I lead many retreats with solitude and silence with God at the heart of them. It feels like a fringe benefit of my ministry role. I love guiding others in vital encounter with an unfailingly loving God. Nothing encourages me more. Along the way, I’ve noticed different kinds of resistance people have to spending time alone and quiet with God.
On my initial trips to the Dominican Republic, I experienced the cultural resistance of the Dominican pastors. They are rarely if ever alone. A few American missionaries were very doubtful as to whether the pastors would be able to handle two hours alone…let alone with God. There is a cultural sense that if you are alone, there must be something wrong with you. In fact, on the day retreat I led for them, one of the pastors walked to the end of the retreat center driveway and sat on a rock. Someone walking by actually made a point of walking over and asking him, “What’s wrong?” This is the “we just don’t do that here” form of resistance. It can happen in churches as easily as in countries. .
Some Christian leaders feel a temperament resistance. They may say, “Solitude is for introverts, but I’m an extrovert. I prefer to be with others. I grow most in community.” Solitude doesn’t devalue community, but is a rhythm that enriches community. My experience is that the deepest and most united community is a fruit of a deeper communion with God cultivated in solitude. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the one who said, “Let [the one] who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let [the one] who is not in community beware of being alone.”
Finally, there is what I’d call a productivity resistance, like the CEO who says, “I’m a driven person. I don’t have time to waste in solitude like that. Solitude is for less productive people.” Leaders think that solitude is for monk-like people and not activist leaders. They think time spent alone with God will somehow reduce the fruit of their ministry. I would simply suggest that Paul the apostle was a great leader and a great pray-er. He experienced solitude on long walks between cities and in seasons of imprisonment along the way. Did he have a fruitful ministry?
And who is going to argue that Jesus was a weak leader? It is said that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Lk 5:16).” Often. Not rarely. Or occasionally. Or at times. Often. What might that mean for our own rhythm of life as Christ-followers?
What kinds of resistance rise up in you to “often withdrawing to lonely places to pray”? Busyness? Fear? Guilt?