In Mark’s Gospel we read, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” As we read through the Gospels, we discover that Jesus observed a rhythm of engagement and withdrawal—His people-intensive-ministry was frequently followed by a withdrawal into solitude.
In his book, The Way Of The Heart, Henri Nouwen writes, “wherever we go we are surrounded by words: words softly whispered, loudly proclaimed, or angrily screamed; words spoken, recited, or sung; words on records, in books, on walls, or in the sky…words to be heard, read, seen, or glanced at; words which flicker off and on, move slowly, dance, jump, or wiggle. Words, words, words! They form the floor, the walls, and the ceiling of our existence. It has not always been this way. There was a time not too long ago without radios and televisions, stop signs, yield signs, merge signs, bumper stickers, and the ever present announcements indicating price increases or special sales.”
Most of us are living too fast—too loud—to pay attention to the people around us, to God, or to our own soul. We are addicted to noise and activity. Being surrounded by noise makes us feel connected to what’s happening; constant activity makes it seem that we’re doing something important. But sometimes noise is just “noise” and activity is just “busy-work.”
Through solitude and silence, we bring an end to noise: music, TV, smartphones, even words. And when we stop external noise, we often discover that our souls are noisy. In silence, we become aware of unanswered questions and unresolved pain. Silence can make us painfully aware of unmet longings and desires. Silence also has a positive effect; in the absence of sound, we are thrust into the reality of God’s presence—silence reveals His nearness. Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Isaiah 30:15 says, “In repentance and rest is [our] salvation, in quietness and trust is [our] strength”.
Solitude is not simply being alone, it is being alone with God. Silence is not simply the absence of words, it’s listening for God’s voice. Jesus’ rhythm of withdrawal created space to hear the Father’s affirmation and direction; in solitude, Jesus received the nourishment He needed to be faithful in His calling.
Over the past few years, I’ve had the privilege of facilitating One To One Retreats in various locations throughout our district. These 24-hour retreats provide solitude for pastors and spouses to be alone with God. God is not far from any of us, but solitude and silence help open our eyes and ears to His presence. People-intensive-ministry requires the counter-balance of withdrawal. The next time a One To One Retreat is offered in your area, let me encourage you to sign up.