The Joy of Quietly Slipping Away

The Joy of Quietly Slipping Away

“But the news about Him was spreading even farther, and large crowds were gathering to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus Himself would often slip away to the wilderness and pray.”
Luke 5:15-16


An airline company advertising slogan has greatly increased its brand awareness with the sales pitch, “Wanna get away?” I am certain in a similar vein that many people are wishing they could get away as the hectic holiday season descends upon us.

Our culture is shackled by rapidly rising costs and greatly diminishing buying power due to inflation, frightened by escalating crime and violence across the nation, and pursued by the ever-present health crisis associated with seasonal flu and lingering spikes in COVID-19 variants. Many of us feel imprisoned in an increasingly shrinking corner of cultural confinement from which there is no escape!

Joyfully, the Christian spiritual disciplines provide a way to overcome these limitations. Saints through the centuries have discovered the benefits of the companion spiritual disciplines—solitude and silence—to break the will and to teach them how to fully entrust their lives to God. These twin spiritual practices have been termed the most radical of the disciplines for life in the Spirit, but they yield amazing results when they are practiced (cf. Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 100). We must discover what they mean because they are the vital pathway to a healthy soul.
The meaning of solitude and silence
Donald Whitney defines silence as the “voluntary and temporary abstention from speaking so that certain spiritual goals might be sought” (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 224-225, Kindle Edition). He writes that silence may be practiced “to read the Bible, meditate on Scripture, pray, journal, and so on.” A person may forego outward speaking but may engage in “intentional, biblical self-talk or prayer to God.” At other times, one might not speak at all but focus their mind upon God and rest in His love as displayed through Christ (Colossians 3:2).

Solitude, according to Whitney, is the “Spiritual Discipline of voluntarily and temporarily withdrawing to privacy for spiritual purposes.” (Spiritual Disciplines, 225). The length of solitude may be only a few minutes or extended for days. The goal is to engage in other spiritual disciplines or simply to be alone with God.

Granted, pursuing these two spiritual disciplines may seem to be as likely as being able to scale both Mount Everest and Mount Kilimanjaro in a matter of weeks. However, the practice of these disciplines will provide the Christian with a deep reservoir of God’s peace in our noisy and hectic world. Jesus leads the way.
The Example of Christ
Matthew records that the Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness where He spent forty days in solitude (Matthew 4). Dallas Willard believes that the wilderness, a place of solitude and deprivation, was also the setting for strength and to be strengthened (Spirit of the Disciplines, 101). It should come as no surprise that Jesus withdrew into periods of isolation “to submit his physical body to righteousness” (Mark 1:35; 3:13; 6:31, 46; Willard, 101).

Rather than see the temptations of Satan as a time where defeat hung in the balance, Professor Willard helps us to see those moments as the victorious fruit that solitude bore in the Savior’s life! These moments empowered His life and ministry for the doing of good. The key is to learn how to listen for the whisper of God amid the many daily distractions and myriad ways the Tempter seeks to trip us up.
Listening to God
Listening more to God. If you are like me, then most of your day is filled with noises and voices. Wonderfully, solitude and silence teach us to seek the voice of God in this atmosphere. These twin spiritual pearls enable us to hear His call even as we find ourselves binding the scrapes on elbows and bruises on the emotions of our children. We learn to hear His solicitations in tense company meetings as well, and in the midst of stressful personal relationships.

Solitude and silence teach us to seek to empty our lives of self. This season, and every period throughout the year, provides us with the opportunity to turn our focus away from our own selfish petitions toward memorizing scripture that praises God and His attributes. It has been said that “all those who open their mouths, close their eyes” (Foster, Celebration of Discipline; James 3:1-12). This turning to solitude and silence requires a simple spiritual process.
The spiritual process of exercising solitude and silence
First, we will yield control of our lives to the Spirit. Self-emptying is much more than adding more laws to our lives. We may, for example, announce a fast from social media for thirty days but never truly unlock the closed doors that prevent God’s peace from flooding our lives. The writer of Ecclesiastes says that the “sacrifice of fools is idle religious talk” (5:2; Foster, Celebration of Discipline).

The secret is control! We need to give God the keys to the locked entrances inside our hearts (cf. James 3:6). If we are under the discipline of silence and solitude, then we say what needs to be said when it needs to be said. The silence gives God greater and deeper access to our innermost thoughts and aims where he will have freedom to do his best work.

Secondly, we will learn to let go of our desire to manipulate and control others. The discipline of solitude and silence helps us to avoid the use of words to manage and control others. If we are silent then God will take control. We often overlook the fact that our tongues are powerful tools of manipulation. To eliminate the desire to control others requires trust in the heavenly Father. Seasonal gatherings with family and friends will offer us multiple settings where we may cease our striving to control them.

Solitude and silence also teach us to “still our house,” as Richard Foster says (Celebration of Discipline). The Church Fathers likened this phenomenon to the “dark night of the soul.” The phrase need not be too daunting for us to consider. It simply means that we allow all our physical, emotional, psychological, and even spiritual senses to be silenced.

We seek for everything within us to grow still so that God can do His work in us. There is no more speaking at God, reminding Him of what He already knows! We seek inner silence and allow His peace to fill the space that chatter and clatter once occupied. We no longer will be preyed upon by our own inner dullness and boredom that too often leads us to meaningless activity (see Isaiah 50: 10). Here are several ways to benefit from these twin disciplines in this season and beyond.
A Way Forward
Richard Foster offers us guidance in how to apply these disciplines to our lives (see Celebration of Discipline, 105 ff.). First, take advantage of the little solitudes in your day. Seek out those early morning moments in bed before others arise. Even take time in bumper-to-bumper traffic to set your heart on the presence of God. Rather than a vocal prayer before a meal, practice a period of silence at the table.

Secondly, find a quiet place for silence and solitude. Sometimes it’s a room in your house, a corner in one of those rooms, or even a special chair or a place where family members can retreat! Some will practice solitude and silence at a certain place in a nearby park or a quiet corner of a public library.

Thirdly, schedule a retreat several times a year for several hours. Reevaluate your goals and objectives in life. Ask questions like “What will I do?” “What will I strive to accomplish this year? In three years? Ten years from now?” Seek to discover goals and not simply make them. Discover what you want to learn from God and pursue it. 

Lastly, develop greater compassion for others. Strive to increase your sensitivity to the needs of others. Become attentive to other people. In the words of Thomas Merton: “It is in deep solitude that I find the gentleness with which I can truly love my brothers. The more solitary I am the more affection I have for them…. Solitude and silence teach me to love my brothers for what they are, not for what they say” (as quoted in Foster, Celebration of Discipline, 108).


Dallas Willard writes of the observation of Henry David Thoreau. He recognized that even secular existence withers from the lack of a hidden life. Rather than converse, we gossip, and those we meet only share what they have heard from someone else!

Thoreau states it this way: “We go more constantly and desperately to the post office,” but “the poor fellow who walks away with the greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive correspondence, has not heard from himself this long while…. Read not The Times,” he concludes, “read The Eternities!” (as quoted in Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, 162).

Permit me a play on words with the airline advertising slogan: Wanna slip away? Take intentional time this season to quietly slip away into solitude and silence and “read the eternities.” Your soul will spring to new life!

Larry C. Ashlock