The Gift of the Sea: A Lesson in Solitude

The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone.  How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says, I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect, when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice!  Actually, there are among the most important times in one’s life—when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone.”  The Gift of the Sea, p.44

The beach invites us to re-think our lives. Such open spaces, unobstructed vistas and the ebb and tide of the waves make it possible to think about the trajectory of one’s life and if one likes the way they are headed. This is happening to me during our pilgrimage at the beach. Today, in reading The Gift of the Sea again, deep feelings surfaced within me.

Solitude is something I was late in understanding in my life and work. After completing an under-graduate degree, three year graduate degree and work on my doctorate–I now realize that no teacher, preacher, mentor or friend introduced me to solitude until solitude came and found me in my broken estate.  Perhaps no one might really embrace solitude until they have to or might die. There, I realized that people could not energize my heart nor give water to my soul—only solitude could. What work could a preventative lesson in solitude offer leaders? This is what fuels my soul now to keep going at my work in Potter’s Inn.

Now I wonder why in all of my attempts to learn the things of God, to read the books about God and to listen to a thousand speakers talk to be for God was I not introduced to the need—no, the necessity of solitude. Some of us are too busy. Some of us live too much in our heads and some of us have stripped all the gears of our soul so that there is no slowing down at all. (In Chapter 3 of The Jesus Life, I show how Jesus lived his life in a rhythm of solitude, then engagement in his work).

In all of our efforts to try to help people, one great injustice we are doing is not helping people understand the power of solitude. We have developed great programs to teach English as a second language; programs to dig wells, programs to do most everything except teach people the life giving way of Jesus, himself when he embraced solitude as a normal way to refuel is own soul and renew his heart’s purpose. We love our music and the tiny gadgets that provide the music, but what of the quiet? What of the Great Silence that men and women of old practiced every night—every night throughout their lives? But where has the voice been to speak to us about something as native to the soul as being quiet and knowing God. Even the Psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10). When then, is the church so quiet on teaching on such a vital subject as solitude?

Something so vital, so necessary and so needed should not have to wait until we are broken, piled up in a heaping mess and desperate to stumble upon something so simple as solitude? It’s counter-intuitive isn’t it?  That through silence we hear what we cannot hear in any other way.

In a compelling chapter that I read this morning from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, The Gift of the Sea, (Chapter 3), I feel better equipped to answer the pleas of the woman in Baltimore and the man in Denver who complains, “My life is so full, how then can you expect me to do this—to practice quiet?”  I will now say, “It is not another additional thing you need to do in your life. It is THE essential thing we have to do to experience a sense of abundance in our life rather than feeling so empty, so depleted, so tired and worn out and calling that false life—the abundant life.