Why Do We Resist Solitude?

I lead many retreats these days with solitude and silence with God at the heart of them. It feels like a fringe benefit of my ministry role. I love guiding others in vital encounter with an unfailingly loving God. Nothing encourages me more. Along the way, I’ve noticed different kinds of resistance people have to spending time alone and quiet with God.

Last November, I experienced the cultural resistance of the Dominican pastors. They are rarely if ever alone. A few American missionaries were very doubtful as to whether the pastors would be able to handle two hours alone…let alone with God. There is a cultural sense that if you are alone, there must be something wrong with you. In fact, on the day retreat I led for them, one of the pastors walked to the end of the retreat center driveway and sat on a rock. Someone walking by actually made a point of walking over and asking him, “What’s wrong?” This is the “we just don’t do that here” form of resistance. It can happen in churches as easily as in countries. .

Some Christian leaders feel a temperament resistance. They may say, “Solitude is for introverts, but I’m an extrovert. I prefer to be with others. I grow most in community.” Solitude doesn’t devalue community, but is a rhythm that enriches community. My experience is that the deepest and most united community is a fruit of a deeper communion with God cultivated in solitude. Dietrich Bonhoeffer is the one who said, “Let [the one] who cannot be alone beware of community…. Let [the one] who is not in community beware of being alone.”

Finally, there is what I’d call a productivity resistance, like the CEO who says, “I’m a driven person. I don’t have time to waste in solitude like that. Solitude is for less productive people.” Leaders think that solitude is for monk-like people and not activist leaders. They think time spent alone with God will somehow reduce the fruit of their ministry. I would simply suggest that Paul the apostle was a great leader and a great pray-er. He experienced solitude on long walks between cities and in seasons of imprisonment along the way. Did he have a fruitful ministry?

And who is going to argue that Jesus was a weak leader? It is said that “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed (Lk 5:16).” Often. Not rarely. Or occasionally. Or at times. Often. What might that mean for our own rhythm of life as Christ-followers?

What kinds of resistance rise up in you to “often withdrawing to lonely places to pray”? Busyness? Fear? Guilt?


7 thoughts on “Why Do We Resist Solitude?

  1. Good post! It would seem our culture is profoundly against being still, but that is when we hear God the best I think. Blessings,


    Thorns and Myrtles

    1. Thank you, Eden, for your response. I’m with you…listening for a still small voice seems to work better when we stop at times to find a quiet place to listen. Take care…

  2. I relate to the pastor who was sitting on the rock and was what wrong. Unless I am alone feel I need a sign saying “in solutude”
    Thanks Alan

    1. Ann…thanks for your feedback. Maybe we should start handing out little lanyards that say something like “It’s O.K. I’m in solitude” or “Don’t worry about me…I’m just alone with God’!

  3. Silent retreats have shifted my spiritual life in ways I can’t fully articulate. They never go in the way I imagine; things get uncovered in my soul that always surprise (and undo!) me. This past spring, a friend and I put together our first guided silent retreat for a group of 8 other women. One woman, who attends an evangelical church, told us that this was the first time she’d ever felt as if she really had a retreat! (The retreats she’d always attended in the past were relationally-intense teachfests.)

    I’m an extrovert, and solitude is hard, hard, hard for me. But I’ve learned it is a necessary discipline – and a gift.

    1. Thank you, Michelle, for your comment. It sounds like your personal experience with solitude, as well as what you’ve seen leading others in such times, is similar to ours (The Leadership Institute). And I can identify with the difference between this kind of retreat and the relationally-intense teachfests. So often those become a way of escaping God’s presence rather than encountering Him (not intentional, of course). Grace to you!

Comments are closed.