On Why Solitude is so Difficult! Solitude as Sabbath

For people living in culture of compulsive productivity, solitude is so difficult because it is as unproductive as is Sabbath. The way of out of such compulsivity is to treat the practice of solitude as Sabbath. Sabbath rest is where we learn to rest in God’s presence. Augustine said, “we are restless until we find our rest in Thee(God).” We come to experience true freedom in resting in the presence of Christ instead of being addicted to our compulsion to productivity. Spiritual practice of silent solitude helps us to learn to trust in the God’s provision and rest Christ’s love instead of being addicted to our need for productivity. 

To jump on the bandwagon of cyber candidness I have to confess that the past few weeks I have not has my weekly spiritual practice of solitude. I have been wondering why I haven’t been making time for spiritual solitude. I realize that the reason is: I am addicted to Productivity

The past few weeks, I have allowed myself to get spread too thin doing too many projects ranging from church planting planning to mapping out book plan outlines to working on Star Wars vlogs, all for the sake of the Gospel of course! But it meant that I was in a productivity binge owing to which I kept postponing my solitude time weeks on end.

I decided to break the streak and go sit at Herman park meditating and praying, resting quietly in the presence of the Spirit of Christ. It occurred to me that the principle behind solitude is really same as the principle behind Sabbath. The principle behind Sabbath is one of learning to trust God. Sabbath was instituted as an exercise of faith – that one can have a zero productivity day trusting that God will provide. 

 

Opposite of this Sabbath trust in God’s providence is modernity’s compulsive productivity mindset. As a kid I used to be told repeatedly, “you can’t go to heaven in a rocking chair,” meaning one has to be hard working productive individuals to be loved by God. Apparently productivity is not merely the domain of economics, even religion has fallen down to worship the god of modernity: productivity improvements! 

Sabbath is instituted as the second of the 10 commandments because it is the counterpoise of this compulsion to productivity. The spiritual practice of solitude, even as unproductive as it seems to the modern eyes, is precisely the disciple that helps us not worship the counterfeit God of productivity at all costs. 

I sometimes hear people say how much they love solitude because it helps them relax and rest up so that they can hit the ground running and be super productive at work. This type of reasoning completely misses the point of Sabbath which is that we are commanded to be unproductive so that know what it means to rest in a state of consciousness of truly trusting in God’s provision. 

For people living in culture of compulsive productivity, solitude is so difficult because it is as unproductive as is Sabbath. The way of out of such compulsivity is to treat the practice of solitude as Sabbath. Sabbath rest is where we learn to rest in God’s presence. Augustine said, “we are restless until we find our rest in Thee(God).” We come to experience true freedom in resting in the presence of Christ instead of being addicted to our compulsion to productivity. Spiritual practice of silent solitude helps us to learn to trust in the God’s provision and rest Christ’s love instead of being addicted to our need for productivity. 

Examen Prayer – An Discovery of Deep Desires

The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.

I find the Examen prayer to be a great way of discovering my deepest desires. The Examen prayer is something that has been used in monastic setups for centuries. Recently, With the popularization of Christian spiritual practices among Evangelicals, the Examen prayer has come into vogue. And I am excited! 

The Examen prayer was started by St. Ignatius as a way of examination of consciousness. I am adding a little bit of a twist to the practice in order to frame it as a way of discovering our deep desires which I believe aligns with the spirit of what St. Ignatius was getting at. 

The Examen prayer is done at the end of each day, as a way of reviewing the day to see how our spirit and desires were moved through the day. It is a way of prayerfully asking a series of questions that help us be attuned to the presence of Christ’s spirit and discover our deep desires.

Prayerfully submit to God and ask for His help in order to spiritually ponder the following questions.
1. When did I feel most loved today?
2. When did I feel least loved today?
3. When was I most aware of God’s presence today?
4. When was I least aware of God’s presence today?
5. What desires for future really captivated me today? Did my desires comport with my love for God and love for neighbor?
Pray for God to strengthen you to face the next day.

This exercise, when done daily over a period of time helps achieved the following
1. Greater self-awareness – just knowing the different influences on your life.
2. Greater sensitivity to God’s presence, in the form of the Spirit of Christ in our lives. The Spirit of Christ is always with us – our awareness of it goes up or down based on what we are paying attention to at a given time. 
3. Discovery of deep desires: This exercise helps us to see how our desires move based on events of the day. For example, a deep desire to quit your job may have strongly moved you during the day. Then, at the end of the day, you do the examen prayer and you will remember that the moment when you felt least loved was when your co-worker was mean. Then you may realize that your desire to quit your job came our of the anxiety of dealing with a mean co-worker. So it may not have been God’s voice speaking to you prodding you to quit. Rather, it may have just been your own anxiety sowing the desire to quit. (Of course, it is possible God is speaking to you through your anxiety… if the trend is consistent over a period of time then it has to be taken seriously). You will discover some desires come up within you when you are in a state of spiritual tranquility* – these are the desires you want to pay attention to. Pay attention to how your desires move when your sensitivities are greatly attuned to God’s presence in you – these are likely to be your deepest desires. For example, for me when I am prayerful the desire to write to bring glory to God and love neighbor is kindled in me. The desires that God has placed in you and the ones which get kindled when your spirit rests tranquilly in the presence of the Spirit of Christ.

As you keep doing the Examen prayer over a period of time. You will begin to notice patters – you will begin to see that when you are anxious your desires move in one way (quitting the job in the example above) then when you are in a state of spiritual rest/consolation your desires moved in a different way (writing to glorify God in the example above). Seeing consistency in these patterns will help you to parse through the desires that arise out of fear or compulsion in order to truly discover what your deepest, God created, desire is.

*Spiritual Tranquility – I will need to do a different post on the topic of spiritual tranquility.