Inside: Do you long for a moment of silence and solitude? Learn why you need these spiritual disciplines—and how to incorporate them into your life.

Imagine a place so quiet that it’s eerie. You can hear your heart thumping, blood swishing, and bones grinding. You might think you’re in outer space, as you recall the movie Aliens and its famous tagline, “In space no one can hear you scream.

It turns out that you’re in a real place on Earth. 

In 2015, Microsoft built a soundproof chamber in Redmond, Washington. Surrounded by six layers of concrete, the room is covered with sound-absorbing fiberglass wedges. 

If you spent more than a few minutes inside, the lack of sound would cause unbearable ringing in your ears. You’d also lose your balance and fall over due to the lack of echo. 

Fortunately, there’s another kind of quiet that’s much more beneficial to us in today’s world: the spiritual practice of silence and solitude. It, too, can be uncomfortable at first, but unlike the soundproof chamber (or outer space), you’ll feel better afterward. 

What is Silence and Solitude?

When you think of silence and solitude, you might think about getting away to recharge your battery (if you’re an introvert). Squeezing in some “me time” in the she shed. Or indulging in a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream after everyone’s gone to bed.

In their book Lead Yourself First, Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin define solitude as “a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds.” They argue that being alone with our thoughts is not only crucial to our well-being, but it also helps us to maximize our potential.

The Christian practice of silence and solitude is much more than this. It’s the act of removing ourselves from outside noise (silence) and withdrawing from others (solitude) to give our attention fully to God and His Word. 

In other words, we separate ourselves to be alone with our thoughts—and be together with God.

Even though He was the Son of God, Jesus sought spiritual solitude at the beginning of the day. Mark 1:35 says, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (NIV). 

If Jesus as the Son of God needed this time with His Father, how much more do we need this today?

Yet these practices aren’t mandated in the Bible, so this is not another spiritual to-do to add to your list. It won’t give you brownie points before God. But if your life is an exhausting whirl of noise and activity, you’ll find wisdom in these practices.

The Real Reason We Don’t Like to Be Alone

The problem is that silence and solitude don’t come naturally to us. People prefer to distract themselves than sit alone with their thoughts. Studies have shown that when left in an empty room with nothing to do, many participants chose to administer an electric shock to themselves.

In other words, most of us would choose to do something over doing nothing—even if that something was negative. 

In his book Indistractable, Nir Eyal argues that our modern-day distractions are a way of avoiding uncomfortable feelings. These internal triggers might include boredom, cravings, loneliness, or curiosity.

Not only that, distractions give us a temporary break from our less-than-perfect life. After a long day, we flip on Netflix not because we expect to find a show that’ll top our favorite movie from the 80s or 90s. (No, that’s impossible.) 

We’re looking for a way to shut off the non-stop pressure at work (or home), the creeping worries, or the vague sense of meaninglessness. We’re distractable because deep down, we want to be distracted. So, unfortunately, chucking your smartphone into the ocean won’t solve all these issues. 

If only it were that easy. 

6 Unique Benefits of Silence and Solitude

Even if it doesn’t come naturally to us, there are plenty of reasons why we should set aside moments of quiet. Here are a few of them:

1. Better focus on what matters

Unless we address the root causes, we’ll continue to find ways to distract ourselves—with or without our phones. One way of doing this is to bring our distressing feelings to God instead of running from them. 

When we do this, God will show us the truths that will set us free. He’ll give us the encouragement and comfort we need. And when we’re less dependent on our distractions to feel better, we’ll be more focused on the things that matter.

2. More spiritual fruit

Matthew 13:22 says, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.” 

All the noise and pressures of the world choke out our ability to hear from God and grow spiritually. If you feel distant from God—or are stagnant in your spiritual growth—you’ll benefit from setting apart periods of silence and solitude to seek Him and read His Word.

3. Increased wisdom

Before calling the 12 apostles, Jesus went to the mountainside to pray all night (Luke 6:12-13). While you might not be choosing the first apostles, you can learn from Jesus’s example. Setting aside time to be alone with God will help you gain discernment and insight when making major decisions.

4. Slower pace

Dallas Willard once said, “Hurry is the great enemy of the spiritual life in our day.” Yet it’s hard to slow down our pace when hurry is all we know. We run from task to task in the hamster wheel of modern life.

Sometimes, the way to get off the wheel isn’t by slowing down. It’s to get off the hamster wheel altogether to break the cycle of hurry.

5. Deep rest and renewal

Despite their packed ministry schedule, Jesus invited His disciples to silence and solitude. Mark 6:31 says, “Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’” 

Jesus cares for our physical, mental, and spiritual needs for rest. He says we’ll find true rest when we come to Him, rather than the things of the world (Matthew 11:28-30).

