1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
“It is probably difficult, if not impossible, to move from loneliness to solitude without any form of withdrawal from a distracting world, and therefore it is understandable that those who seriously try to develop their spiritual life are attracted to places and situations where they can be alone, sometimes for a limited period of time, sometimes more or less permanently. But the solitude that really counts is the solitude of the heart; it is an inner quality or attitude that does not depend on physical isolation.”
I am an introverted person by nature. It’s hard to see that on Sunday mornings because I’m really out there for the whole world to see. I’m in front of people speaking and singing as if it’s completely natural for me. But here’s the inconvenient truth for me: sometimes we have to do things that make us uncomfortable and sap us of our inner strength. It’s the nature of my profession to push myself outward in order to communicate the Gospel. God has called me and empowered me to do just that. I draw strength (heavily) from the Lord in those times where I must be extroverted. By Sunday afternoon I’m ready to withdraw and hide from the world for awhile. I even organize my life so that those extroverted times can come in short bursts, allowing me time to recover in between.
Perhaps this is why I enjoy reading the writings of those who are contemplative by nature. I can even admit that there have been times (and more are sure to come) when I feel as if the monastic life is where I’d rather be. Yet that is not how the Lord made me nor is that the life He has called me to (my wife would probably object). Instead I must find a balance between extroversion and introversion. I cannot allow myself to spend too much time inside myself any more than I can allow myself to spend too much time pushing outward. The degree to which I balance both ends of this spectrum is entirely dependent upon my needs and how God wants to use me. Truthfully, everyone has to find their own balance and there isn’t anyone out there who can live entirely outside of themselves. Introspection and solitude is needed by all.
Nouwen’s quote reached a chord with me and I felt the need to talk about this issue for a few moments. In fact, a lot of what he says about solitude is based on the concept in this statement. Here it is in a nutshell: building a life of solitude means we can experience and operate out of that solitude even in the midst of the hustle and bustle of this busy world. This is the goal of solitude. What we accomplish in our inner self and in our intimate relationship with God can become the basis of how we act and react in the world outside of us.
All this is boiling down to taking the time to listen for the voice of God and allowing it to define who we are and what we do. We live, work and play rooted in solitude. It is in our moments of deep intimacy with God through prayer and introspection that we find and define who we are and what God desires to do with our lives.
It takes training, desire, and devotion to confront that which is deepest inside of us so that we can not only turn our loneliness into solitude but also carve out an inner peace where we can listen for the very voice of God whether we are alone or surrounded by a relationship-filled world.
I don’t know if I have it in me but I will endeavor to take it one day at a time.