A Reflection for July 2017 by Richard Parrish


“But he [Jesus] would withdraw to deserted places and pray.” – Luke 5:16 (NRSV) [1]



Long before social media, Jesus understood the importance of solitude.


It comes as no surprise to me that there is a growing trend for people to become intentional in welcoming solitude. The noise of our world is loud and clamoring; filling hearts with fear and giving no space for deep listening that encourages rest, re-orientation, freedom, and creativity.


Media sources bombard us 24/7 with news of injustice, violence, and divisiveness. Turning off the television doesn’t stop the clamor. Checking in on Facebook – to see what our family and friends are up to – only submerges us in a constant stream of uncivil discord.


Then, there’s Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest: and the list goes on. All of these social media applications are intended to connect us instantly; notifying us of everything that’s happening all around us.


Even a quick glance at my social media apps reveals the latest news, provides cute animal videos for me to watch, and can even show me what my friends are having for dinner. Honestly, I’m not sure how I survived the past without the means to have instant connectivity!


While I’m not a critic of social media or email, I am aware of how addictive it can be. I recently returned from a spiritual pilgrimage. While visiting in Scotland, I spent several days on the Island of Iona (where Christianity began in Scotland). In less than fifteen minutes, I recognized the anguish of social media withdrawal.


I discovered that the Internet connection didn’t work. “How will I stay connected?” I wondered. I found myself checking my cell phone every few minutes – as if that subconscious act would somehow create a miracle by resurrecting a dead Internet connection. Then it hit me:


“The reason I’m here on this pilgrimage is to disconnect, refresh, listen, observe, re-orient myself and be still. Why is this so hard for me?” I thought.


Dr. Samantha Boardman, a clinical instructor in psychiatry and assistant attending psychiatrist at Weill-Cornell Medical College in New York City, reminds us: “Having time just to sit and think can be uncomfortable, if not unnerving. Indeed, being alone with one’s thoughts can be downright scary.” 2


She reveals a study where people were asked to sit alone in a windowless room without any distractions for 15 minutes. There were no magazines, cell phones, books, or any other electronic devices present. Participants found being alone without any diversions so challenging, that many resorted to giving themselves an unpleasant electrical shock – just to interrupt the boredom.


Although being disconnected may be frightening, studies reveal what Jesus understood: Solitude is crucial for our development; spiritually, mentally, and emotionally.


As the word spread about Jesus’ influence, the crowds following him became larger. Many wanted Jesus to cure them of their diseases. However, in the midst of important ministry, we discover a regular pattern in Jesus’ life. He intentionally withdraws to desolate places to pray (see Mt. 6:12; 14:23; Mk. 1:35; 6 46; Jn. 6:15).


Solitude is the soil in which important questions can be asked: “Who am I? What am I doing? What is it that God wants me to discover? Where have I recently encountered God? Where did I miss God, etc.?


Solitude is the space where we can discover our identity without outside distractions. It is the space and time where we find a needed respite from having to cater to the needs of others, and a doorway that leads from busyness to a place of freedom, creativity, intimacy, and spirituality.


Without intentional longing for – and practice of – solitude; our growth becomes stymied, and our anxiety intensified. Solitude encourages intimacy with God and is the distraction free space that opens us to re-connect and re-orient ourselves to the purpose of God.


Our lifestyle frequently adapts to cultural norms and conveniences. So does our worship.


I recently attended a worship service in a beautiful church on a Sunday that I was not scheduled to speak. I was looking forward to a needed time to be refreshed. What I encountered was a continual bombardment of noise and distractions.


Arriving a little early, I just wanted to sit in stillness. While I’m not anti-social and appreciate warm and welcoming congregations, the noise and distractions were an intrusion to the solitude I craved. Loud conversations were roaring all around me:


“What about those Diamondbacks?” “Did you hear the latest news of what Trump did?” “How you doing; what do you think about the weather we’re having?’ “Did you hear the latest about Mrs. Smith?  Look’s like she’s going to have to have surgery.”


I found myself thinking: “I could have worshiped on Facebook this morning.


Even our worship services are challenged to offer us much-needed space to be silent with God. Someone was asked to give a definition of “eternity.” She replied: “Eternity is 60-seconds of silence in a church service.”


We have a difficult time with silence – in and out of the church. However, Jesus underscores the importance of solitude by intentionally scheduling time away from the distractions of life to reconnect, refresh, and re-orient himself with God.


I’m not ready to abandon social media or congregational worship. However, I am seeking ways to discover solitude in the midst of busyness. Here are a few things I’m implementing:


●     Checking my email twice a day (rather than every 15 minutes)

●     Turning my notifications off so as not to be distracted while I’m working on projects

●     Turning my phone to silence and keeping it out of site while I’m in a conversation
       with someone else

●     Setting the alarm on my phone to remind me to stop and enter into 5 minutes of silence,
       twice a day

●     Notice the beauty around me every day; the sky, trees, birds, and rabbits

●     To sit in silence with God before every worship service.


It may not be an exciting list. At least it’s an intentional desire on my part to discover – and enjoy – solitude with God.


What are some of the things you do to enter into solitude?  I’d love to hear from you.


[1] The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1989), Lk 5:16.
[2] https://blogs.wsj.com/experts/2016/06/20/why-doing-nothing-is-so-scary-and-so-important/



●     How often during the day do I check my social media?

●     If I were without Internet or phone service for three days, would I be anxious?

●     When’s the last time I’ve had a day, hour, or 15 minutes of solitude?

●     Do I have regular times where I purposefully “unplug” to reconnect?

●     What three things can I do to carve out some unplugged time?

●     Does silence bother me? If yes, why?

●     What value do I believe will be gained by intentionally desiring and entering solitude?

●     What are my next steps?