“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he [Jesus] departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” – Mark 1:35
Solitude. We cringe and cry at the word. We stir up frenzy over one simple word. What does solitude really mean though? Psychology Today asserts that: “Solitude is the state of being alone without being lonely. It is a positive and constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is desirable, a state of being alone where you provide yourself wonderful and sufficient company.” It goes on to associate creativity, enjoyment, deep thought, peacefulness, and reflection with solitude.
“[N]owadays, as an older and curmudgeonly professor, when I walk into virtually any classroom I see at least half the students fussing with their phones, be it messaging, gaming, or just pressing random buttons. Another quarter or so are on tablets or laptops, going wherever the Internet takes them.”
When was the last time you were ever truly alone? What I mean by that is, when was the last time you “unplugged” from your smart phone/laptop/tablet/anything made after 2000? As I sit here writing this I check my phone occasionally, scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feed. Distracted.
The importance of solitude cannot be overemphasized. I argue that we have allowed solitude to take a back seat to distractions. Solitude is an incredibly important part of our lives. It allows us to reflect, process, and meditate on the flurry and bustle of our lives. It is a lost art, meant never to be reclaimed by the recesses of distractions. We want the next best information and we want it now. We live in the present but constantly live for tomorrow.
“One reason we own smartphones is to avoid being left behind. We don’t want to miss anything gone viral. We track hashtag trends mostly out of fear of being left out. And little by little we ignore our finiteness, we lose a sense of our limitations, and we begin lusting after the forbidden fruit of limitless knowledge in a subconscious desire to become infinite like God.”
As limited creatures, we must accept our finiteness in accordance with knowledge. Is it worth it to be first? We have allowed our distractions to replace intimacy with God. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne observes,
“Brethren, if you are ever so much taken up with any enjoyment that it takes away your love for prayer or for your Bible, or that it would frighten you to hear the cry: ‘The Bridegroom cometh:’ and you would say: Is He come already? Then you are abusing this world. Oh! Sit loose to this world’s joy: ‘The time is short.’”
The time is indeed short. “For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14).
What can we do? If indeed we have allowed distractions to replace intimacy and time with our Creator, what hope is there for us who are “plugged in,” too distracted to notice something is missing?
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Set aside your phones. Set aside your connectivity to distractions and replace it with a connectivity that matters most. Go for a walk. Sit and think. Allow solitude to become a comforting weight which asks no burdens but simply asks for silence. It is a deafening noise. A behemoth too unimaginable to fear correctly.
When Elijah fled from Jezebel in 1 Kings 19, in the mountains he looked for the Lord in a “great and strong wind,” “an earthquake,” and “a fire.” But, “the Lord was not in the wind” or “earthquake” or “fire.” They were all distractions. The Lord was in “the sound of a low whisper.”
Technology is a powerful tool, certainly guided and directed by the providence of our Heavenly Father. Yet it can be a crushing weight, an abusive relationship that can leave people dependent. Solitude, while at first can feel crushing, gently and softly whispers that all will be well.
I have felt the deafening and silencing power of solitude. I spent 10 days with student leaders from Greenville College in the Smoky Mountains. Two of those days are spent by yourself, fasting, separated from contact with your group. In those moments of reflection, of being “unplugged,” of being distraction free, I felt an overwhelming sense of peace. Peace only found by our Lord. When our Lord Christ went by himself to a desolate place, he prayed. So should we also.
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At the center of our solitude should be God. Free from distractions. Free from what technology has created within us: a dependency. Solitude is there if we seek it. Set aside the distractions and embrace the silence. Embrace time with our Father. Amie Patrick writes,
“Solitude in itself isn’t inherently helpful or harmful, but the underlying purpose is pivotal. I can go for a run by myself to clear my head and enjoy God’s gift of nature—or to sinfully distract myself from something I need to confront. I can sit alone in a coffee shop in order to think deeply and process life events—or to worry about things beyond my control. When I cooperate with the way God has designed me, and surrender my solitude to him, he uses it to refresh my soul in often unexpected and powerful ways.”
O solitude, where art thou?
For an in-depth look at how technology has affected our time with God, check out episode 2 of my podcast, “Fire Away.”