Larry Warner Formation and Direction Ministries faculty

Handout, 2002

Solitude and Silence

Two of the most significant and powerful of the spiritual disciplines are solitude and silence. Although they can be practiced separately, the magnitude of their power is only fully experienced as they are fused together as a unit. 

“One of the great obstacles to extended solitude is that frequently it may feel like a waste of time.” John Ortberg (From The Life You’ve Always Wanted)

The Bible encourages us to embrace solitude and silence:

  • Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”
  • Isaiah 30:15 “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.”
  • Exodus 14:14 “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Jesus’ example

  • “Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray.” Mark 6:45-46
  • “At daybreak, Jesus went out to a solitary place.” Luke 4:42
  • “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.” Luke 6:12

Observations by others

Henri Nouwen writes that “without solitude it is virtually impossible to live a spiritual life.” (From Bringing Solitude into our Lives)

Dallas Willard writes, “Of all the disciplines of abstinence, solitude is generally the most fundamental in the beginning of the spiritual life and must be returned to again and again as that life develops.” (From The Spirit of the Disciplines)

Solitude frees us from preoccupation with the world and ourselves. Solitude helps us to escape the networks of domination and manipulation that can easily entangle us and cause us to lose our way. Solitude helps us to discover and come to grips with who we are and what there is within us that hinders us from loving God and others as Christ teaches. Solitude helps us to listen and to see with greater clarity what needs to be released and received in our lives as we grow into Christlikeness. Solitude brings a keener awareness of God and of ourselves. 

“Solitude and inner silence provide the most promising environment for hearing the still small voice.” Marjorie J. Thompson (From Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life)

“You will never find interior solitude unless you make some conscious effort to deliver yourself from the desires and the cares and the attachments of an existence in time and in the world.” Thomas Merton (From New Seeds of Contemplation)

“Silence goes beyond solitude, and without it solitude has little effect.” Dallas Willard (From The Spirit of the Disciplines)

Henri Nouwen observes that “Silence is the way to make solitude a reality.” (From The Way of the Heart)

“Silence and solitude do go hand in hand, usually. Just as silence is vital to make solitude real, so is solitude needed to make the discipline of silence complete. Very few of us can be silent in the presence of others.” Dallas Willard (From The Spirit of the Disciplines)

“Silence and solitude together form a single path of quiet aloneness before God. They provide the two sides of the coin of undistracted devotion. Though we can practice them separately, when we employ them together, they place us before God in a special way. We are open, receptive and vulnerable to the Lord. All the outer props are removed. In the quiet of retreat, with all the competing voices stilled, we learn to hear the gentle whisper of God’s Spirit.” Howard Baker 

Making solitude and silence a part of our lives

Anyone can walk the path of silence and solitude. As Henri Nouwen has said, “Though we want to make all our time, time for God, we will never succeed if we do not reserve a minute, an hour, a morning, a day, a week, a month, or whatever period of time for God and Him alone”. (From Reaching Out)

We start by setting aside a few moments to intentionally spend in quiet with our Lord. Claim the little solitudes that already exist in your day.

God desires to communicate His love, grace, and peace to us, but sometimes we move too fast to receive them. In silence and solitude we extend the empty hands of faith to receive their gifts from him.