Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Value of Solitude

(heads up since this post has religious references)

My colleague, Dan, recently posted his reflections on a conference we attended ("The Value of a Timeout") which prompted me to appraise my own experience. The strongest personal takeaway from Time Out for me was Dr. Ken Boa’s point on intimacy versus activity — that believers need time for solitude and engagement with Christ and how we should be cautious about blurring the lines between “spiritual activity” and intimacy with Christ.

This was a timely presentation for me since for a couple weeks I’ve been doing a personal inventory of my professional and personal commitments. Many energetic people, such as myself, find it can be difficult to say “no.” Whether it’s coaching your child’s sports team, committing to nonprofit causes, or giving time to people in need, it’s hard to decline opportunities, especially if you’re both energetic and extroverted.

I remember a discussion I had with my father during college as if it was were yesterday. Since high school, our home was a gathering place for many weekends because my parents were generous — and deep sleepers (I kept telling myself this). It was during summer break, and I had friends over at our home for three consecutive evenings. Each evening it was ten to twenty friends who came to eat BBQ, watch sports, play cards, or just hang out. The third evening, after everyone left, my father asked me to sit down and have a talk.

“Bernard, when I was young, I was like you. I had so many people over and our family treated them well; but after so many years I realized that I lost time with myself. It was time that could have gone to my studies or other things to improve my mind. Some of these people appreciated our generosity but many quickly forgot.”

“Sure, Dad, but you turned out well,” I said, and I was thinking, Well I am your son, so it sounds like I’m a lot like you during your youth.

“That’s not my point,” he replied. “You need your own time or everyone will pass you by. People won’t remember these evenings; but it will be about who you are and what you’ve accomplished.”

I’d like to believe that I took at least half of my father’s advice to heart. I have to admit it did not sink in for years because I was so extroverted when I was in college and enjoyed meeting new people and hanging out with my friends endlessly.

After college, my first job was working for the Governor of Illinois in Springfield. I thought Springfield, a town of 100,000 people, was terribly isolated. I believed God was causing me to live in forced solitude, since he knew my nature. It was in Springfield that I began my struggle to seek time to myself. I’m not talking about “quiet time,” but substantial times of solitude and reflection.

I found that Jesus knew how to balance his hectic schedule with such grace and rhythm:

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, — Matthew 14:22-23

It’s interesting to note that after feeding five thousand here (or healing many in Luke 4), Jesus sought out solitude and prayer. Maybe it was a way to recharge and reflect upon his work while giving glory to God. Whatever the reasons, this time alone was intentional. I’m convinced it is important for us to learn from his example.

In our modern life of busyness, I assume it’s difficult, even for introverts to set aside time for solitude. Life has become a blur for too many of us. People are always running behind and playing catch up. Extroverts have coffee meetings and introverts have errands to do. In doing my personal inventory I’ve realized I have to start cutting things out and seek more solitude or the quality of my work, relationships, family life, and love for God would diminish. This hasn’t been an easy task; it’s a work in progress that I hope to complete in November.

But it has to be done, doesn’t it… Eventually, people like us have to stop and set aside time for solitude, or life really will pass us by.

Originally posted at InsideWork.

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