Jesus needed it. So did Moses, Elijah, Mary, and Paul. And that is just for starters. All the leading Fathers and Mothers throughout church history needed it, too. People like Augustine, Luther, Wesley, Calvin, and modern spiritual leaders such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Dallas Willard.  What is it they needed? Solitude and silence. If these spiritual giants needed time alone with God “with no outside interference” How much more do we? Practicing solitude and silence does not come naturally. It is easier for some than for others. Yet without it, you miss the richness and depth of a walk with Christ that can come no other way. What does it say about your own sense of self-sufficiency if you ignore their example?

The Nature, Necessity, and Practice of Solitude and Silence

1. Solitude is getting alone with God. Many of us are uncomfortable with being alone. And silence can be deafening. We feel compelled to be doing something.  But with practice, we begin to realize we are not alone. God is present in the silence. We learn to recognize his voice in the quiet. To truly practice solitude we leave behind all work, reading, and music. They bring their own voices. We want to hear the purity and simplicity of God’s voice only. It is difficult to hear God’s voice without solitude and silence. When was the last time you were alone with God? Where can you go to spend 30 minutes of solitude and silence this week?

2. Solitude and silence are necessary for perspective. Henri Nouwen wrote that when we are not occupied, we are preoccupied with all the what ifs? (see Nouwen below, p. 25). It is a problem of our times. Without solitude, problems and fears loom large. Like silt in a lake that gets stirred, it takes time for the confusing noises of our heart and mind to settle. Silence allows the reality of God to stand in the midst of your life. It is like the wind of eternity blowing in your face (Willard, see below). Silence and solitude put things into healthy perspective.

3. We need solitude and silence to identify our fears and desires. In solitude before God alone undistracted we learn to face our fears directly. The power of fear is disarmed as we experience the loving, yet powerful presence of God.  Courage and assurance emerge. In silence before God, we are also enabled to identify our deepest desires, what brings us joy, hopes, and dreams. Too much interaction and noise can prevent us from recognizing what is truly in our hearts. How in tune are you with your own fears? Do you truly recognize your deepest desires for God? 

4. We need silence and solitude for living out there. Solitude and silence are always for the purpose of re-engaging the world. Ministering to others, our families, and our communities. Having spent time in clarifying silence before God, we have a renewed perspective on God’s role in our lives, that we are not alone. The Spirit goes with us, enabling us to do what he has called us to do. Do your times of solitude with God help you re-engage the world?

5. Solitude and silence can be learned. It might not feel comfortable. It can even be a little unnerving at first. But there are small steps you can take to begin experiencing solitude and silence, stepping out to your backyard late at night to gaze at stars, being intentional to turn off the radio on your commute to the office, an early morning walk in a local park. What small steps can you take this week to spend a few minutes in solitude and silence?

For more information on silence and solitude, see the following resources: (Additional resources available at Nouwen. (1981). Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life. New York: HarperCollins.

Dallas Willard. The Key to the Keys of the Kingdom.

Bill and Kristi Gaultiere are spiritual directors and counselors. They host the webpage, Soul Shepherding, that seeks to cultivate intimacy with Jesus for pastors, pastor’s spouses, ministry leaders, and counselors. Here is their article on solitude and silence

The following is a book on the problem too much noise creates for us today and what is lost if we do not create space for silence:
George Prochnik. (2010). In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise. New York: Anchor.

Good books with chapters on solitude and silence:
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun. (2005). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity.

Keith Drury. (2005). With Unveiled Faces. Indianapolis, IN: Wesleyan Publishing House.

Richard Foster. (1988). Celebration of Discipline. New York: Harper & Row.

Curator of content: Dave Higle 

Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus