This is the sermon I gave Sunday January 23, 2022 regarding Solitude. I hope this helps for those who were unable to take part in our service yesterday.
Several times in the past few years I have seen people post some items about how introverted people want to have extroverted people see things from their perspective. Statements such as: People always tell introverts to be more talkative and leave their comfort zone, yet no one tells extroverts to shut up to make the zone more comfortable. So the past two years has most of us in the world of extroverts living in the world as introverts. Isolation and distancing have forced us to live in the quiet of our spaces.
We live in the balance of needing time with people and time for to be alone. What I have also seen over the past two years is that people who think of themselves as needing time to themselves are with us in complaining that we need time with people again.
In getting to that balance there is a need to have the time we require in solitude as we engage with the world. We read in Mark 1.35-39 of Jesus going to a solitary place to pray. In the midst of the gospel of Mark, a gospel that presents much of the life of Jesus in actions, we see at least nine moments recorded where Jesus takes time alone, times of solitude. Surrounding those times with his actions we see that Jesus prepared himself with these times of solitude.
Times of solitude that were not just extended times of prayers spoken by Jesus. We might think that taking time in solitude is about praying the whole time. It’s one of the things that make this faith practice difficult for many. Thinking we have to fill it with our thoughts and our words to God. Prayer is part of it, but also a separate faith practice. When we see Jesus in these lengthy times of solitude we see few words from him.
There is the obvious thought that as Jesus is in solitude with God, no one else would hear what he said or did. But one of those times of solitude takes place as he is near the disciples in the garden at the Mount of Olives before his arrest. And it goes with some of his teachings around prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is short and concise. The parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector where the tax collector is heard, not for many words, but for humility. Prayer is part of solitude, but not nearly the whole.
The purpose and activity of solitude is to hear God, to experience God, to know God. That does not come by us telling God, it comes through hearing him. It means times of seeing his words and thinking of them. It means having times of silence and meditation where we listen for God and look for him in our lives. And while there are many ways to do this, one that has helped many before me is some “guided” solitude. Not guided in another being with us, but with a pattern or framework for us to us. This has been put on the face book page as a link to the church’s website; particularly to our discipleship page.
But things that go with us however we do this solitude are that we need to disconnect from some things. Turning off our phone and other technology. Although some like to have some sort of music playing, it is good to at least try a time or two with even no music. Disconnecting from people. Being in a place where no one comes to distract us. Office places and living rooms with family are not great places. Even though it might be easier right now to find places of being alone. Disconnecting from our busyness or our schedules. Actually scheduling time in the day to have time alone. 15 minutes, 30 minutes, maybe longer.
My first time doing solitude with great intention was actually at that conference in Houston several years ago. When they told us we were going to spend time in solitude my first thought was that it would be difficult. When they told us it was going to be 45 minutes I almost panicked. What was I going to do with 45 minutes alone? Those first times were difficult. And I wasn’t alone in finding it hard. And now, 7 years later, it not only works, it is a very helpful time.
But not just a block of time to sit and just wait for something to happen, it is directed time. When Jesus was in the desert alone for 40 days we see the devil come to tempt him. Jesus responds to each temptation with Scripture. I think that there is something of that scripture that takes place in each of these times alone, which are also followed by significant decisions and actions. Calling the first disciples, teachings and healings, his arrest, trail and crucifixion. I have a list of some of the places in Mark where we see Jesus taking part in some sort of solitude during his life and ministry. That is linked on our Facebook page as well.
Taking the words of a passage and finding ways to contemplate them. Having thoughts of a particular aspect of life and hearing the words of Scripture that help us to understand. I have an exercise posted with Romans 12 as the focus. There is also a page that gives a template for doing this on our own. Thinking about how we, as people, follow and serve God. Thinking about the church and how we follow God together. We can have things set down for us to start us off. We can begin to see that there are ways we can sit with the words of God and contemplate them with our questions, looking from our own lives.
Sometimes it is good to do this by sitting at a table or desk, someplace where can write things down. But we can also do this without pen or paper. It can be part of our walk down the trails, in the woods, or across town. It can be part of our time of mowing the lawn, when we see the green grass again. It can be part of our time of clearing snow from driveway and walkway. We could sit in the sanctuary of the church during the week on our own. We could have that time when we drive down the road and are on our own.
Quite simply, the how of it all is not the difficult part. How we do this is quite fluid, quite flexible. The difficult part is making it happen. And quite simply it is about scheduling that time of solitude. Making it such a priority that it is in the calendar first and does not get bumped for other things. Making it something that holds the same slot in the calendar all the time. Not worrying about when another does it what works for anyone else. What works for me? If it is first thing in the morning, then do it right away. If it is right before bed, then make that the end of your day. Pick a meal to do it before or after. Coffee time in the morning or afternoon.
I still remember our pastor from when I was in elementary school. Cecil Martens. He spoke of having a Daily Quiet Time to the congregation. Same idea as solitude, just different words. I knew it was important and yet I didn’t get on it. It seemed too much to schedule every day. All those ideas of what if something else came up. All of the distractions still in my mind.
And then as I was in high school, with youth groups and gatherings going on, I heard something similar again. Then described as daily devotions. Told I should go in my room to read and pray. The idea that if we could do it for a few weeks it would be a habit that we wouldn’t break. And I tried, but it wasn’t the real priority in life. It felt like obligation. I have to do this so I will be a good Christian. And then it feels like failure every time we fail for a few days, weeks, or much longer. It is done so that I get rid of guilt. It is done so that I appear to be pious. It is what we have to do.
And then it doesn’t work. But I see now why. It is no different than why no one wants to drive the speed limit. We have to. It is an obligation. And it is not something we want to do, it is what we have to do.
And I see now why it can and will work for us. Not because it is an obligation. It is not so that we can finally be an acceptable Christian. It is not so we are now good enough. Jesus does not do it for his reputation or for some need of personal gain. For Jesus, and for all of us, it is an opportunity. We are invited to have this time. It is not an obligation, it is an opportunity. We are allowed to sit with God for a time. We are able to experience God in our lives. We have the opportunity to hear him speak to us, to change us, to show us who he is and who we are. This is one of the great opportunities of our lives.
I have linked some of these things on the Facebook page from the church’s website. Don’t take them as obligation but as an invitation to something that will build faith. Receive them as an opportunity to know God as he already knows us. Let it be time to hear God and be changed by him. God wants to have that time with us. Let that be our desire as well, to have that time with God, to know him as he knows us.
Link to the disciple page on our website: http://hebronrenfrew.ca/discipleship/