Let’s start with a good definition from Donald Whitney:
“Solitude is the spiritual discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes. The period of solitude may last only a few minutes or for days. As with silence, solitude may be sought in order to participate without interruption in other spiritual disciplines, or just to be alone with God and think.” (Whitney, 2014, p. 225)
A few observations from this definition:
- “Voluntarily” – Forced solitude is punishment. This is not meant to be a punishment.
- “Temporarily” – We’re not talking about being a monk or a hermit. We’re not talking about being forever selfish and closed off to the world. We’re talking about periods of solitude, even just minutes of solitude.
- “Privacy” – Solitude is about privacy. I like this synonym because solitude is not about absolute geographical, physical isolation. Solitude is often geographical, but as many writers will point out, “Solitude is more a state of mind and heart than it is a place” (Foster, p. 96). It is possible to find solitude in a city (Willard, 1999) or just out in your yard. It is a spiritual turning to aloneness before God.
- “For spiritual purposes” – It’s not a spiritual discipline if it’s just selfishness or just aloneness. Plenty of people sit alone at night and only get lonely and depressed.
- “Other Spiritual Disciplines” – Solitude can function as a discipline in itself or as a meta discipline that creates space for other disciplines, like prayer and bible meditation.
Now, let me pause here…
What are your initial reactions to the idea of solitude? Does it sounds appealing or scary? Why?
What experiences have you had with solitude? What good experiences have you had? What negative experiences?
I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments.
Definition in hand, next up, we will begin to explore its positive potential. I know you may feel some ambivalence about it right now, but let’s see if we can make a good, logical, biblical case for it…
Foster, R. (2008). Celebration of discipline. Hodder & Stoughton Ltd.
Whitney, D. S. (2014). Spiritual disciplines for the Christian life (Upd Rev edition). NavPress.
Willard, D. (1999). The spirit of the disciplines: Understanding how God changes lives. HarperOne.