“When we make a place for silence, we make room for ourselves. By making room for silence, we resist the forces of the world which tell us to live an advertised life of surface appearances, instead of a discovered life – a life lived in contact with our senses, our feelings, our deepest thoughts and values.” Gunilla Norris
Silence, solitude, and prayer are often the best ways to self-awareness. Not because they offer solutions to the complexities of our lives, but because we are made aware of the call to let our false, compulsive self be transformed into the new self of Jesus Christ. In solitude, let go of our busyness. Solitude helps us cultivate a listening heart. In solitude, we become acquainted with ourselves. The good news is that we will soon discover that the practice and place of solitude becomes a place of healing and restoration to our truest selves.
In solitude, the Holy Spirit reveals blind spots we don’t know we have because, well, they are blind spots. In solitude, our inner chaos begins to settle. It is the safe refuge we long for and we quietly surrender our need to be in control. We are freed from the burden of being important and capable.
Author, Henri Nouwen, brings clarity to our understanding of the tie-ins of the practice of solitude and self-awareness:
“In solitude I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract, just me–naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken–nothing. That is the struggle. It is the struggle to die to the false self. But the confrontation with our own frightening nothingness forces us to surrender ourselves totally and unconditionally to the Lord Jesus Christ. Only in the context of grace can we face our sin; only in the place of healing do we dare to show our wounds; only with a single-minded attention to Christ can we give up our clinging fears and face our own true nature. As we come to realize that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us, that he is our true self, we can slowly let our compulsions melt away and begin to experience the freedom of the children of God.” (Henri Nouwen, The Way of the Heart: Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, (HarperCollins: San Francisco, 1981),25-30.)
Henri Nouwen likens solitude to two simultaneous realities: A furnace of transformation and the place of the great Encounter: “Solitude is the furnace of transformation. Solitude is the place of the great struggle and the great encounter—the struggle against the compulsions of the false self, and the encounter with the loving God who offers himself as the substance of the new self.” (Nouwen, The Way of the Heart, 25-26.)
In this way, we begin to see solitude in a different way. We begin to realize solitude is not the quiet, therapeutic place we thought it was. It now becomes the furnace of our transformation, for it is in solitude we are faced with ourselves. It is a place of conversion where the false self, the old self, loses its entanglement in our lives.
However, in the place of quiet and solitude, our true identity emerges when we hear, deep in our hearts, the voice of the One who calls us Beloved. Being the Beloved is the core of our true self; our true identity. As we hear these words over and over and allow them to saturate our hearts, our real self quietly makes an appearing.
“Our greatest safety of self-discovery lies in our union with Jesus. The only way we become willing and ruthlessly honest with ourselves is when we begin to notice and accept God’s unflinching love and relentless love. Slowly and surely, we discover this new familiarity, comfort, and longing of feeling at home.” (Gail Johnsen, All There: How Attentiveness Shapes Authentic Leadership, 176.)
Solitude. It’s a fruitful place to be. It is the place where God performs his deep inner work in us where can then go out and live compassionately in the world. Solitude, then, becomes an essential practice in our spiritual journey of Lent.
What is your initial reaction to the practice of solitude?
What has been your experience with practicing solitude?
What part of your false self needs to die?
What part of your true self needs to emerge?
When can you practice solitude this week?