disciplines of abstinence, which I talked about in last week’s sermon. These are the disciplines in which we withhold something—we stop a thing, or lots of things, to make room in our lives for God. Solitude is the gateway to many of the other disciplines; if we learn to practice solitude well, then we are already better suited to bear fruit in our prayer, fasting, reflection, and study.
Solitude is the gateway to an inner life—a hidden life, as the monastics like to say. More than just a retreat for refreshment or recreation, solitude is a purposeful exploration, seeking the place where we, as individual souls, intersect with God. Christian ascetics have sought solitude for generations, excusing themselves for years from the daily rhythm of regular life in exchange for a long, slow time apart from everyone besides the self and God. In setting aside our interactions with others (and yes, that means even on social media and text messages), we are faced with ourselves. We have no other input, no one else feeding our thoughts, no gossip, no opinions, no distractions, just ourselves.
Frankly, it can be terrifying.
Louis Bouyer wrote, “Solitude is a terrible trial, for it serves to crack open and burst apart the shell of our superficial securities. It opens out to us the unknown abyss that we all carry within us…[and] discloses the fact that these abysses are haunted.” Jesus certainly found this to be so when, just after his Baptism by John, he was whisked away to the wilderness alone, and there met the devil and its temptations. Perhaps that is the connection to our current reality—our superficial security has been crushed, and we recognize how much we have relied on the shell and neglected what is inside.
So, I wonder, in a time like this, what will you do with the opportunity for solitude? Have you felt tempted to run from this forced solitude of COVID-19, filling your days with escapes into social media, tv, work, and news in order to avoid an inward struggle? Or have you embraced it? And if so, what are the gifts you’ve found in it? What spiritual muscles are being strengthened through this practice?
I pray that we would open ourselves to the growth that God can bring, even in a terrible season. If it all seems too overwhelming, please do reach out either to me or to someone else who can help you connect with a professional helper. Even in solitude, we are never alone, and some struggles are best faced with a guide to help keep us safe along the way.
I hope you’ll plan to tune in to Brad King’s sermon this Sunday on Fasting.
With great love,