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“Pain or trials are God-ordained ways to expose self-deception. They are an integral part of the Christian life and the means by which self-deception is thwarted and self-knowledge gained. Trials force us to face reality without avoiding it through diversion” ~ Joseph Pak[1]

“Therefore, children of God, seek the face of your Father in secret. Take some time occasionally and seek out lonely places in order that there you might wrestle, pray, weep, call for, and wait upon the comforts of the Lord . . . If you are singularly desirous, motivated by love, to follow Jesus in this, be assured that He will meet you in love and sweeten your efforts” ~ Wilhemus á Brakel (1635–1711)[2]


True story: Feeling unrested and bedraggled by life, a man set out on a two week solitary journey through the Highlands of Wales. His goal was to get away from everything and experience silence for the first time ever—or at least the first time in a long time. In his mind’s eye he pictured himself sauntering through nature, basking in the sun, pirouetting around rocks, enlivened by his aloneness. But in a few short days the silence sounded a troubling chord. A chorus of voices began to shout at him: You are alone.

He felt that something—Someone—was chasing him. In reality, solitude and silence forced him to face himself. He saw like never before how he avoided close relationships for fear of other people. His eyes moistened as images flickered movie-like in his mind depicting him sabotaging relationships for selfish reasons, while placing blame on other people. He finally saw that his inner brokenness and damaged spirit were the cause of his fractured relationships, not the other people. In the palpable darkness of the night, he scrutinized his soul, detecting for the first time that his uneasiness around people who didn’t understand his importance was anchored in his pride. Most of all, solitude allowed him to spot how his life of manufactured distraction kept this out of sight.

“It was as if I met myself for the first time,” he wondered aloud. “I felt I returned from that two weeks with a soul mate. Or maybe I just returned with a soul.” He emerged from his expedition giving hearty assent to the Socratic dictum, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

While not identified as a means of grace in either the Bible or church history, solitude enables believers to avail themselves to one of the means of grace—namely, prayer. Similar to the man in the story above, I, too, have found that solitude is necessary for spiritual growth.

Imagine going off by yourself totally alone to pray. Don’t bring your phone, don’t bring any other book except the Bible. For several minutes simply spend time reading the Psalms—that portion of Scripture filled with “expressions and breathings of devout and holy affections.”[3]

As someone who perpetually seeks to justify his existence through accomplishments, aloneness and stillness scare me. Frankly, I don’t know myself apart from my work. My sense of self is tied to my abilities.

Solitude and stillness force me to face myself.

Solitude and stillness force me to stare my dispensability in the face.

Solitude and stillness remind me that I have a soul.

In the sanctuary of silence all the props I use to justify my existence are thrown out.

Maybe that’s why I avoid it. Maybe that’s why you avoid it. Maybe that’s why we avoid it.


[1] Joseph Pak, “Self-Deception in Theology,” Themelios 43.3 (2018): 415.

[2] Wilhelmus á Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, trans. Bartel Elshout, ed. Joel R. Beeke (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 2017), 4:22.

[3] Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 2, ed. John E. Smith (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009), 108.