Last October, I went on a retreat. It was meant to provide time for the student leaders at my college to take a step back from our busy schedules and just be with God. For about twenty-four hours, we had free time with Him.
I was excited about the prospect of growing my relationship with the Lord. However, I disappointed myself almost immediately. The night we arrived, I lay on a blanket outside for about an hour, doing nothing but watching the pond in front of me and letting my brain wander. I could not bring myself to pray even one sentence. I expected to enjoy my time with God, but I ended up feeling isolated and sad. I was with God, but I felt distant from Him.
The truth was, I hadn’t spent long lengths of time with God in so long I had forgotten what they should look like. Sure, I had my daily times with Him, but they were rushed and mechanical. I spent so much time running around doing “God’s work” I forgot what it meant to sit at His feet and listen.
Maybe you’ve felt similar things when you’re by yourself, trying to process your emotions and get closer to God. Maybe when you finally take time to be alone with Him, things feel tense. Maybe even the thought of time alone with God makes your chest tighten.
None of us are strangers to loneliness, especially since we now live in a post-pandemic world. But even in our physical aloneness, many of us are hyper-connected. We have constant access to text, emails, and social media. That feeling of never really being alone may make a quiet time with God feel stressful and difficult.
Friend, I have good news. Alone time with God doesn’t have to feel isolating. We can spend uplifting, wonderful time with Him, time that leaves us feeling so refreshed that we sing as we leave it.
Healthy aloneness is called solitude. Solitude is a peaceful time with God. It doesn’t feel lonesome but welcoming. It is an invitation to be with God and your own thoughts. As you think about new habits this year, solitude can be a freeing, daily practice to implement.
In his book The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer describes the difference between solitude and isolation this way: “Solitude is engagement; isolation is escape. Solitude is how you open yourself up to God; isolation is painting a target on your back for the tempter. Solitude is when you set aside time to feed and water and nourish your soul” (133-134).
Being alone can be a very good thing. It is not always the best thing—we do need people—but it is a necessary part of our lives as humans. How do I know?
Jesus spent time alone.
In fact, He valued solitude so much He spent an entire night alone! Luke describes it like this: “In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12).
If you’re anything like me, that sounds miserable at first. Why would I pull an all-nighter to be on a dark mountain by myself? But if we stop there, we’re missing the beauty in this story. Jesus was praying. He was talking to His Father, His best friend.
Imagine your best friend—the person you trust the most—taking you by the hand after everyone else has gone to bed and whispering, “Let’s go to the mountain.” It would be an exciting adventure, an opportunity to enjoy a person you love. I can’t help but think God was inviting Jesus to stay up late, to talk and be together. And doesn’t that sound so much better than a dark, cold night, falling asleep alone on rocky ground?
Solitude is about relationship. It’s about God taking you by the hand and inviting you to be with Him. Not so bad, is it? It can be a daily rhythm you grow to enjoy.
If being alone still seems scary, take comfort. It can be hard to put solitude into practice.
My friend Alyssa Thomsen has spent great times alone with God. She said at first, it was a bit awkward. It felt weird sitting and doing nothing since our American culture is non-stop. She sometimes felt guilty when she started practicing solitude. She felt tempted to think about what was next in her day and all the other things she could be doing instead. Guess what turned her awkward and guilty feelings into peace? Jesus!
“Jesus was busy,” she said. “Jesus had a lot going on. But He was never hurried. Even Jesus took time alone to be still, be with God, and pray.”
My friend Alyssa thought about the times Jesus spent with God, and she decided it was worth it for her. She recognized, sometimes, it’s just hard being in solitude and being truly still. In these moments, be honest with God. Tell Him why you are struggling or why your mind is racing and ask for His peace instead. He sees you and loves you.
Beloved daughter of God, here are five tips to help you enjoy your solitude with the Lord as you implement new rhythms this New Year:
Find a place that feels safe and comfortable.
For me, this is almost always outside. On rainy days, though, I like going to a prayer chapel on my college campus.
Find a way to connect with God.
Are you artistic? Bring a sketch pad. Enjoy journaling? Write down your prayers. Love music? Play some worship music.
Engage your five senses.
Take in the smells, sights, and sounds around you and think of the Creator who made them all. Let Him give you His peace as you breathe deeply.
Read or listen to the Bible.
When you don’t have words for God, let Him give you His words.
Be honest with God.
He will listen to you and love you with gentleness.
If this is your first time practicing solitude with God, I encourage you to find a buddy. It might seem strange for me to suggest bringing another person on your quest for alone time with God, but it provides accountability and comfort knowing someone else is there. Go to a park and sit separately in inviting spots, power down your phones, and report back to each other in about half an hour.
God is always available to spend some quality time with you.
Elise Boutell is a confident writer who plays in the space where research and creativity collide. She is studying professional writing at Taylor University while freelancing for Christian organizations. She likes to smile, rescue pretty leaves from the sidewalk, and pray with people.
Blog: Lattes and Letters
Hi there Elise!
This is Alyssa’s dad. Thank you so much for sharing your article! Thank you for also seeking my daughter’s feelings on such an imperative practice in an effort to find peace in today’s fast paced world. Thank you also for addressing the struggle that initially comes with a change in routine. It’s not often that such a change goes smoothly at first. However, the encouragement within your article will definitely provide comfort to those who initially struggle to find His peace while being alone with their thoughts and prayers. When “we” set aside the time to be with Him, He will break through the silence. He will break through the noise inside our heads. He will help us find peace. Thank you Elise of Peace.