Our Need for Solitude
Now during those days he went out to the mountain to pray; and he spent the night in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles.
Yesterday, I shared some reflections on Luke 6:12-16, noting that Jesus spent all night in prayer prior to identifying his twelve apostles. Today, I want to remain with this passage so as to focus on Jesus’ example of solitude.
Jesus did not just pray all night. He quite intentionally left the crowds and even his own followers in order to be alone. At other times in his ministry, most notably in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus took others along with him when he prayed. But, in Luke 6, Jesus chose to be in solitude. The text suggests that this helped Jesus in his extended conversation with God.
God created us to be in community. We are meant to live our lives with others, serving them and growing in relationship with them. But there are times, as Jesus shows us by his example, when we need to break away from others for a while in order to be alone with God. Solitude, of course, isn’t really “solo time,” since God is with us. But being away from other people for a while can help us to quiet our souls so that we might pray more honestly and listen to God more attentively.
My friend Dave Williamson, former Director of Laity Lodge, recently made me aware of a provocative lecture by William Deresiewicz, former professor at Yale and literary critic. Deresiewicz delivered this lecture, entitled “Solitude and Leadership,” to the plebe class at West Point in October 2009. (I commend this lecture, though warn you of a bit of salty language.) Deresiewicz begins by arguing that “true leadership means being able to think for yourself and act on your convictions.” This is possible, he explains, only if we are able to step back from the crowd and reflect. The thoughtfulness required for true leadership comes in the context of solitude. Thus, Deresiewicz concludes his lecture: “I started by noting that solitude and leadership would seem to be contradictory things. But it seems to me that solitude is the very essence of leadership. The position of the leader is ultimately an intensely solitary, even intensely lonely one. However many people you may consult, you are the one who has to make the hard decisions. And at such moments, all you really have is yourself.”
I believe Deresiewicz is profoundly right, yet profoundly wrong in one crucial respect. When you have to make hard decisions, you have more than just yourself. You have the triune God ready to guide you if you are willing to pay attention . . . and attention requires times of solitude.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When do you experience true solitude? When are you able to get away from the frenzy of life in order to be alone with God? Have you experienced a connection between solitude and leadership? Are you facing challenges in your life for which you need to get away so as to think and pray?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, your example challenges me, not only to pray more deeply, but also to be more intentional about getting away from the demands of life in order to be alone with you. You know how easy it is for me to think this is important, but not to do anything about it. Help me, I pray, to be more intentional and faithful about taking time away to be with you.
I want to pray for those who are reading this reflection today. I expect some are struck by their need for solitude and are already making plans to get away. But I expect others are feeling overwhelmed. They’re thinking that they don’t even have enough time to do all that is demanded of them. And now they’re supposed to find extra time for solitude! Help them, Lord, to determine what is best. Help them to find time, even short moments, when they can be quiet with you. Encourage them and strengthen them.
All praise be to you, Lord Jesus, for showing us how best to live by your own example. Amen.