Be Alone with God
By: Josh Waidley
This is the third of three exercises in our Sabbath Blog Series; each blog provides practical ways for you to practice a sabbath in your present season.
A Time of Solitude
John Ortberg tells the story of asking his mentor Dallas Willard, “What do I need to do to be spiritually healthy?”After a long pause he replied, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.” Ortberg, a bit confused and impatient, replied, “Okay…that’s a good one. Now what else is there?” Dallas Willard paused again, “There is nothing else. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
What Dallas Willard was identifying is just how hurried and loud our lives are. Most of us are constantly bombarded by the influence and noise of living in a wonderful, bustling, imaginative city like San Francisco. We have at our fingertips the infinite rabbit hole of the internet when we are bored on a bus or waiting in line at the store. We are connected to thousands of “friends” on social media when we feel alone. We hurry through life by keeping up with the latest trends, apps, songs, TV shows (and their message boards), and news, all while multi-tasking to make sure we can maximize our time and be as productive as possible.
This constant state of hurried existence leaves us feeling like there is not enough time in our day to accomplish all we are supposed to. It leaves our days feeling cluttered, jam packed, and exhausting. Worse, it can diminish our capacity to love because, as John Ortberg reflects, “Love always takes time and time is one thing hurried people don’t have.”
As someone living in a city as frantic and exciting as San Francisco, my guess is that you feel like you are always running around and hurried without enough time in the day to do all you need to do. Often we stumble into Community Group or church on Sunday with our tanks on empty while feeling tired, drained, and preoccupied with the demands of life. One of the hopes of this July sabbatical is that you would find the time to slow down. Actually, maybe a better way to say it is that you would make the time to slow down. This is where solitude comes in.
Jesus consistently withdrew himself from the demands of his ministry and the world around him to be in solitude with the Father, “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Solitude is the place where we are able to be free from the voices, demands, and white noise of the world to be alone with God. In solitude, we are confronted with our tendency to find our identity in doing rather than in simply being the beloved of God. Solitude is about being with God, not doing things for God. Henri Nouwen puts it like this: “Why is it so important that you are with God and God alone? It’s important because it’s the place in which you can listen to the voice of the One who calls you the beloved.”
In solitude, when we are forced to slow down and be stripped of the media, voices, work, titles, and labels that seemingly give us importance and meaning, we are confronted with our own smallness, our incredible finiteness. When we disconnect from smartphones, we suddenly have nothing to constantly point out how liked and important we are; worse, we have nothing to distract ourselves with from our own sin, our own pettiness, ugliness, greed and jealousy. In solitude, it is just us and all our mess with Jesus and all his love.
Jesus is mindful of us. Jesus cares for us. Jesus sees our mess and wants nothing more than to be with us in it. He wants to bring beauty, holiness and a refreshing new life out of it. As the Psalmist writes, echoing Job, “what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them?”
In solitude we come face to face with the God who cares, the God who is with us despite our smallness, despite our mortality, despite our brokenness and sin; we find ourselves alone with the God who actually wants to be with us.
Planning Your Time of Solitude:
Finding a time of solitude requires some preparation:
- Take some time to reflect on what kind of solitude you need. Do you need time in nature or in a quiet room or library, even a local monastery? Do you need a couple hours alone with God, a half day, a full weekend?
- Plan your time in advance. In the days leading up to your day of solitude get all your work done so you won’t be distracted to brush aside your time of solitude because of things “you need to get done”.
- Pick a place to go where you know you will be alone and uninterrupted.
- Prepare accordingly. Think through what you will need (Bible, journal, pen/pencil, food, drink, clothes, etc.).
- Spend time the night before asking Jesus to be with you in your time of solitude with Him.
- UNPLUG FROM ALL MEDIA! Leave your phone in your car, your computer at home. Your eyes should not be looking at a screen during your time of solitude!
Reflection Questions for Your Time of Solitude:
- What is it you most need from God during this time? Forgiveness and healing? A renewed sense of purpose and vocation? A quiet space to simply lay down and rest with Him? A removal of apathy? A deepened capacity to love and be loved?
- As you reflect on your life right now, what do you have to celebrate and be thankful for? Name these things (you may even want to make an extensive list, no thing is too small to give thanks for).
- What are the current situations, relationships, circumstances in your life that leave you feeling angry, stressed, sad or afraid? Name these along with the emotions they make you feel.
- Bring each situation, relationship, circumstance to Jesus. Lay them at his feet and ask that His will would be done.
Reflection Questions for the Day After Your Time of Solitude:
- Remember your time of solitude yesterday.
- What was the hardest thing about it?
- Remember your emotions throughout the time.
- What was the most uncomfortable part of the day for you?
- What was the most life giving?
- Was there a moment or thing the Holy Spirit revealed in you that surprised you?
- Did God reveal anything to you that stood out? How did it make you feel?