Solitude for the Faithfully Busy

By Charlotte Gleason

My semester ends and I feel like a sailor who walked on land after being at sea: my mind still keeps the pace of a busy school year even though my schedule slows to its summer stride.  I depend on these summer months to either care for all I have neglected, or revise the shoddy work I did in a hurry. Unfortunately, my devotional life sat among the unkempt corners of my life.

I decided to revisit a devotional my father gave me for Christmas years ago titled *Devotional Classics. The work organizes excerpts from great theologians and spiritual leaders through the ages, from Augustine to Elizabeth O’Connor. I determined to spend more time reading, reflecting, and praying, a discipline I allowed the pace of life to disrupt.

After reading the first few chapters, however, I became irritated at the nuns, priests, and pastors. I know – hardly the attitude one should have during a quiet time. But really, Julian of Norwich prayed that God would give her a “bodily sickness” (69) in order to better understand the pain of the cross. Who prays to be sick? Another recommended hours spent in prayerful solitude. Who has the time? Apparently, these individuals never homeschooled three children, taught 21-credits, or attempted to plan meals around the ever growing list of carcinogens.

I continued to read in spite of my eye rolling, evidence that the Holy Spirit works in spite of me. One morning, I read from Henri Nouwen’s Making All Things New. He describes the “inner chaos” that often occurs when we attempt to find solitude, explaining “this chaos can be so disturbing and so confusing that we can hardly wait to get busy again” (95). I could relate. I depended so much on being busy to fill me that I feared what I might hear when I was quiet.

The editors paired 1 Kings 19: 9-13 with Nouwen’s work. Here, Elijah just fled for his life, waiting for God in a cave while the wind blew, the earth quaked, and the fire flamed. But God did not choose to speak in these grand displays of power. God spoke only when Elijah heard “the sound of sheer silence” (19:13). And Elijah knew to listen for that silence, a discipline I have neglected. A busy schedule does not excuse the practice of solitude. Such a discipline cannot be seasonal. If God speaks in the quiet, I can only wonder what I have missed.

*Foster, Richard J. & James Bryan Smith, Ed. Devotional Classics. New York: Harper Collins, 1993. Print.