Solitude: Finding your own space and time

(The third of a three-part posting about seeking times and places of solitude in the midst of our busy lives)

“I should do myself a favor and memorize this line: To reach for God is to reach God….I should trust that God is present to me anytime I stretch out my feeble little spiritual arms.” -Fr. Mark Thibodeaux, SJ (from “Armchair Mystic”)

Meeting Myself on the Path, Steve Givens

“To reach for God is to reach God.” Those are words of hope and optimism. For when it comes to prayer, we can sometimes think, “I just don’t know where to begin,” or perhaps, “What if I’m doing this wrong?” Fr. Thibodeaux’s quote is a good reminder that we can’t go wrong, if we only just reach out. God will see our effort and draw us the rest of the way to his presence.

So finding solitude in the midst of our busy lives is, first and foremost, always an intentional activity. We must choose to go away to a place in the country, to a retreat house, to a to a chapel, to a walking trail. Or we must choose to create a space of sacred solitude within our everyday lives, which is where we find ourselves most of the time. Those are the places that I write about today.

I have my places of solitude. In the colder months, my place of solitude is my armchair beside the fireplace in the living room, a candle burning beside me to remind me (and others in the house) that this is a sacred time and place. In the warmer months (can’t wait!) I make my way outside to the back deck, which looks out over a small stand of woods between my house and the ones across the way. It’s still suburbia, but I’ve made the space holy by entering it with the mindset of getting away and opening myself to God. Perhaps a hermitage in the middle of the Kentucky woods or a walk on the beach would be better, but we need to find spaces that are close by and available to us all year ‘round.

And as I have written before, I have nearby places where I walk and discover silence and solitude, entering the cover of the trees as if it was the roof over a hidden chapel. Walking this winding path through the woods allows me to see myself and the world in a slightly different light each time I walk it. Same path, different light.

As our desire for solitude and a silent place to pray grows in us, we will find that we can find these places all around us, if we but only look. I have found it by simply choosing to drive to work with the radio off. I have found it on a business trip when I choose to embrace the quiet of the hotel room instead of turning on the television.

Back in the days when I was receiving chemotherapy, I even found solitude in the middle of the transfusion room. There I discovered that solitude is as much a state of mind as it is a place and time. We make solitude when we remove ourselves from the noise of the world and place ourselves ever so gently in the arms of God.

A Woman in Her Space, Lamma Island, Steve Givens

Like any good blogger, I need to include a “top ten list” in my entries from time to time. (Or else they might take away my blogger’s license…)  So here it is, ten ideas to take home with you…ten ways to begin to create and use your own “lonely space” to quiet the world, still your soul, and connect with the living God who is available to us all if we just take the time to listen.

1. Know that solitude is essential for your overall health and for your relationship with God. It’s not a luxury and not an “add on” thing to your already busy life.  You need and deserve it.

2. See solitude, like your relationship with God, as central to your life, a fountain from which everything else flows. We become better friends, better partners, better writers, better friends, when we take the time to enter into solitude and make ourselves more spiritually healthy.

3. Make and take the time for solitude. You will never “find” the time if you don’t.

4. Find a place or places where you can be silent and alone.  You can’t reinvent the wheel every time you want to go be alone. Create your own space and ritual.

5. Separate your need for solitude (and communion with God) from the idea of being lonely or alone. This is prayer.

6. Know that solitude is not just for lonely or introverted people. Nor is it for the overly pious or for those who already seem to have their lives all together. It is for all of us. It is what healthy people do who want to know themselves better and strengthen their relationship with God.

7. Disconnect from the electronic world. Turn off the phone, iPad, iPod, whatever.

8. Don’t worry about “accomplishing” something during your times of solitude.

9. Don’t worry about “experiencing God” during times of solitude. You might accomplish something or experience God, but don’t make your time of prayer all about getting the answers to questions or having a mystical experience because you may become dismayed when things don’t happen. Just be with God.

10. Remember that the goal of solitude is presence – being authentically present to ourselves and to God. Nothing else matters or is required.

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