June 21, 2024

Solitude is one of those spiritual disciplines that is quite challenging for me. But more and more, I am convinced of its significant value in my life. What I commonly experience is a flood of thoughts and distractions the very moment I pursue quiet and solitude before the Lord. I am like the disciples, attempting to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. Tiredness can also wash over me as I seek to slow my mind and body and listen to the Lord’s voice.

Jesus’ example of solitude

When reading the Gospels, you can’t miss the fact that Jesus spent time in solitary places.1 See Matthew 14:13, 23; 17:1; Mark 1:35, 45; 6:31-32, 45-46 and Luke 4:42; 5:16; 6:12; 9:10. Often times, these “escapes” into solitude were early in the morning or withdrawing from the crowds of people vying for His time and attention. What this shows me is great intentionality on Jesus’ part. He highly valued time with His Father, even in the midst of a seemingly never-ending “to-do list”. There was always another person to see, lesson to teach, place to go, but time in the solitary place was a non-negotiable.2 See a related blog post on the importance of the wilderness as a place to learn from God.

In his book, “The Way of the Heart”, Henri Nouwen writes:

“Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Without solitude, we remain victims of our society and continue to be entangled in the illusions of the false self. Jesus himself entered into this furnace. Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter – the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.”

The Way of the Heart: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers by Henri Nouwen

We all desire the great encounter, but we must travel the path of great struggle to get there.

Aligning to the Master’s impulse

Since moving to Germany and having the opportunity to travel by train in Switzerland, I have become intrigued by the Swiss railway station clocks. Interestingly, all trains in Switzerland leave their respective stations on the full minute. There are no seconds in the train timetables. Additionally, each Swiss railway station clocks receives an electrical impulse from a central master clock at each full minute. This synchronizes this clock with the master clock. It only takes about 58.5 seconds for the second hand to do a full rotation. But then the hand pauses briefly at the top of the clock. It starts a new rotation as soon as it receives the next minute impulse from the master clock.

This illustrates for me the truth that my life must be synchronized with my Master. At regular intervals, I need time to pause and to realign myself to my Master’s impulse. He is the One to whom my “second hand” must harmonize. This is the way of the heart that Jesus modeled, that our Heavenly Father offers to each one of us, and that solitude can provide

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