The Discipline of Solitude

It strikes me as quite humorous that I am about to attempt to share many words about this chapter in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline when half the chapter focuses upon the importance of being discerning and limited in the words that we use. In fact, I was tempted to simply write a few sentences and be done with it. But that would not fit in with what I have set out to do over the course of this exercise, and Foster makes a point of stating that we need to speak when compelled by the Spirit to speak. And I do indeed feel that I have some valuable insights I should share after reading this chapter.

As I said, the first half of this chapter is all about the need for silence. In fact, this ties in firmly with the Discipline of Simplicity in that both (at least in one way with Simplicity) encourage us to be sparing in our speech. We should let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” We should not cloud the air with our need to justify ourselves in our actions or our teachings. We should let God be our justifier. I find in my own life that I often fall into the game of attempting to justify myself to people for what I have taught, or an action that I have done. Sometimes, it is necessary to explain more fully to a parent what I meant when I find out they have only heard a small portion of a lesson I have taught. Or to explain the reasoning for a change in plans on a trip or in a program. But there are times that I feel a need to go further, to really walk them through detail-by-detail, and give them far more information than is necessary. One of the blessings of posting all of my teaching notes online is that I can point parents and students to these documents and tell them that this is where they can find details on what I taught.

I really enjoyed Foster’s referencing of St. John of the Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul. Over the years I have been intrigued by this idea, and have even felt it myself once or twice. It is simply amazing that God would disconnect us from so much simply so that we would be better able to connect with Him. And because we have been taught as a society that disconnection and dryness such as the Dark Night of the Soul entails is a bad thing, I am left to ponder just how many Christians have abandoned their faith because they were not taught to view it as an experience and an opportunity to grow their faith. who gave up simply because they could not “feel” anything. How many pastors have left churches because of this (I may be guilty of this in my own ministry over the past dozen years)? But only in this understanding of silence, and in this separation from all the fluff of life around us can we truly begin to experience the solitude that we need to connect with God fully.

I am glad that what I have learned in burnout (been through it at least twice before) can translate here. I am already in the practice of getting away for solitude regularly. But I need to improve upon seeing moments in my day such as traffic, waiting in line and prayers before meals as opportunities to engage my soul in solitude before God. That is a very good place for me to start over the next couple of weeks.