I tried to enter complete solitude.
It was a Saturday morning, and I had just finished a cup of coffee—my third, I think. I walked out of my favorite coffee shop in Charlotte, N.C., and climbed up the stairs to the top floor of a parking garage.
Sitting on a cement block in the parking lot, I looked out over the shopping complex, then up at the sky. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes…then opened them…then closed them again. My phone was nowhere near. I didn’t listen to music. The book I was reading remained in my backpack. I simply sat, as the engine in my brain stopped and began to cool.
I sat there, head tilted back, one with the breeze, grinning slightly—quite proud of myself I could enter into a lonely place and not find it terrifying. I sat there in the stillness.
Six and a half minutes later, I began to feel restless. My hands started twitching (probably from the caffeine). My forehead started sweating. The engine once again revved up. Before I knew it, I was throwing my backpack over my shoulder and making my way back down the stairs of the garage, hurriedly walking back to my apartment to watch College GameDay.
I confess that I do not know what all of this means—all I know is that I made it six and a half minutes.
I think I fear the silence, though I do not know why. I like noise, I guess. Chaos is this paradoxical battleground where I feel both content and stressed—much like writing, I suppose, where I feel God’s presence more than ever but also the evil one’s discouragement and lies. I long for some form of consistency, but judging by my fear of solitude, I guess I’d just rather be distracted.
Thomas Merton once said, “Who am I? I am one loved by Christ.” Author Brennan Manning relates Merton’s quote to solitude in his book Abba’s Child: “This is the foundation of the true self (one loved by Christ). The indispensable condition for developing and maintaining the awareness of our belovedness is time alone with God. In solitude we tune out the nay-saying whispers of our worthlessness and sink down into the mystery of our true self.”
New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings talked about this as well when I interviewed him at the end of September for a story in our first issue of the fall—the importance of solitude and the examination of oneself. I found it especially interesting coming from him, a man in the limelight, whose performance is constantly being dissected, who has so many people pulling at him. If anyone would be too busy or stressed for solitude, I figured, it would be him. And yet, he tries to find time every day to slow down and get lost in something bigger than himself.
“To get lost in thought is to be separate from the world for a minute,” he says. “That’s where my filter continues to grow and I process the winds in life that are blown at me. I get to know myself more. I grow as a man, I grow as a leader, and I grow as a follower—when I am forced to express the way I feel.”
Maybe I fear solitude because I don’t always like who I am. Most of us, I’d guess, would fit this category. Manning says that, “one of the most shocking contradictions in the American church is the intense dislike many disciples of Jesus have for themselves.”
I probably also fear it because I think there are far more important things for me to do. Places to be. People to see. Stories, columns and projects to complete. What I’ve recently learned in my own life, however, is that nothing is more important in this lifetime than awakening to my truest self and my purpose of living, what theologian Henri Nouwen calls, “The Life of the Beloved.” This is why Nouwen will say that the spiritual life primarily consists of simply saying yes more and more to what is already true of us—that we are loved by God. This, he would argue, is most quickly understood in solitude, when the static of our lives fades and we listen to the whisper of the Almighty.
“I get…in tune with my inner me,” Jennings continues. “I allow myself to rest upon God and allow my thinking to find that ultimate thought.”
Maybe the “ultimate thought” comes from slowing down and listening to the whisper within, the One who calls us His beloved children.
I long to hear it more.