In Pursuit of Solitude

Still
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It’s probably about eight o’clock in the evening. I’m not sure because I have no watch and have paid no attention to the time for the past few days. From my perch on the rocky shore of Greenway Island, I watch the sun paint the cliffs opposite me with rich yellow rays, light dancing on the rippling expanse of sea. I am alone. The North Channel of Lake Huron is home to islands of some of the oldest exposed rock on planet Earth, and this moment feels equally timeless.

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That “solo time” was part of a freshman orientation kayaking trip, and it served as my first introduction to the practice of solitude. But it wasn’t until the next summer that I fully realized the vitality of this discipline. That year I spent twelve weeks in Colorado, far from my thoroughly Midwestern family and dearest friends—wrestling with the emotional and psychological repercussions of both the end of my first romantic relationship and my first year of college. The distance and diminishment of my support network drove me to solitude—letters, emails, and phone calls could only do so much. Instead, I wrote in my journal: pages upon pages, hours upon hours. Each morning I grabbed my notebook, along with yogurt, granola, coffee, and a pear, and headed to the breakfast table to write.

I spent significant portions of that summer alone—in the dining hall of the YMCA where I worked, in my room, on the back porch of the on-site ice cream shop, and, best of all, on mountaintops, the Front Range of the Rockies stretching on before me. The peaks gestured heavenward and reminded me to do so as well.

Rereading those journals, I am struck by the progression of each entry, beginning with frustration, sadness, and anger, and culminating in at least a semblance of hope. Writing in my journals was my way of confronting and addressing emotions and thought patterns of which I had previously been blissfully but unfortunately ignorant. My time of solitude became a time of reflection and growth.

Christ too found solitude in the mountains. He spent time throughout his ministry in solitude, and would regularly “withdraw to desolate places and pray” (Luke 5:16, ESV). In Psalm 46, the psalmist reminds God’s people to “be still and know that I am God.” It’s also worth noting that the revelations from God experienced by other biblical figures—including Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John—happened when they were alone.

One of my most respected college professors—the man who led the kayaking trip that took me to the silent island that was my first experience of solitude—advocates this practice of solitude: one hour a day, one day a month, one week a year. This challenge requires impressive discipline and a significant commitment of time. But it’s time well spent.

To engage fully in our own lives and in the lives of our loved ones, we must first experience the benefits that come with solitude: rest, the opportunity for reflection, and rejuvenation. Alone, we return to our roots so that we can begin to grow.

I’m afraid that too often we leave the deeps of life untouched not because we remember they are sacred but because we forget they are there.

—Percy Ainsworth

About the Author

Kathryn Van Zanen is a student at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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