Contemplative Spiritual Disciplines: Solitude

David Robinson relaxes on the edge of Matthes Lake in the warm morning light of Yosemite National Park, Yosemite. Photo by Thomas Robinson.

Solitude Reflections

When I sit alone in solitude and reflect upon my life, my mind often goes to the edge of Matthews Lake in the Cathedral Range of Yosemite National Park. Sitting there in my memory, in my mind’s eye, at the edge of that grand, alpine lake, with Matthes Crest reflected in the mirror of the quiet waters, I watch dawn fill the skies with color, and witness the wonder of a new day beginning. I tend to begin my day alone at dawn, in silence and solitude. I love being with people in intentional community of life together. I also love being alone, withdrawn from society to spend quality time with God in solitude.

During the Spring 2020 global coronavirus pandemic, millions of people have become more isolated from others due to “stay home, save lives” movement of “social distancing” to prevent further spread of this disease for which there is yet no cure. This pandemic has caused millions of humans to reevaluate what is most important, including how I spend my day, alone or with others.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the balance between community and solitude in his classic short book Life Together. “Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… Each by itself has profound perils and pitfalls. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and the one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation and despair.”

Jesus knew the importance of entering intentionally into people’s lives, of living in community. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” writes John in his opening chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus stepped down out of eternity, to come be with us, face to face, heart to heart. Jesus also stepped away from community, away from the crowds, away from his own disciples, to spend intentional, quality time alone in solitude with his Father in heaven. Jesus lived and taught the importance of the spiritual discipline of solitude. Below, I offer a list of “solitude questions,” followed by a series of “solitude scriptures,” concluding with several “solitude practices.”

Solitude Questions

How has the “stay home, stay safe” movement during Covid-19 changed the way you view the spiritual discipline of solitude?

Where do you go for solitude? When?

How has solitude helped you grow spiritually?

What is most difficult about solitude as a spiritual discipline/habit?

When the Bible tells us it was not good for Adam to be alone (see Genesis 2:18), why should we practice solitude as a spiritual discipline?

How has solitude helped reorient you or refocus your life?

Solitude Scriptures

Exodus 19:3. Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called to him from the mountain. . .

1 Kings 19:9. There Elijah came to a cave, where he spent the night.

Psalm 62:5-7. Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken. My victory and honor come from God alone.

Mark 1:12-13. The Spirit then compelled Jesus to go into the wilderness, where he was tempted by Satan for forty days. He was out among the wild animals, and angels took care of him.

Mark 1:35. Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray.

Mark 6:31-32. Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat. So they left by boat for a quiet place, where they could be alone.

Mark 6:45-47. Immediately after this, Jesus insisted that his disciples get back into the boat and head across the lake to Bethsaida, while he sent the people home. After telling everyone good-bye, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Late that night, the disciples were in their boat in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land.

Matthew 6:6. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. Then your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

Matthew 14:13, 23. As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. But the crowds heard where he was headed and followed on foot from many towns. . . . After sending them home, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. Night fell while he was there alone.

Matthew 17:1. Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone.

Luke 5:15-16. But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Luke 6:12.One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night.

John 4:8. He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

John 6:15. When Jesus saw that they were ready to force him to be their king, he slipped away into the hills by himself.

Solitude Practices

Find a place for solitude and stillness.

Schedule time for solitude: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly.

Use quiet music for meditation and refocusing during times of solitude.

Bring distractions into your solitary prayer time.

Try spending time in silent prayer together with a few others.

Before daybreak, get up and go out to a place of solitude to enjoy time alone with God.