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The Indispensability of Solitude

Written by Chuck Olson

Over the last two months, we’ve been chasing down an important question: Is it possible to be more passionate, more energized, and more productive for the Kingdom…a year from now?

In tracking down this question, we have come to grips with the reality that in God’s economy of life and leadership the game plan is not simply to survive or to find a modicum of sustainability, but rather to embrace and live in a rhythm that is RENEWABLE.

In God’s economy of life and leadership the game plan is not simply to survive.

From there, I introduced three spiritual practices that God is using in my life to move me closer to this renewable rhythm. (BTW, a spiritual practice is any endeavor that is pursued with the expressed purpose of creating space to live more intimately with God).

Last month, we talked about Sabbath. Today we talk about SOLITUDE.

To get us going, let me tee up a working definition: Solitude is the practice of being absent from people and things for an extended time so that I can be present with God.

Stating the obvious, we live in a world of noise—noise that comes at us from all directions. Some of it unpreventable. Some of it self-imposed. A vast majority of it distracting. And so much of it soul-numbing. Traffic horns that announce impatience. Flat-screens that decorate the walls of public spaces with never-ending news feeds. Podcasts that echo endlessly in our ears. You get the point.

And in the middle of all these moving parts, God’s gift, His antidote to the buzz and chaos of life, is solitude.

Of the many things that I am learning about solitude, perhaps none is as important as this: In solitude I find it extremely hard to be dishonest with God. That is, any serious attempt to spend extended time with God is ultimately going to lead down the pathway of deep personal reflection—getting down to the issues in my heart that most of the time I opt to avoid.

In solitude I find it extremely hard to be dishonest with God.

Let’s take that a step further. I hadn’t been to the Los Angeles Zoo for years (make that decades!), but now that I have grandkids, I’m a regular. Upon arriving at the zoo, my grandkids will begin calling out what animals they want to see. After hearing their requests, I quickly find the ‘campus map’ that identifies the location of the Asian elephants, the Masai giraffes, and the Sumatran tigers. And thankfully and most importantly, the map notifies me of one vital slice of info: “YOU ARE HERE”.

You are here. That’s exactly what happens in solitude. You discover where you are. You get your spiritual bearings. I like to think about it as ‘game film’ time. Time to study the nooks and nuances of my life. Why did I react with such intense anger in that situation? Why did that seemingly small circumstance illicit such deep sadness? Why do I find it so important to always have my ideas prevail when participating in a team setting?

Solitude has a way of lifting the lid on the stuff below the surface. Henri Nouwen in his must-read book, The Way of the Heart, puts it this way: 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.

In a time of solitude, I find two questions that help me to anchor my conversation with God. What do You want to say to me about You? What do you want to say to me about me?And then I listen.

And I listen some more—for that still small Voice.

Last month, I made you a guarantee about Sabbath-keeping. Today I make you a guarantee about the practice of solitude. Here it is: If you want to make serious strides in allowing God to transform your life, then solitude must find its way into the matrix of your life.It simply is an essential part of building a renewable rhythm to life and leadership.

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  • Jerry says:

    This practice of listening for the still small voice is a practice of discipline, it is a practice of leaning into His whisper. And we are usually so busy with life that we avoid or forget or simply do not give attention to this part of caring for our soul.

  • pattie says:

    It is in the solitude that we catch the mystic notes that issue from the soul of things.
    from Streams in the Desert

  • Joel says:

    Thanks for the reminder of what is really important…what is really going to last.

  • Saul says:

    So easy in life to be consumed by rising on the corporate ladder and neglect the inner you!

  • Paul says:

    Thank you Chuck! So important and such good reminders!

  • Mark says:

    Solitude is a lost discipline in our culture. So many talk about it, but few actually take the time and make the effort to renew their souls.
    I work on a team where this is talked about, but not many are really engaged in the practice.

  • Pam says:

    I so appreciate you sharing how you go to the hills each week. Thank you for modeling that it is possible to live with this discipline in practice.

  • Terry says:

    It is so hard to keep consistent with times of solitude, even though I know how much better my leadership is when I am grounded in Him.

  • Andrew says:

    I can honestly say that from your encouragement to take and plan for solitude, my life and leadership has taken on a whole new level of impact.
    Thank you Chuck!

  • Ben says:

    Life can be chaotic with the fast and frenzied pace. Thanks for this excellent reminder of importance of keeping solitude in life.

  • Randy G. says:

    great quote by Spurgeon states this so well:
    “There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labour in his service.”

  • Carl L. says:

    Thanks Chuck. A year from now I want to have this practice and discipline so entrenched in my life that I would be hard pressed to even recall when I was not consistently practicing it.

  • bob g. says:

    Might it be that most people are afraid to face their true selves in solitude?

  • Marc says:

    Thanks Chuck!

  • John S. says:

    You have modeled this so well for us in Rock Solid Chuck.
    Thank you for the impact you have made for eternity on so many of us.

  • Adrian says:

    I need to get back to the WAY of the HEART.

  • Mark T. says:

    The rush and distractions in my life keep me from really implementing this practice. Thank you for reminding is of the benefit and necessity in order to lead well.

  • Bryan G. says:

    Thanks so much Chuck for these reminders.

  • Bradley T. says:

    How hard it is to keep times of solitude in my demanding schedule. But always so worth it!

  • Stan M. says:

    Great reminders Chuck.

  • Mark S. says:

    This is so true!
    Appreciate the excellent reminders.

  • Gregory says:

    One of the biggest lessons I have learned about leadership in the local church is how key this discipline really is.
    And yet how rarely it is preached and talked about.
    Hectic lives don’t allow for any margin to practice solitude.

  • Jeff says:

    That is what I need to keep at the forefront of life. So easy to let the practice of solitude take back seat to all the demands that come along each and every day. But without this practice, weeks can go by at a time and there is not even an awareness of what He is trying to tell me and how He is trying to lead and guide me.
    Appreciate the ways you mentor and model how to make this a life-practice and choice!

  • Roger says:

    “to embrace and live in a rhythm that is RENEWABLE.” is perhaps what gives me the greatest hope that there is a way to create and sustain practices to survive this life.
    Leadership is demanding, unrelenting, fast-paced, and attires exhausting. And the only way I am going to survive as a leader in the local church is to find my renewable rhythms that will sustain me from the inside out.
    Always appreciate you brother Chuck. Not just your words, but the life you live that echoes the words you speak and teach.

  • Justin says:

    We live such hectic and fast paced lives that this concept of solitude feels almost foreign. If leaders would take these words to heart, we would undoubtedly find ourselves better equipped for the challenges life and leadership brings.
    Thank you Chuck for the timely reminders.

  • bob says:

    “If you want to make serious strides in allowing God to transform your life, then solitude must find its way into the matrix of your life.”

    You have modeled this well to all the men who you have mentored.
    thank you!

  • Randel Horton says:

    Yes, Yes, keep it coming.

Chuck Olson

As founder and president of Lead With Your Life, Dr. Chuck Olson is passionate about inspiring, resourcing and equipping Kingdom leaders to lead from the inside out.  To lead, not with the external shell of positions, achievements or titles, but from an internal commitment to a deep, abiding and transparent relationship with Jesus. Serving as a pastor and leadership coach for over forty years, Chuck has a track record of building these truths deep into the lives of both ministry and marketplace leaders.

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