Some people just like to be alone, and I’m one of them. Give me a book, a movie, or a comfortable seat under a shade tree, and I’m happy. I don’t need the constant stimulation of other people. Some people function best when they’re around others. They feel more energized when not alone.
In some religious subcultures, extraversion is rewarded. The more outgoing and talkative you are, the more likely people will think you have spiritual gifts and are on friendly terms with God. Yet, other religious subcultures place a higher value on contemplation, silence, and solitude.
So is solitude a spiritual gift or a personality trait? Is it spiritual to be alone, or not? And should we be guided by our natural leanings and leave it at that?
In the Christian tradition, solitude is not a personality trait but a spiritual practice. When we are alone, other things gradually fall away until all that is in this space is the person and God. Responsibilities and relationships recede; the world grows quiet and the thoughts slow down. Only when we enter this sort of space and time can we begin to understand who we are and who God is. When all other conversations and activities cease, the one conversation that murmurs to the surface is our soul communing with the Divine.
Solitude is not an easy practice, even for an introvert like me. When alone, I’m still busy and, frankly, focused primarily on myself. When practicing solitude, I’m making myself completely available to God’s presence, which means that I let go of other things.
Solitude is not necessarily a pleasant experience, at least not at first. We don’t like to give up our busyness and personal agendas. Sometimes we don’t feel ready to be completely alone with God. We sense that there are issues we must deal with. Or we hold a distorted image of the Divine and thus don’t look forward to extended time alone with God—who we fear will make us feel guilty or give us lots of additional work to do. Our skewed expectations of God can make solitude a frightening proposal.
Some people fear that being alone with God will be a lonely experience. But loneliness is an issue quite apart from solitude. When we’re lonely we don’t feel connected to anyone. Many people are lonely in the midst of family and friends. Solitude can start out feeling lonely, but as we become more aware of God with us, that lonely space fills up with love, peace, joy, and the other gifts of God’s presence.
I encourage you to develop the practice of solitude. For a deeper and more detailed discussion of this, read Paula Huston’s chapter 1 from The Holy Way, posted at the right of this article (if you’re reading this via email, please visit my blog to access the chapter).
For the rest of this week, spend fifteen minutes alone with God each day. Choose whatever place and time work best for you. Keep a journal of this experience.
I invite you to post your comments and questions and I will respond throughout the week. If you want to read more from The Holy Way and By Way of Grace please take advantage of the special discount for readers of this blog during the month of July (details at right– if you’re reading this via email, please visit my blog to access the chapter).