Isolation vs. SolitudeIsolation is the state of being alone. It’s what so many experienced in the midst of the pandemic. Isolation breaks you down; it wears you out. It is destructive. In fact, governments often use total isolation to punish their prisoners of war because God didn’t design humans to thrive in isolation. But solitude is different. Isolation is the state of being alone, and solitude is the state of being alone with God. See the difference? The two are fundamentally different realities. In solitude, I’m with the one who knows my soul, made my soul, loves my soul, and recreates my soul.
Solitude is the place where I experience deep friendship with God.
Isolation breaks you down, but solitude builds you up and strengthens you.
Read Dave Clayton’s book Revival Starts Here to learn better how to hear the gentle voice of God in solitude through prayer and fasting.
I love what Richard Foster says about solitude:
In our day, God is using the spiritual discipline of solitude as the great liberator. Solitude liberates us from all the inane chatter that is so characteristic of modern life. It liberates us from the ever-present demands that are put upon us; demands that in the moment feel so urgent and pressing but that in reality have no lasting significance. In solitude the useless trivialities of life begin to drop away. We are set free from the many “false selves” we have built up in order to cope with the expectations others place upon us. Solitude empowers us to walk away from all human pretense and manipulation. … God uses our experiences of solitude to enable us to become who we truly are. We begin, slowly at first, to live simply before God. Increasingly we come to see things in the light of eternity, and as a result, successes and failures no longer impress us or oppress us. Experiences of solitude root in us a deep, abiding hope; a hope that sees everything in the light of God’s overriding governance for good. In solitude we are so bathed in God’s greatness and goodness that we come to see the immense value of our own soul. … All of our experiences in solitude are done in the presence of the living God. We are, after all, experiencing solitude as a Christian spiritual discipline. In times of solitude, we become enveloped in God’s very presence.Essentially, Foster says, God has something incredible in store for you in the secret place.
Jesus Modeled Solitude in Mark 1:35Early in the book of Mark, we catch a glimpse of the role that solitude played in Jesus’ life. Here is what Mark 1:29–31 says:
As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.Take a moment to imagine this scene. Jesus and the disciples had a full day of preaching in the synagogue. They came back to Peter’s house, where his mother-in-law was sick. While there, Jesus healed her. Now we don’t know exactly what happened next, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to imagine Peter and the rest of the gang running through town exclaiming, Look what Jesus did! The next few verses describe the aftermath of this news spreading through town. Suddenly, every sick and demon-possessed person from the region began to show up. This must have been an unforgettable night for Jesus and the disciples. As exciting as this night was, it is what Mark records in verse thirty-five that has grabbed my heart in recent days. Mark says: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and he went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” So what did Jesus do after a long day and night of ministry? He didn’t sleep in or take a personal day at the beach. He didn’t spend a few hours numbing out with his favorite form of entertainment. Instead, Jesus got up early in the morning, went off to a solitary place, and prayed.
Seeking Solitude as a Way of LifeSolitude is not a new practice or coping mechanism for modern people with overcommitted lives. It is an ancient practice, a way of life that puts you in the presence of the living God. Solitude positions you to hear God’s voice and to know God’s heart. It’s a practice that flows out of the very rhythms of Jesus’ life. I explore this concept further in my book Revival Starts Here. Read it to learn more about the importance of seeking solitude to spend time alone with God. Let’s look at four principles about how Jesus practiced solitude in Mark 1:35.
1. Solitude was intentional for Jesus.Seeking solitude was an intentional practice in the life of Jesus. It was purposeful. He didn’t stumble into it. He didn’t just happen to find it amidst the madness of a noisy world. Richard Foster also said, “There was a time, not so very long ago, when solitude and silence were available to people by the normal conditions of everyday life. Not any longer!” Mark 1:35 describes how Jesus planned for solitude, protected it, and certainly fought for it. Jesus knew time alone with his Father was non-negotiable and would only happen if he was intentional. In the same way, we don’t stumble into solitude. We must intentionally seek time alone with our Father. Sydney and I often tell our boys that unless we have made ample room for time alone with Jesus on our calendar, then we will most likely miss the abundant blessings of Jesus in our lives. Intentional solitude is something we seek to prioritize daily in the mornings, weekly in our family Sabbath, and seasonally in our prayer retreats. And like any good thing, the more we come to taste and see the goodness of God in our times of solitude, the more eager we become to protect these times that are set apart for him.
