I have taken up running. I thought it was to get in “tennis shape.” I thought it was to help my body drop a few pounds. I thought it was to increase the life-span of my heart. But I found something else, something much more important when I started running: solitude.
Here’s what the dictionary defines as solitude:
1. the state of being or living alone; seclusion: to enjoy one’s solitude.
2. remoteness from habitations, as of a place; absence of human activity: the solitude of the mountains.
3. a lonely, unfrequented place: a solitude in the mountains.
I awoke this morning thinking about solitude. It’s something I don’t get nearly enough of; it’s something that our society places little value on; and it’s something I fear that my children will never have the opportunity to even dream about having. Times of solitude can be refreshing, exhilarating, and uplifting. In solitude we can let our thoughts roam, our imaginations dream, and our hearts can finally rest. Understandably, for some solitude is a constant burden; but this is not the norm in our high-paced world today.
We live in a culture whose population continues to grow. Add to that the technology of the past few years (televisions, computers, ipods, cell phones, etc.), and you get a group of people who are never without sound or interaction with someone who may be even halfway around the world. I wonder at the implications of where we are heading. Perhaps America’s departure from a front porch lifestyle (where everyone knew everyone in town) to one of seeming isolation (where no one even knows their next-door neighbor’s name), and extreme mobility (where even if I did know my neighbor, it wouldn’t be a long-standing relationship by any stretch) has been an attempt at some sort of isolation? But, no; because behind our front doors we live with millions on the internet or through television, which in some ways is much more overwhelming that simply being acquainted with the one next door. The constant sights and sounds have to be taking their toll on us.
For some years now I have longed for a place of seclusion within the 4 walls of my home. There is no such place. Children, aging parents, cell phones, the demands of our busy lifestyle, these all serve to crowd out any hope of finding solitude. Yet, even when we are “alone”, are we really alone? I know that for me on the very rare occasions I do find myself alone I still feel like I’m in a crowd. The crowd of my memories … the crowd of voices in my head … the crowded list of things that need to be done (immediately, and if possible, sooner!), all of these accompany me in my “solitude.”
But the best company of all is that of the Holy Spirit. And according to David in Ps. 139, there is not a place to be found in the entire created universe (not even hell) where we are truly alone – God is everywhere. This truth is remarkable! It flies in the face of the first part of the very definition of the word “solitude.” So what does it really mean to be alone, or to be in solitude? And what could be the point?
In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house, and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there.
Matt. 14:23; Mark 1:35, 6:46; and Luke 5:16, 9:28 all describe Jesus finding lonely places to be in communion with the Father (only the Gospel of John fails to say anything of Jesus finding places of solitude to “escape” the crowds and spend time in prayer). That He had to find places of solitude in which to spend time with God certainly has implications for us. If it was difficult for Jesus, the very Son of God, to be able to focus His mind on the Father without coming away from the daily din, how much more is this necessary for us? And what will it take for us to learn this truth? What catastrophe in our personal or corporate lives will it take to make us stop the activity, turn off the noise, and “withdraw to a lonely place” in order to seek the One Who is unseen?
This whole topic has brought to mind my favorite story in Scripture, found in 1 Kings 19 where Elijah flees for his life (Jezebel has just promised to put him to death) into the wilderness. What He finds there is the power, the majesty, and the “still, small voice” of God Himself. Perhaps this is why we find ourselves “surrounded” with people and noise. Could it be that we are actually running away from solitude? So many of our forebears sought it with earnestness. They understood their need to be alone from time to time. Our lifestyles have changed all that, perhaps even altered our ability to do it. We even use ministry as an excuse for never finding ourselves alone. The demands of time and the world around us make it almost impossible for us to “withdraw to a lonely place.”
Even Adam and Eve tried to hide from God, only they did it by seeking solitude – from God and from each other. They didn’t know that solitude is sometimes the only place His voice can truly be heard. Thankfully, God sought them out. And He’s still in the business of doing just that.
This was first posted on MySpace, October 9, 2007.