6. Increased love for others

Perhaps you’re struggling to love others the way you want to. You still get annoyed when you’re interrupted at work. You raise your voice at the kids way too much. And you wish you could tame the beast of self-interest.

The good news of the Gospel is that you can stop the striving, self-flagellating, and self-help books.

The only thing that will change us is allowing God to transform us through His Word. He’s the One who’ll make us more humble, patient, and compassionate. 

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How to Practice Silence and Solitude with God

There’s no right or wrong way to practice spiritual solitude, but here are 8 tips to get you started. 

1. Start small.

By small, I mean really small. Like many spiritual practices, silence and solitude is challenging at first and rewarding later. If you get ambitious and start with an hour at a time, you might get overwhelmed and never try again. 

Start with one minute in silence with God. Then build up to 5 or 10 minutes if you’d like.

2. Store your phone out of sight. 

Put your phone far away, in another room if possible. Don’t just turn on Do Not Disturb and keep it next to you. 

Studies show that the mere presence of our phones diminishes our ability to think. Our brains must do extra work to keep us from being distracted by our devices. Set yourself up for success by minimizing external distractions to begin with.

3. Let go of any agenda.

During this time, you might not know what to do. That’s normal. It’s simply a time for you to spend alone with God. You’ll want to have your Bible and a journal, but that’s about it. 

You might start reading the Psalms, your daily Bible reading, or verses relevant to an issue you’re currently facing. Be open to how He leads. 

Let go of any preconceived expectations of what this time should look like. Don’t even expect a “spiritual” experience. Be agenda-less.

4. Embrace the boredom.

Expect to be bored at first. Boredom isn’t always negative, but we’ve been conditioned to run from it. Once you push past the initial feelings of restlessness, you’ll experience peace as you detox from life’s constant mental stimulation.

So instead of being discouraged that you’re bored (or distracted again), be encouraged. You’re making progress!

5. Do a mindless activity at the same time.

If you continue to struggle with this practice, try doing something mindless at the same time. Converse with God while folding the laundry, raking the leaves, or doodling in your journal.

Sometimes the act of doing something else helps us to focus on Him better. 

6. Use normal routines as opportunities.

If your schedule is packed, you can also incorporate solitude and silence by removing outside noise during your daily routine.

Turn off the radio in the car to use your commute time. Do some of your daily chores without a podcast. Or use a spare moment of downtime when you’d normally scroll social media. 

You’ll be surprised at how much more refreshed you feel afterward.

7. Make it a daily practice. 

Establish a daily practice by picking a consistent time and place that works for you.

You might get up five minutes earlier and use a secluded room. You could use the kids’ afternoon naptime and pick the sofa as your place. Or spend a few minutes in your car after work before you enter the house. 

8. Plan for longer periods.

As you get comfortable with this practice, find ways of setting aside more time.

Incorporate longer periods of spiritual solitude on the weekends. Plan for a time during a special retreat. Or set aside some time with God during your next trip away.

The One Thing You Must Know

Silence and solitude aren’t easy practices. Not only do they go against our culture, but they go against our nature. So if you find this practice difficult, you’re not alone. 

Henri Nouwen once described his experience of solitude this way: “As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree.”

As much as we love God, we don’t like to be alone with our thoughts. Nor do we like to face our inner demons. Spiritual solitude can bring up painful feelings normally buried amidst our busyness.

Dallas Willard once warned, “We can only survive solitude if we cling to Christ there.” So if distressing emotions arise, take them to God. Pour out your heart to Him.

Don’t run from them by picking up your phone. That GIF message can wait.

For if you persist past the discomfort, you’ll find a sweet time of communion with God. And it’ll beat any other kind of silence on Earth—or in outer space.

Recap: 8 Tips for Practicing Silence and Solitude

1. Start small.

2. Store your phone out of sight. 

3. Let go of any agenda.

4. Embrace the boredom.

5. Do a mindless activity at the same time.

6. Use normal routines as opportunities.

7. Make it a daily practice. 

8. Plan for longer periods.

How much silence and solitude do you have in your life right now? How can you incorporate more?

For more on this topic:

14 Ways to Stay Connected to God

13 Ways to Create Space in Your Life

How to Keep the Sabbath in Modern Times

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Recommended Books on Spiritual Solitude

Invitation to Solitude and Silence: Experiencing God’s Transforming Presence by Ruth Haley Barton

Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster

The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives by Dallas Willard

Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald Whitney

Photo by Robert Gramner on Unsplash

About the Author

Helen Rees

I am a Christian, wife, stepmom, psychiatric nurse, and writer. I write about research-backed ways to navigate the challenges of fast-paced modern life while growing in your Christian faith.

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