“You get a lot of time by yourself with Jesus,” my friend said, speaking about his semester abroad. “And you’d be surprised at how much you learn about him and yourself from that.”
I was humbled. He had not only touched on the difficulty of transition to a new place, something we hate to admit in a world of perfectly posed travel pictures plastered all over our newsfeeds, but he also acknowledged that difficulty as a blessing. A year later, when I made my own move to another country, I kept hearing his words in my mind when I faced times of solitude.
Some Helpful Tips for Time in Solitude
At some time, we all find ourselves alone with God, whether or not we seek it out intentionally (although I hope you do!). The thought of that time can be idyllic to some and frightening to others. Regardless of our expectations, it is rarely what we anticipate it will be. Here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me to spend time in solitude well.
Start it off right.
What happens during your time alone with God is not a test of your spirituality. You don’t need to go into it with a goal, a checklist, or a perfectly clean slate. In fact, don’t start with yourself—instead, ask God to make your time fruitful. If there are things weighing on you, tell him, and ask him to lead you through them. Pray that he would help you pray, listen, and understand.
Solitude with the Lord is not something we can do by our own willpower. My mind is always more focused and peaceful when I ask God to make it so.
Set aside time, then set time aside.
There are seasons of life when we spend more of our time alone. That does not always equate to effortless seclusion with God, though. In those times, my thoughts tend to wander and circle throughout the day, and it can be difficult to focus them. When I sit down to be with God, I find myself turning my thoughts back to me and ignoring his presence. Two practices in particular have helped me in those situations.
The first is the practice of inviting God into the musing of my every day. He is there in each moment, not just the ones we set aside for him. By praying at the beginning of the day for God to come with me through the places that I am going and the thoughts that I have, I become aware of him, and can share those thoughts and experiences with him as I would with a friend walking beside me.
The second is the same practice I use when life is busy and solitude is harder to find: choosing a length of time to sit in solitude, and then using a timer. Taking intentional time to sit with God, with no distractions, is difficult to do in a schedule-based culture. Using a timer might sound forced, but it actually frees me from worrying about the amount of time I’m spending. How much time do you have? Five minutes? 15? 50? Set a timer, and then set it aside and don’t look at it. You won’t need to worry about being late to your next thing or not spending the time you planned; you are freed from your agenda to spend this time with God. The rest will wait.
But what do I do in solitude?
There’s not a single answer to this question. It differs based on person and circumstances. Some things that I’ve found helpful are:
Asking God to still my thoughts, and then listening for what he might have to say to me
Memorizing and meditating on a piece of Scripture
Reading the Psalms as prayers
Reading a large chunk of Scripture as a whole story
Praying for friends, family, or world issues
These are just ideas. The point of being alone with God is just that: to be with God alone. One friend of mine describes it as “wasting time with Jesus.” There does not need to be a to-do list or a schedule. You do not need to sit cross-legged on a mat with your hands upturned. You could be on a walk through your neighborhood or lying on the beach or anywhere in between.
Out of the Solitude but Still in God’s Presence
Just as you prayed at the beginning of your time, be sure, too, to pray at the end. Thank God for the time together. Invite him into the rest of your day as you leave a dedicated time of solitude—because God’s not going anywhere. Don’t feel guilty if you aren’t walking away with some crystal-clear revelation, or if you aren’t feeling productive. The fruit of abiding with Christ is one that does not always grow quickly, but it does grow. And it is worth it.