“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed” (Luke 5:16)
As the world begins to open up again, and solitude is more of a decision than mandated, I have found myself digging deep in realising that this chosen solitude is not only the ideal circumstance of rest, processing, prayer. It is imperative to the fortitude and simplicity of faith: the precursor to sanctification, the ‘pathway’ to His presence (felt evermore tangibly), the fostering of deep relationship with the Holy Spirit as opposed to moments of flesh-led convenience.
I have found myself this last year reading and rereading the words of the Saints of Old (and not so old), Thomas A Kempis, Saint Augustine, Brother Lawrence, AW Tozer, realising that to them, the lonely places (places of solitude – simply them and the Lord) were not merely a chosen practice to strengthen their sense of devotion, but solitude became their automatic everyday posture. Their lifeline. Their norm. While I would love to say this could be our baseline response in relationship with the Holy Spirit, I must recognise that in the age of chaos, constant distraction, never-ending access to the ultimate opposite of solitude – undeniable and obtrusive noise (both literally and mentally), solitude may be something we have to fight for. However, if it means closeness to my friend Jesus – Sovereign Lord and Creator of the earth – I will fight tenaciously to foster this “lonely place” of solitude.
You may be asking, why is this so significant? Over the past few months, I have discovered a couple of things. I also have discovered just how much discovery there is yet to occur. So here is a little list of God-whispers and Matilda ‘thinkings’ for you.
- Lonely places are where we find contentment in obscurity. In Matthew 6:6, Jesus says, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” Solitude with the Father is devoid of natural recognition. It fosters humility – ‘all for His glory’, while bringing the impurities in motive to the surface.
- Lonely places eliminate striving. Similar to the previous point, when we rid ourselves of all pomp and ceremony, and find ourselves messy, surrendered before the Lord, there is no need to strive. And that is where we meet with Jesus. We begin to find our identity in the fact that God is “well pleased” (Matt 3:17) – simply because we are His sons and daughters. Lonely places take away from empty doing and place the importance on being.
“Going through the motions doesn’t please you, a flawless performance is nothing to you. I learned God-worship when my pride was shattered. Heart-shattered lives ready for love don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.” Psalm 51:16-17 (MSG)
- Lonely places are where His presence is found. Yes, the presence of the Holy Spirit is within us as believers. But as Matthew 7:7 states, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” Think how the Lord has revealed Himself to you when your attention has been divided. With this promise in mind, how much more aware of the things of heaven would we be should we simply stop and listen?
- Lonely places are safe. They are safe to deal with the mess that comes up when compounded issues are left to be unpacked. Lonely places are safe to grieve, to worship, to rejoice, to forgive. To go through the motions of literally being human. To deal with the muck without it being to the detriment of another; without the nakedness that comes with dealing with the ‘ish’ away from God and in the view of others. (This doesn’t take away from the importance of community/accountability either – processing and healing comes through a myriad of practices. Solitude is only one of them.)
- Lonely places are where forgiveness occurs, and compassion is birthed.
Henry Nouwen puts this beautifully:
“If you would ask the Desert Fathers why solitude gives birth to compassion, they would say, “Because it makes us die to our neighbour.” At first this answer seems quite disturbing to a modern mind. But when we give it a closer look, we can see that in order to be of service to others we have to die to them; that is, we have to give up measuring our meaning and value with the yardstick of others. To die to our neighbours means to stop judging them, to stop evaluating them, and thus to become free to be compassionate.”
Lastly, when I think on one of the examples of a “lonely place” in Scripture, my thoughts are directed to Jesus in the wilderness. We often have the misconception of solitude being vulnerable – yet it was when Jesus was alone solely with the Spirit that He was at His strongest, able to resist the enemy’s temptation. Alongside this, Jesus was also devoid of any dependence upon anything other than the Spirit. He had been fasting for forty days. This brings me to my last point.
- Lonely places equip us with the weapons to shut down the temptation/voice of the enemy. (Replaced with further attention to the voice and Truth of the Father). Solitude grants us the mental and Spiritual clarity to discern what is of God, and what is not.
So, friends. I am making a commitment to finding myself in the ‘lonely places’ with Jesus. To get silent, with maybe just a piece of paper and pen. I recognise that this may look different throughout the seasons. I also recognise that fostering physical solitude sounds delightful, while quieting and limiting the mental cacophony of overthinking may prove to be a little more difficult. Thankfully, as Brother Lawrence’s book outlines the nature of this posture concisely as a practice – we have a lifetime to learn and unlearn and refine this art of solitude. A lifetime I pray to use wisely.
I hope you will join me.