Are you experiencing a day, week, or season where you feel like you can barely hear yourself think? Perhaps you have a busy season at work where the demands are relentless. Or, you have little kids at home, and the days blur into nights as you feel like you will never have a moment to yourself again. Or, maybe you are a college student, and the relentless schedule of studying and work leaves your mind exhausted. Regardless of why life seems loud, you can feel yourself beginning to long for a moment where you can press pause and just think for a second.
The problem with some of these seasons is that when you are so busy that you can barely hear yourself think, it can also be challenging to listen to God's as He speaks through Scripture. Even when you read your Bible and pray, your mind is going a hundred miles an hour and it feels difficult to focus. And, when we cannot hear God's voice, it is easy to fall into unhealthy patterns that complicate life all the more. Patterns such as binging on Netflix late into the night, so you are even more tired in the morning, gossiping with friends and therefore damaging other relationships, or losing your temper to release everything that seems to be building up inside you. On top of all that, when you are unable to hear God's voice, it is easy to mistake the heavy yoke of the world for the yoke of Christ. In doing this you take on more than God intended for you.
But, here is the good news: God knew you would experience this. Even more so, Jesus experienced life's frustrations when He came to earth to live as a man. He knows what it is like to experience the demands of this world and provided an example we can follow to draw close to God. And, one of the things that Jesus did was practice solitude.
Now, you may be wondering, "What is solitude?" Perhaps you even think that it sounds lonely. Though it may sound lonely, it is not. Instead, solitude is a spiritual discipline Jesus modeled for us during His time on Earth. If you are new to the term "spiritual discipline," let me quickly break it down for you. Spiritual disciplines are practices found in the Bible that promote our spiritual growth. There are many spiritual disciplines: solitude, silence (often coupled with solitude), Bible intake, prayer, fasting, meditation, etc. Though we are only discussing solitude today, the truth is we need to practice all of them because they feed into one another. For example, solitude allows you to hear the voice of God. However, it can be challenging to listen to the voice of God if you don't practice Bible intake because it will be hard to decipher between your thoughts and God's words. If you would like to grow more in the practice of spiritual disciplines, I recommend signing up for the Growing in Grace challenge , along with our new study launching next month.
Now, back to solitude. As mentioned a moment ago, Jesus gave us the example of solitude as a way to draw closer to God. In fact, there are at least 22 recorded instances of Jesus seeking solitude to be with His Father. Notice the last phrase of the preceding sentence, "to be with His Father." This is the reason solitude isn't lonely, and it is the reason why we need it so badly. Solitude allows us to spend time with God. But instead of spending time with God through studying the Scripture or meditating, we are spending time with God by just being. Just like you don't need to talk constantly with your spouse when you spend time together, spending time with God through solitude involves just being together with Him. And as we spend time with God in this way, He gives us His presence, words, direction, and peace.
Furthermore, spending time with God returns your soul to His rest. So often, we spin our wheels trying to get more done in a day or take on more than humanly possible. The weight of our daily demands becomes heavy. But this is not God's design for our lives. Instead, God wants us to rest. It is part of His good design for our lives. In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus tells us, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." Though God sometimes calls us to difficult circumstances, His burden is never heavy. And spending time in solitude is a way of deciphering whether you have taken on more than God intended for you. It allows us to ask the question, "Am I working in His power or my flesh?"
At this point, you may be thinking, "This sounds great! But how do I find time for solitude?" I have been there too. In college, I lived in a sorority and was surrounded by people constantly. Then, I entered the busyness of establishing my career while balancing marriage and motherhood. Even my season as a stay-at-home mom with napping babies offered little time to myself. At some point, I realized I would always find a way to stay busy, so I needed to make time to practice solitude. I know I am not alone in this, so below, I share four ways to develop the practice of solitude.
1.) Put it on the calendar.
When cultivating a new habit like solitude, you have to be intentional about making time for it. For me, it helps to put it on the calendar. Like anything important, if you do not prioritize it, it probably won't happen. If you put it on the calendar, it is more likely to happen. So choose a day and time to practice solitude and put it on the calendar. Then, communicate it to people who need to know, like your spouse, roommate, or parents.
2.) Decide where you will go.
Just like putting it on the calendar, it is important to decide on the location for your time in solitude. That said, please note that this doesn't mean that you need to leave your home. When I first began getting serious about practicing solitude, I was a stay-at-home mom with young kids and a husband who traveled three weeks out of every month. On top of that, we didn't have the money to hire a babysitter. So, in that season, my location was my walk-in closet. Now that my kids are in school and my husband travels less, my times of solitude often happen in a park by a river.
One thing to note: when you think through the location for solitude, be aware of not going somewhere where you will not run into a lot of people–like a popular coffee shop or beach. This will make it that much more difficult to experience solitude. But, other than that, you can go anywhere you want! Once you decide on where you will go, add that to the calendar as well. (One note: if you are going to an isolated spot, make sure you let family or friends know where you are going and what time you plan to get home.)
3.) Leave your phone at home or turn it off when you get to your location.
I know that this can be a terrifying decision–especially if you have FOMO or are afraid something will happen to your kids. But this is important as phones will distract you with constant dings of notifications. Turning your phone off will also stop you from scrolling social media or just "hopping on" to get a little inspiration for your quiet time. If you are afraid of turning off your phone, remember what God's Word says about fear in 2 Timothy 1:7, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." If you recognize that you are especially anxious about having your phone off, use this time of solitude to confess this to the Lord and ask Him to help you trust in His sovereignty over all creation.
4.) Recognize "little solitudes" throughout your day.
In his book, Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, Richard J. Foster recommends that you find "little solitudes" throughout your day. These moments can occur when sipping your coffee in the morning or after everyone has gone to sleep. They can also occur when driving to the grocery store or right before you go to bed at night. No matter when they occur, these little moments can serve to reorient your mind to Christ instead of as time to check your email or hop on social media. That said, since it can be difficult to remember to use these moments as "little solitudes," I recommend writing down verses on index cards and putting them in your purse, around your house, or in the car. The Daily Grace Co. also has verse cards based on themes with beautiful images that you can buy. Either way, you can use these verses as a launching pad into your "little solitude" that can refocus your attention to the One who ultimately orchestrates our days.
Finally, it is essential to remember that when life feels like it is crushing you with its demands, the solution is not to push harder but to stop and schedule moments of solitude. Cultivating a habit of solitude can be difficult. However, it is an important habit to develop as solitude allows you to experience the easy yoke of Christ. It is time to let go of all you have been carrying. Press pause and go to a quiet place to spend time alone with Him. And in this place of solitude, give your weary heart to Him. Allow God to replace the heaviness of this world with His light burden and easy yoke.