2. Solitude was consistent for Jesus.But intentionality is not the only characteristic that marked Jesus’ way of solitude. As you explore Jesus’ earthly ministry as recorded in the Gospels, you might notice that solitude was not only intentional for Jesus, but it was also consistent. Luke 5:16 describes how “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places” to pray. Time alone with God was not an occasional practice for Jesus; rather, it was the bedrock of his earthly life and ministry. For example, Jesus prioritized solitude in the mornings, at the beginning of his ministry after his baptism, before key decisions, and all throughout the night on many occasions. You might recall that Jesus prioritized solitude just hours before the soldiers arrested him. As Jesus faced the unthinkable reality of the cross, he needed a fresh encounter with his Father that could only be found in the still, dark, quiet moment of solitude in the garden. Jesus didn’t live off yesterday’s revelation; instead, he feasted on the fresh bread only available to those who consistently seek the Father in the secret place. In the same way, God didn’t design us to thrive on an occasional encounter with Jesus. God didn’t intend for us to live on the sustenance of yesterday’s manna. No, God made our souls to feast on the Bread of Life as we seek him intentionally and consistently.
3. Solitude was a physical reality for Jesus.But there is another vital component to Jesus’ way of solitude. For Jesus, solitude was not just intentional or consistent. It was also physical. Mark 1:35 says Jesus arose early in the morning, left Peter’s house, and prayed. Could Jesus have connected with his Father at Peter’s house while everyone was still sleeping? I’m sure he could have. Could he have enjoyed a few minutes reflecting on the Scriptures before his friends woke up? Absolutely. But Jesus knew he wouldn’t find what his Father had in store for him in small doses of convenient piety. I imagine Jesus woke up early, after a long night of healing the sick, and took one look around that small house with his sleeping friends sprawled across the floor and furniture. He knew he needed more time and space than his rowdy friends would know how to give him, so he woke early and quietly, and made his way out to a solitary place.
Jesus knew solitude was not just a state of mind but a physical reality, so he withdrew.
He removed himself from the noise to hear his Father’s voice. In a similar way, I believe Jesus invites us to meet him not just intentionally or consistently but also physically. Maybe it is a special chair in the corner of your living room each day before your roommates begin their morning routines. Or perhaps it is your front porch after dinner each evening as your husband bathes the kids. It might be the front seat of your car during your lunch break at work. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it will be physical. Like Jesus, solitude will often require us withdrawing from the noise of our lives to hear the voice of God afresh.
4. Solitude was focused for Jesus.Finally, Jesus’ rhythm of solitude was focused. Look again at the very end of Mark 1:35: “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Jesus knew solitude was not simply about getting away to find a little peace and quiet. It was a time of solitary, focused prayer. Jesus understood that he desperately needed time alone with his Father to flourish and fulfill his divine destiny. In the same way, we need intentional, consistent, physical, and focused times of solitude if we want to flourish and fulfill God’s purposes in our lives.
In our highly distracted lives, time alone with God is the North Star that realigns our drifting hearts.
I believe there is no better way to ruin a once healthy relationship than by allowing your life to become dominated by the unholy trinity of activity, busyness, and noise. If you want to ruin your marriage, then allow your spouse’s heart to get lost in the shuffle of a busy, noisy life. If you want to ruin intimacy with your kids, allow them to be involved in too many activities so you have no space to hear their hearts anymore. And if you want to wreck your relationship with God, cram every second of every day with activity, busyness, and noise. Our culture is so accustomed to activity, busyness, and noise that it can be difficult to focus on God even when we make space to be alone with him. Don’t be discouraged. Keep pressing in. When the tyranny of your to-do-list threatens the sanctity of the time you have set aside for God, take a deep breath, give the cares of your day to Jesus, and ask him to draw your heart back to the things that are of most importance to him. When the kids wake up thirty minutes earlier than planned, and your time alone with God seems lost, take heart. Jesus experienced similar interruptions as well, and he will use these moments not only to bless you but also to leave spiritual fingerprints in the hearts of your children. When your time alone with God seems dry, uninspiring, and quiet, don’t give up. We often forge the best friendships in the ordinary moments of faithful pursuit. I promise it will be worth it.
Will You Find Solitude?How are you doing when it comes to making time for God? What adjustments do you need to make in your life to find God in the secret place? What steps do you need to take to cultivate a life with God that is intentional, consistent, physical, and focused? Start small, stick with it, and watch what God will do! Jesus is waiting for you.
Read Dave Clayton’s Revival Starts Here to learn more about how you can combine solitude with fasting and prayer to help in your spiritual formation journey. This post was adapted from an audio transcript of a sermon on Mark 1:35 by Dave Clayton. Used with permission.