It is Good to Hope and Wait Quietly: The Forgotten Discipline of Solitude

It was cool outside a few days ago and I wasn’t doing anything. I had nothing planned for the next couple of hours and I just wanted to spend some time with the Lord.

I’m not oblivious to my shortcomings when it comes to my personal prayer and devotional time so I thought I might go outside, sit in my lawn chair with my Bible and redeem the time a little. I played Bible roulette (which I don’t recommend), and I landed on Lamentations 3, and I just started reading. I know the context of Lamentations. It’s Jeremiah’s lament over the destruction and exile of Jerusalem during a time when they were acting rebellious agains the Lord, and it was their time reap what they had sown.

As I read, I could see the typical parallels between the sins of Jerusalem and the sins of our culture, and I got to epic passage where Jeremiah finally says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23, NKJV)

This is the text everyone likes to cross stitch on a pillow and make a graphic of on their Bible and completely forget the fact that it comes from a place deep sorrow, anguish, and longing. Those verses have great meaning, but my eyes didn’t fully come to rest until I landed on verse 26.

“It good that one should hope and wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” – Lamentations 3:26, NKJV

I think sometimes we want this big emotional payoff when we pray. Maybe we want an “AHA” moment where something just clicks in our hearts and minds that we didn’t thinks of before. Maybe we want a heavenly pat on the back that for taking the time to pray. Maybe we want to walk around glowing so people know that we’ve been with God.

I think sometimes believe that the way prayer works is that we talk to God, and then He should talk to us whether through His Word or a thought that comes into our minds or whatever means He chooses, and we can walk away knowing that our prayer did something, but I don’t think that’s how it’s supposed to work.

We live in a time where everyone wants instant gratification. We want every post on social media to make an impact. We want the likes and comments. We want our 15 minutes of fame on TikTok after we just posted a stupid video of ourselves singing along to a dumb song. We are a people who love the microwave. Put a frozen brick of food in there, and in 5 minutes you have a meal. This whole way of thinking about gratification can bleed over into our spirituality if we’re not careful.

When we think of the spiritual disciplines we think of prayer, fasting, and Bible reading. Those are the main three that our minds wander to. I’ll even admit that when I preached a sermon series over the spiritual disciples a couple of years ago that those are the ones that I focused on. Don’t misunderstand me, those are important and we shouldn’t lose or even diminish the value of those disciplines, but they’re not the only ones available to us.

When my eyes landed on Lamentations 3:26 I was reminded that solitude is in fact a spiritual discipline. I don’t think we realize how valuable just being quiet is. We always have to noise. I often keep my television on for background noise. We’re always listening to music, a podcast, or some radio station in our car. Even when we sleep, we must have white noise from a fan or air conditioner or we can’t sleep. When my wife comes home from work she sometimes just wants to sit in the quiet for a few minutes and it drives me batty because I always have to have something going.

However, I’m not so sure that it’s entirely healthy to always be surrounded with noise. For some us, I think it’s almost a fear. We don’t want to be left alone with our thoughts. Maybe it’s not that dark for some of us. Maybe it’s that we feel like if we just sit in the quiet that we’re wasting time and not accomplishing anything, and we fear not getting anything done.

Whatever the reason is, I think we sometimes just have to push our issues aside for a few moments and allow ourselves to relax and connect with the Lord in solitude.

In his book, The Great Ommission, Dallas Willard actually argues that for some of us, having a Sabbath isn’t possible without solitude.

For most of us, Sabbath will not become possible without extensive, regular practice of solitude. That is, we must practice time alone, out of contact with others, in a comfortable setting outdoors or indoors, doing no work. We must not take our work with us into solitude, or it will evade us—not even in the form of Bible study, prayer, or sermon preparation, for then we will not be alone. An afternoon walking by a stream or on the beach, in the mountains, or sitting in a comfortable room or yard is a good way to start. This should become a weekly practice. Then perhaps a day, or a day and a night, in a retreat center where we can be alone. Then perhaps a weekend or a week, as wisdom dictates.

This will be pretty scary at first for most of us. But we must not try to get God to “do something” to fill up our time. That will only throw us back into work. The command is “Do no work.” Just make space. Attend to what is around you. Learn that you don’t have to do to be. Accept the grace of doing nothing. Stay with it until you stop jerking and squirming.

Solitude well practiced will break the power of busyness, haste, isolation, and loneliness. You will see that the world is not on your shoulders after all. You will find yourself, and God will find you in new ways. Joy and peace will begin to bubble up within you and arrive from things and events around you. Praise and prayer will come to you and from within you. With practice, the “soul anchor” established in solitude will remain solid when you return to your ordinary life with others.

Dallas Willard, The Great Ommission

If what Willard says is true (and I think it is), then it would do us well to sit and wait on the Lord in quiet solitude.

I think we tend to think of things like waiting, solitude, and silence as just things we have to endure until we get to what we want, but what if we saw them as opportunities to engage with the Lord? What if we even went out of our way to be quiet and step away from the noise? What kind of a difference could it make our lives if just agreed with God that it is good to hope and wait quietly for Him?