Hello Darkness My Old Friend…
The Double-Edged Sword that is Silence and Solitude
Solitude is defined as the state of being alone. At times, it is something that is a true blessing, but at other times it is a less than ideal state to be in. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived through a time in which the church was largely driven underground. The opportunities to gather with other Christians were few and far in between. This meant that any opportunity to speak with or hear from a brother or sister in Christ was more than just a blessing. However, for those of us who are able to gather with one another on a regular basis, solitude has its
Community is an extremely important aspect of faith. We are not meant to walk through life alone. As I have mentioned before, during the creation narrative, prior to the fall, God saw that everything was good, that is except for one thing. What was not good was that Adam, was alone. Even though we are not meant to walk through life alone, there are times where we need to be alone. The state of solitude provides the opportunity to evaluate the self, rather than be distracted by other people’s challenges. Bonhoeffer points out “The person who comes into a fellowship because he is running away from himself is misusing it for the sake of diversion.” (Bonhoeffer 44).
A wise man once said to me that many do not want to hear the truth. In this context, we aren’t speaking about the conflict between the dominant culture in the United States and the values of faith. Rather, we are speaking of the unfortunate reality that pride prevents us from looking at ourselves, instead seeking to look into the challenges that others face. All of us are guilty of doing this, though some more than others. Facing one’s own sin is challenging, and the common response when someone speaks into this is to become defensive or angry,
We are meant to spend time alone with God. This is something that even Jesus did. An example of this is found in Luke 5, right after Jesus cleanses a leper. Luke speaks about how great crowds would gather to hear Jesus and be healed, but Jesus would withdraw to desolate places and pray. (Luke 5:15–16 ESV). While prayer in community is extremely important, prayer in solitude is just as important. In fact, Jesus is quoted by Matthew as saying “When you go pray, go into your [some translations insert the term inner] room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret…” (Matthew 6:6a). The context here is contrary to what the hypocrites do, praying publicly to be seen by others, inauthentic.
A number of years ago, the Kendrick Brothers came out with a movie called ‘War Room.’ The movie is based on this premise of going into your inner room to pray, in solitude. If I remember correctly, the main story circles around a wife who is in the midst of a failing marriage, and her husband is beginning to flirt with other women. In her distress, she is encouraged by an older woman, Miss Clara to create a ‘War Room’ in her closet to go and pray in solitude. This would be an example of prayer in a time of distress. A notable example of this in the Life of Christ was when Jesus departed to pray on the Mount of Olives. Jesus is aware of what is to come, that he is to be put to death, for it is foretold in the prophecy of Isaiah.
While prayer in community is an important aspect of the overall faith in community, prayer in solitude is just as important. It is the opportunity to allow yourself to be convicted. When the scene is set and it's just you, God, and the word, you are forced to acknowledge yourself. You are not able to deflect, you must face your own sin and your own shortcomings. This is something that can be truly humbling, when you can no longer run from your own troubles.
The role that silence plays into all this is that with silence comes the lack of distraction. It comes the lack of an opportunity for diversion. It is why some, including Bonhoeffer swear by getting up early in the morning for independent time in the scripture. It is the reason that Jesus did so himself. As I said in a previous post, this may not be an option for everyone, but for those that are able to do so, never take that blessing for granted.