Definition of “solitude”: being alone or isolated; cut off voluntarily or involuntarily from other people, entirely by oneself, standing apart from the rest of the world; originally from Latin solus (alone)
Synonyms of “solitude”: seclusion, privacy, isolation; loneliness, wilderness
Every pastor understands the meaning and significance of the word “solitude”. If he doesn’t, he soon will. In one Peanuts cartoon, Frieda comments to Snoopy that he has become a loner, always by himself. As she walks away, Snoopy says “I can’t help it. I’ve become allergic to people.” My brother likes to hunt deer, but he mainly likes the quiet of the woods early in the morning (and eating deer meat). Some witty observer of the ministry once said that the ministry would be great if it weren’t for people. Yet even though people are the reason for the ministry, those in the ministry must make time away from people if we are to have a ministry to people. Christ’s attempts to find times and places of solitude are well-known.
Solitude Of The Study
Some people say they can study with music, radio, or TV audible in the background. I question the effectiveness and depth of their study. I have never been able to study or read with any additional noise or sound. The most sound I can tolerate is the quiet sound of a ticking clock or the gentle sound of a small water fountain in my study. Anything more than these interfere with my concentration.
Your study (not office) is a little world you create for yourself. Your study table, your books, your journals, your decorations, pictures, cards, souvenirs, your chair, your pens and pencils. I have a lot of pens and pencils and paper. I don’t throw away scrap paper until I’ve used both sides of the paper. Perhaps this is because I worked two summers in a paper mill and know how hard it is to make paper. Your study is your world with your personality, your memories, and your future. And your church’s future.
Probably the most prominent feature of a pastor’s study is the books. I have a cartoon where a pastor is putting on the walls of his study some wallpaper printed with books. His study had the appearance of a library without the reality. Although books in digital format are popular and, in some situations, are more practical than physical books, the reading and marking of a physical book is hard to replace. Books sit quietly on their shelves, waiting patiently to be used. I have about 90 books from G. Campbell Morgan’s personal library. In some of his books, he made notations which I now can read decades after he wrote them. You can’t do that with digital books.
Your church’s future depends to a large extent on what you do in the solitude of your study. Therein is the danger and the opportunity. The danger comes from wasting time, especially with the seemingly infinite Internet. Since solitude means that you are alone, accountability for how you use that time is up to you. No one will know how you use that time. No one is watching. The opportunity comes from the possibility of uninterrupted time saturating your life with God’s Word. Nothing can replace hours invested in the Bible. Over the years, layers of Bible knowledge build into your soul, creating a depth that is not possible any other way. The solitude of the study is the opportunity to become personally conformed to the image of Christ. Much of your entire ministry flows from what you do in the solitude of the study.
Solitude Of Praying
Praying requires quiet and concentration. It’s hard enough to pray without adding noise and distractions. Possibly the hardest part of praying is to begin praying. Although it is certainly possible to pray when other people are nearby or when various noises and sounds fill the air, praying seems much easier and effective if other people and sounds are not present. For pastors, some people and situations require solitude for praying. Perhaps the situation is personal, private, or sensitive. Praying by yourself, with some type of organized prayer list or system is very effective. In the solitude of praying, you are not trying to impress anyone or preach to anyone. You’re just praying. And in that solitude we do not usually know the results of that praying. I suspect we will find out at the Judgment Seat and in the endless years of eternity.
Many years ago my wife and I had the opportunity to visit Washington, Georgia where E. M. Bounds and his wife are buried. After finding their graves, I took some pictures of the headstone and footstone at the grave. Bounds’ books on praying have been very helpful to me as well as Matthew Henry’s A Method For Prayer. One danger of books about praying is that you will read good books about praying but never pray. If we can find time to read the books, then we can find time to do the praying.
It’s somewhat puzzling as to why we have difficulty praying. Praying involves a great step of faith because we can’t see the person we’re talking to. We also have to fight our self-sufficiency, stubbornness, and busy schedules. Families with children at home create an even busier atmosphere and difficulty finding privacy. Therefore, for pastors, the solitude of praying in the study or in an empty church is essential.
Solitude Of Nothing
Sometimes, in the quiet of solitude, you’re not studying, you’re not praying, you’re just staring or reflecting. You may stare out the study door into an outdoor scene or stare at your bookshelves or pictures. You’re not daydreaming (well, maybe sometimes) but thinking, wondering, imagining. And you always have paper nearby to write, because an idea may come to your mind. Or maybe just doodling randomly on a piece of paper as thoughts or ideas come to mind. I have so much scrap paper that I’ve made little notebooks to take with me so I can write when I need to. The solitude of nothing has the potential to become very productive of something.
The danger of the solitude of nothing is that you may actually end up doing nothing. So an essential quality is self-discipline, the discipline of yourself and what you do when you are by yourself. Reflection can be productive but also dangerous in that you may waste hours that cannot be gained back.
We live in a busy world where we are expected to be busy. But you can be busy while engaged in the solitude of nothing, a busy-ness that goes deeper than what people can see, a busy-ness that gives the Lord opportunity to do His work in the quiet of your soul.
Wally Morris is pastor of Charity Baptist Church in Huntington, IN. The church blogsite is amomentofcharity.blogspot.com. He has also published A Time To Die: A Biblical Look At End-Of-Life Issues by Ambassador International.