Solitude is another one of those words, like silence, that has several layers of meaning. Does solitude mean "alone" or does it mean "lonely?" Can you be alone and lonely while in the midst of a sea of people? Or does solitude convey a sense of strength and mastery of will, one lonely person standing against many?
In Scripture, solitary experiences are usually times of preparation. Jesus is often described as seeking solitary places to pray, especailly when he was seeking guidance in his ministry or strength to complete his mission. We read that “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” (Mark 1:35) The Gospel of Luke records that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16). John writes that “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)
Solitude is sometimes the only way to deal with tragic and overwhelming news. It was Jesus' response when he heard about the death of John the Baptist: “When Jesus heard what had happened [that John the Baptist was beheaded], he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. (Matthew 14:13) We also know that Jesus' disciples sought solitude as well. Peter prayed by himself, and Paul spent years alone in the desert before he began his ministry.
Solitude is necessary, then, in order to refresh and revive us for our mission, to spend time with God in prayer, to come to terms with difficult and overwhelming circumstances, and to prepare ourselves for the next chapter in our lives. It's important to realize, however, that solitude has a time limit. It is not meant to be a permanent state. At some point, we have to leave our solitude, and re-enter the world. We have to be willing to be concerned with the rest of the world, with the lives of other people and all that entails. Otherwise, solitude just becomes selfishness.
This winter, enjoy your solitude. Just remember, spring and summer are coming! The time for Winter Wondering will end, when the time for planting and cultivating arrives.
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