Shaped in Solitude
Then Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from [being baptized in] the Jordan River. He was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where he was tempted by the devil for forty days. Luke 4:1-2a
Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went to an isolated place to pray. Mark 1:35
One day soon afterward Jesus went up on a mountain to pray, and he prayed to God all night. At daybreak he called together all of his disciples and chose twelve of them to be his apostles. Luke 6:12-13
Baptisms are a time for celebration and community. It is time to party. And we see some of that at the baptism of Jesus—God affirms Jesus’ belovedness. But then there is no party. The Holy Spirit immediately leads Jesus…not to town, not to a palace, not to a party, but into the desert, the wilderness. Jesus is alone. The Holy Spirit must have thought, I presume, that there was something valuable about solitude.
Throughout his ministry Jesus returned to the desert, to the desolate place. He experienced something there that strengthened him and energized him. He found renewal in the desolate places. It is where he went when he felt pressed by the crowds, when he felt “busy.” It is where he went when he had to make a significant decision like choosing his apostles. It is where he went when he felt overwhelmed by his feelings like in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Sometimes we simply need to be alone. Even with his disciples, Jesus would separate himself from them. Sometimes it is important to be alone even when intimate, close friends are available.
Jesus was comfortable with himself and could be alone. His “alone time” was not loneliness, but solitude. Some people are lonely when they are alone—they are uncomfortable with themselves and they cling to others in needy desperation. Some people are too busy to be alone and even when they are alone they are easily distracted by the busy-ness of life. Some people don’t want to be alone (certainly not silent) because they are afraid to face their true selves and consequently they need the distractions.
Being alone, however, is more than just being with oneself. Being alone is not loneliness when we find companionship with God in those times. It is not withdrawal in the sense of isolation but the pursuit of God through communion (prayer) for the sake of renewal or recreation.
When we are too busy to “recreate” with God, then life has distracted us from our true essence. When we are too uncomfortable with ourselves, then we have not faced the truth about ourselves in God’s presence. When we are lonely when alone, then we have not embraced the joy of solitude with God.
Jesus pursued God in that solitude. Some of Jesus’ vigils would be early morning, some would be all night. Sometimes something (or someone) is more important than sleep (yes, it is true!). Sometimes prayer was more important than sleep. Has it ever been for you? It was for Jesus.
Jesus found time for solitude. His discipleship began in the desert alone with God. His solitude—his companionship with God—fueled his ministry; it energized his other relationships. If he was discipled by solitude and apprenticed through solitude, perhaps…just perhaps…so should we.
When life is so busy that I am too tired to pray, too tired to sit quietly, too tired to seek God in solitude, then life is too busy. My fatigue has not only a physical but a spiritual root. I have no energy because I am not plugged into the one who is himself Energy. I have no spiritual power because I have no time for God—no time for just him. That is not only too busy, it is idolatry.
Questions for Discussion:
- Do you think Jesus “needed” those times alone with the Father? What did he “need” and why did he “need” them?
- Why is it so hard for human beings to be alone without being lonely? Why do we find it so difficult to be alone with God? What distracts us or repels us about spending time alone with God?
- Do you remember those “all-nighters” you pulled at work or in college in order to get something done, to meet a deadline? Have you ever felt that way about prayer or solitude with God? If you remember an occasion, share it with others.
- Share with the group what practices or routines you have found helpful? What helps you ignore the distractions and focus on being with God?