In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed. Mark 1:35
My family is comprised of four extroverts and one introvert. That means that after being out in public, our introvert needs to come home, find a quiet space, and recharge. She has repeatedly explained to me that she is not being antisocial or rude (apparently I’m a slow learner); this is simply how she regains energy. As an extrovert, I gain energy by being around people. Quiet spaces aren’t really my thing, except when I’m tired.
When it comes to the spiritual discipline of solitude, I find that as an extrovert, I have my work cut out for me. Donald Whitney defines solitude as “the spiritual discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” Henri Nowen simply says, “Solitude is being with God and God alone.” Embracing solitude for me is like trying to write left-handed; it feels awkward and unnatural. But as any introvert can tell you, solitude is essential for our walk with God.
“Be still and know that I am God” says the Psalmist. In the gospels, Jesus models a grace-filled rhythm of engagement with people and of the stillness of solitude. Jesus is frequently interacting with all sorts of people throughout his days of ministry. Yet he also makes time to withdraw, pray, and be in solitude with God.
For extroverts, who gain energy from and are most comfortable in social situations, there is a temptation to avoid solitude at all costs. Henri Nouwen describes why this is not a good idea:
In solitude, I get rid of my scaffolding: no friends to talk with, no telephone calls to make, no meetings to attend, no music to entertain, no books to distract—just me—naked, vulnerable, weak, sinful, deprived, broken—nothing. It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions…
Solitude is the one place in which I cannot avoid facing God as I am, with all my human shortcomings and sinful failings. Yet solitude is also the place where, as Jesus learned, we hear the voice of God telling us “You are my beloved child.” In solitude, we find the antidote to the world’s constant demands to “Prove you are worthy. Prove you are smart. Prove you are talented. Prove you are cool.” In solitude, we don’t have to pretend we are anything other than who we truly are. In solitude, we discover we are more than the sum total of our earthly successes and failures. We stand before God as “the beloved.”
Before we can healthily engage in community, before we can go and serve others well through ministry, solitude roots us in our core identity. We belong to God as “the beloved.” And whether you’re an introvert, extrovert, or ambivert, that’s good news!
Love in Christ,
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