This week I’m teaching on rest and renewal at the Acts 29 national conference in Dallas. For years I have been urging the spiritual leaders around me to observe regular times of solitude, silence, and reflection. Ideally I try to take a day of solitude every 6-8 weeks.
Those familiar with the weight and burden of leadership usually agree with the principle of solitude, but often ask the practical question: what do you actually do on a day of solitude? Here’s my answer.
- Look Inward. I spend a good portion of the day taking stock of my own heart. How am I feeling? What’s the state of my soul? What am I thinking about, wondering about, burdened about? Is there sin in my heart that needs to be confessed? Are there unseen ‘stressors’ that come to the surface when I slow down long enough to listen? I talk about these things with God in prayer. Then I usually write about them. I don’t journal regularly – but I do journal every time I take a day of solitude.
- Look Upward. I spend time worshipping God. This takes many forms: singing, praying, reading Scripture, listening to the Spirit’s prompting, enjoying Him. When the weather is nice, I often worship just by sitting outside and enjoying the created world. It’s amazing how loudly creation worships God – birds, wind, water – when you take time to listen.
- Look Backward. I look back over past journals and notes. How has God been at work in my life? What was I concerned about a year ago, two years ago, five years ago? What evidences of His grace do I see? What progress have I made? What progress haven’t I made? Have I acted appropriately on areas of past discernment?
- Look Forward. I spend some time thinking about my current and future priorities. What do I need to be doing? How do I sense God leading? How could I be better investing my God-given energies? Where do I need to push forward? Where do I need to wait on God?
In addition to what to do on a day of solitude here are helpful hints about how to take a day of solitude:
- Plan Ahead. Don’t tell me you don’t have time. You DO. You just have to plan for it. Either you control your calendar, or it controls you. Stop living in the tyranny of the urgent and use your calendar to set boundaries: “I’m sorry, I can’t meet with you on that day, I’m already booked.” The fact that you’re “booked” with an appointment with the Holy Spirit shouldn’t give you pause at all… after all, he is a person.
- Leave Early. Get up early and get out of the house and out of the city before everyone else does. An early start helps you make the most of the day.
- No Distractions. Rigorously ensure silence and contemplation. Cell phone off. Email closed. Wi-fi disabled. Setting free of distractions. Someplace away from the patterns of your everyday life, where silence is possible and solitude is valued. Those places are becoming fewer and fewer – but they exist. Seek and you shall find. My favorite spots: a friend’s lakehouse, a Benedictine monastery, and a Christian camp.
- Be Patient. Solitude is a spiritual discipline – which means that it’s a habit formed over time. The first few times you set aside a day for this purpose, you may experience nothing but static and distraction. Don’t give up.
**One Final Note: Young pastors – especially those in missional churches – are usually good at disciplines of engagement: study, preaching, evangelism, mercy, hospitality. But they’re notoriously bad at disciplines of abstinence: solitude, silence, fasting, prayer.
If you want to be a healthy leader, you need to rigorously protect your schedule to allow for regular times of solitude.