Anyone who follows any of the three blogs I write for knows that I am a HUGE fan of Henri Nouwen. I believe he is one great of the spiritual writers of our time. I’ve read several of his writings and am currently enjoying a fantastic compilation of his works on prayer called The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life.
God has really laid this message of solitude on my heart in a big way lately. It is a difficult one for me to accept and practice because I am by nature an extrovert- I know, who knew, right? I need people and community to stay charged up and keep my naturally sunny disposition, well, sunny :). But more and more, God is filling me with a yearning to meet Him in a quiet place, with no agenda, to simply listen and be present with Him.
I am reading things like this:
“We enter into solitude first of all to meet our Lord and to be with God and God alone. Our primary task in solitude, therefore, is not to pay undue attention to the many faces which assail us, but to keep the eyes of our mind and heart on the One who is our divine savior. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God.
What does all of this mean for us in our daily life? Even when we are not called to the monastic life, or do not have the physical constitution to survive the rigors of the desert we are still responsible for our own solitude. Precisely because our milieu offers us so few spiritual disciplines, we have to develop our own. We have, indeed, to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions, and dwell in the gentle healing presence of our Lord.” -Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart
We need to fashion our own deserts- times of solitude, of quiet, of gentle reflection with our Lord. My immediate question when I read this was ‘how’? How do I carve out solitude in a house bustling with activity? What should I do when I am practicing solitude? How do I do it right?
This is the quintessential question for me. How? How do I do it RIGHT?
Just me, he whispers.
Solitude. Just God. Nothing else. I don’t need to DO anything. I just need to BE with God. Listening. Present. It seems easy enough. But I have struggled with just this. I have been experimenting with this practice of daily retreat to solitude. It has not come easily, and I have almost given up on several occasions. I thank God that he has created such a driving desire in me to seek quiet time with him.
This practice of sitting at the feet of Jesus with nothing to offer except my undivided attention seems so counter intuitive. No prayer requests (supplication comes after presence- we’ll talk about that later in this series), no Bible study, no agenda- just presence. But, as a messenger, I find myself seeking a message- something to share with the masses. Instead of seeking Jesus. I spent a lot of time agreeing that I wasn’t good at this spiritual practice of solitude, until I read from Nouwen this passage:
“This week all I am reading and writing about is prayer. I am so busy with it and often so excited about it that I have no time left to pray, and when I pray, I feel more drawn to my ideas on prayer than to praying…It is hard not to desire good insights during prayer and not fall into a long inner discussion with myself. Every time some kind of insight comes to me, I find myself wondering how I can use it in a lecture, a sermon, or an article, and very soon I am far away from God and all wrapped up in my own preoccupations. Maybe this is what makes the Jesus Prayer so good for me. Simply saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” a hundred times, a thousand times, ten thousand times, as the Russian peasant did, might slowly clean my mind and give God a little chance.” – The Genesee Diary
Thank you so much, Henri, for writing my thoughts down so beautifully for me. The Jesus Prayer was exactly what I needed to satisfy my need to DO something…and to quiet my mind enough to just.sit.still. Waiting and watching and listening for Jesus.
There are so many ways to find solitude. Rising early before all the family is awake works best for me, but I find that I can steal away for moments here and there throughout my day as well. I also find music a distraction from the quiet of my soul. So it’s just me, the Jesus Prayer, and my Heavenly Father every morning. Thirty minutes of still- of quiet- of solitude and I have found a paradise in my heart within that silence. Will you join me? Make a date with Jesus today? Write him in ink in your calendar…everyday…before work, or exercise, or chores, or even before family– give him thirty minutes to quiet your heart.
CJS Hayward says “One facet of holiness is a life and a heart that is silent within, that surrenders layer after layer of internal noise, and is simply present to eternity in the here and now that God has given. And silent people carry Paradise with and around them. Indeed Paradise is where God’s people are present.”
Let’s be Paradise this year.
Here’s the challenge: For the month of December, commit to spending 10 minutes a day in silent reflection. No supplication (requests), just seeking God.
How do you quiet the distractions around you when you are spending time with God?