I spent a three-day study leave at a Trappist monastery called the New Melleray Abbey in the rolling Iowa farmland south of Dubuque. There was no program to follow. It was a private retreat. The monks are cloistered, which means that they have limited contact with the outside world, so I had few conversations with them.
My days were spent reading, walking, and praying, eating the three meals a day (usually alone at my table), and attending some of the seven “offices” or chapel services that were held each day. It was a time of solitude.
Of course, living like that isn’t normal; for the monks it is, but not for most of us. Most of us live busy lives around others. Sure, some have a lot of solitude – especially if older, in poorer health, and maybe living alone – and often don’t like it. Whichever end of the spectrum we’re on – too little solitude or too much – it’s good to reflect on the value of solitude.
When I spent those three days at the monastery I didn’t have my usual daily routine, habits, responsibilities, and distractions to lean on. It was all removed. I wasn’t being, in an active sense, a husband, father, son, friend, neighbor, or Pastor Dave. Henri Nouwen wrote that “in solitude I get rid of my scaffolding.” Scaffolding is what we use to prop ourselves up. Without the scaffolding of our normal activities, even for a few minutes, we can experience having only God to prop us up — and that’s very good. We end up being healthier, stronger, more beneficial people when we spend regular times being alone with God.
Get alone and be with God! When alone don’t see yourself being alone, but being with God!
“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.” (Mark 1:35)