There's a great story near the end of the first chapter of Mark. Jesus and the disciples were hanging out in Capernaum, at Peter's mom's house. Jesus was healing people and the word was starting to get out about this new rabbi in town. The house quickly filled up. Mark wrote that literally the entire town showed up at the doorsteps. (Mark 1:35) Jesus spent the entire night healing people and casting out demons.
The next morning, when everyone was still asleep, Jesus went off to the mountain in solitude to pray. The disciples eventually found him, clamoring, "Everyone is looking for you!" "Let's keep this show going!" "We can set up our movement here and let the crowds flock to us!" Jesus had other plans. They packed up their bags and moved on to the next town.
The gospel of Luke says that Jesus "often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." (Luke 5:16) One thing I notice, when Jesus withdraws to pray, is that he comes back with a renewed sense of vigor, vision, and purpose. There is something to learn here.
Solitude is a spiritual discipline that allows us to break away from the noise. When we withdraw into solitude and silence, we can take stock of how things are going and how we are doing. We can remind ourselves of who we are and what we want to be about. We can listen to what God might have to say to us.
It is for these reasons that many of us avoid solitude and silence. We might not want to have an honest conversation with ourselves or with God. We might want to avoid the things that have shown up in our lives that we outwardly are ashamed of but secretly like. Solitude has a way of making you come to terms with how things actually are.
SOLITUDE CAN BREAK THE HYPE
Jesus broke away from the crowds when he was getting too popular. We saw this in the story already mentioned in Mark 1. The whole town loved him, and after going into solitude, he left town.
He also went into solitude immediately after he fed the 5000 and his popularity was at an all-time high. He came back down from that and gave his worst sermon ever. "Eat my flesh. Drink my blood." The crowds dispersed.
One time in John's Gospel, when Jesus perceived that the crowds were going to come and make him the king, 'withdrew again to a mountain by himself.' (John 6:15) Jesus knew who he was and what he was here for.
There is a lesson for us here. Whenever we get in danger of believing our own hype, we might need to withdraw, spend time with God, remember who we are, and remember what we are supposed to be about.
SOLITUDE CAN BREAK THE HURT
Solitude can serve not only as a leveler of ego, but also as a balm for pain. Sometimes we can't get out of our own head. Can't stop beating ourselves up. Can't stop making a mountain of a molehill.
When we get stuck and can't move forward or move on from something, it's helpful to take a step back. Get some perspective. Learn to see things from the bird's eye view. Remember who you are, and what you want to be about. Remember the promises of God. Shine light on false beliefs. Take a deep breath before plunging back into life.
A FEW CLOSING THOUGHTS
There is such a thing as too much solitude. Isolation. Loneliness. God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." The purpose of solitude is to help keep ourselves aligned and healthy so that we can live in community with others in a healthy way. Don't withdraw too much or too often.
That rhythm is different for each of us, some of us need more than others. But a good rule of thumb (that I just made up)- Try and carve out at least half a day of solitude once a month. Try to carve out around an hour of solitude each day. As a father of four small children, I know how impossible that can seem. WAKE UP EARLY. Drink a lot of coffee. Spend time with your thoughts and with God.
Also, there might be times when you need to get 'solitude' with your core people. When Jesus was REALLY distressed, right before his arrest and crucifixion, he pulled his closest friends in and said, "I need you to withdraw into the wilderness to pray with me." Now, they completely blew it and fell asleep. But I think Jesus modeled something significant there. Sometimes we need the encouragement, perspective, and support of others when we are heading into the wilderness.