Wholeness, emotional and spiritual, seems to be a scarce commodity in these times. Life is lived in the midst of forces that pull one off center; forces that seem to delight in knocking us off balance simply to watch us tumble. How to remain whole in the midst of these forces is a question that churns more and more frequently – ironic since such questions tend to multiply the difficulty. What are we to do, particularly for the heart that is on a quest for a life lived more deeply, a life that is more satisfying?
There is no easy answer, not a complete one anyway. Perhaps a good place to begin, a first step is to pay attention to the Jesus of the Gospels – the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. In each Gospel the careful reader notices the frequency of Jesus withdrawing from the crowds, from the disciples for the nourishing properties of solitude. This is not a time for rest though rest is enjoyed in the practice of solitude. Neither is solitude a time to unwind or decompress though both of these are certainly received in abundant measure and deeply appreciated. No, solitude, properly understood, is the withdrawal from others for replenishment; replenishment of physical, emotional and spiritual energy. Solitude is receiving rather than giving. It is not loneliness. Loneliness is inner emptiness, writes Richard Foster. Solitude is inner fulfillment.
Solitude is a difficult practice to learn in a culture that places such a high premium upon productivity. People tend to be valued for what they can give, not for what they receive. Solitude is receiving. Yet, solitude may be pursued so that a life that is replenished, a life that is filled once again may give. There is an alternating rhythm, is there not, between two apparent extremes, between engagement with the world and withdrawal from the same world. Jesus found a balance of the two. A careful eye and a spirit that is attentive to Jesus’ life – both in the study of scripture and prayer – finds that the Spirit of God infuses the heart and mind with the same balance.
Certainly a goal of solitude may be to receive something or learn something to carry back into the world, a world that constantly demands something from us. There is nothing wrong with this goal. It is, however, insufficient for a follower of Jesus. There is more to solitude than being supplied for continued contribution. Jesus was always clear and never wavered on this one point – He came into the world that those who trust in Him may have life, even life abundantly. What Jesus means by this is that He desires that we are whole, body, mind and spirit. Not whole so that we can then be useful and give. That is to reduce God’s economy to a cost and benefit analysis. No, God’s desire for us is greater than that. God desires wholeness for us simply for wholeness sake. Solitude supplies wholeness. It is there we find joy – and our joy is God’s joy.