Last week I wrote about my plan to observe a weekly Sabbath rest; now, as the next step in plotting out my rule of life (see my July 15 post for a full explanation), I’d like to tell you about my experience with solitude this past Saturday and how I intend to fit this practice into my life.
On Saturday, I spent three hours in one of the group study rooms in the library at my university, which is quiet on a Saturday afternoon at this time of year. Not by any particular plan (except maybe God’s), I ended up in a room looking out on the rooftop garden, so I got to see a lot of bees pollinating flowers, which ended up figuring into one of the spiritual observations I recorded in my journal. I don’t think it’s any accident that some of Jesus’ most famous teachings began with invitations to look at the birds and consider the flowers.
I spent these three hours in fulfillment of a post-class assignment in the Regent College course Taking Your Soul to Work, which inspired my effort to create a rule of life. I was instructed to spend three hours in complete solitude, using the Bible and the book Taking Your Soul to Work (by the course’s instructors, R. Paul Stevens and Alvin Ung) to identify and meditate on my greatest workplace sin/struggle (I chose anger) and the fruit of the spirit that corresponds to it (gentleness, according to Stevens and Ung). The prospect of three hours of complete solitude was no big deal; I live alone and enjoy being alone, so I occasionally spend entire days without seeing anyone. But three hours of slow reading, prayer, and thought, without anything tangible to show for it besides some navel-gazing journal entries–that isn’t something I generally do for fun.
I should be honest: I didn’t spend the whole three hours in that one room. I got up a few times to use the restroom and the vending machines, and I did see a few people; I just didn’t interact with them. Yes, I ate some snacks; fasting is a separate discipline that I might write about in a future post. And I did listen to some instrumental music on my iPod; silence is also a separate discipline that is often combined with solitude but is not essential to the practice. Different people might want to try the discipline of solitude for different reasons, but for me, the main point of the exercise was to 1) focus my concentration on a single activity for a long period of time (this is very difficult for me, which may surprise people who know that I love to read and have written a dissertation) and 2) meditate slowly and deliberately on what God wants to say to me, without immediately jumping to application (this is very difficult for a lot of evangelicals, I would venture to say).
I wouldn’t say that I received any earth-shattering revelations during those three hours, but I did fully recognize–in some cases for the first time–some things about God’s gentleness, my own deep desire to control everything, and the absolute necessity of contentment to the Christian life. Of course, another topic of meditation might have taught me something entirely different, and that’s the lovely thing about solitude–what you do with the solitude is up to you, so the experience can be different every time. I plan to incorporate this discipline by taking one of these three-hour mini-retreats quarterly–i.e., every three months. I should add, by the way, that the three hours seemed to go by much more quickly than I expected.
If you’d like to share your own experiences with either Sabbath rest or solitude, or if you’d like to tell how you plan to incorporate these disciplines into your own life, please comment below!