Planning A Day of Solitude (Excerpt from “The Life You’ve Always Wanted” by John Ortberg)
I also need extended times alone. I try to withdraw for a day once a month or so, and sometime during the year I try to have a retreat for a couple of days. Retreat centres designed for such experiences are becoming more and more common, although any place where you can be undisturbed suffices.
Francis de Sales used the image of a clock to express his need for extended solitude.
There is no clock, no matter how good it may be, that doesn’t need resetting and rewinding twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. In addition, at least once a year it must be taken apart to remove the dirt clogging it, straighten out bent parts, and repair those worn out. In like manner, every morning and evening a man who really takes care of his heart must rewind it for God’s service. ., More over, he must often reflect on his condition in order to reform and improve it. Finally, at least once a year he must take it apart and examine every piece in detail, that is every affection and passion, in order to repair whatever defects, there may be.
One of the great obstacles to extended solitude is that frequently it may feel like a waste of time. This may happen partly because we are conditioned to feel that our existence is justified only when we are doing something. But I believe this feeling comes also because our minds tend to wander. I used to think that if I devoted a large block of time to praying, I should be able to engage in solid, uninterrupted, focused prayer. But I can’t. The first time I tried extended solitude, my mind wandered like a tourist with a Eurail pass. I would start praying, and the next thing I knew, I was immersed in an anger fantasy. In this fantasy someone who had hurt me was being deeply wounded by the wrong they had done me as I was righteously vindicated. Another time, after beginning to pray, I found myself the object of a success fantasy so grandiose that it would make Narcissus blush with modesty.
What I have come to realize, over time, is that brief times of focused prayer interspersed with these wanderings is all my mind is capable of at this point. One day I hope to do better. But for now, I find consolation in the words of Brother Lawrence: “For many years I was bothered by they thought that I was a failure at prayer. Then one day I realized I would always be a failure at prayer; and I’ve got ten along much better ever since.”
You may be ready to try spending an extended period of time alone with God—perhaps a day. The first attempt at extended solitude can feel intimidating so some structure such as that described on the previous page may help.
A Plan for Extended Solitude
1. Find a place where you can be uninterrupted and alone, such as a park or a retreat centre. (or holiday house)
2. Spend a brief time the night before to get ready, to ask God to bless the day, and to tell him you want to devote the day to him. This day is your gift to God, but even more, it is a gift God wants to give you. What do you need from the Lord: a sense of healing and forgiveness? Conviction for an apathetic heart? Compassion? A renewed sense of mission? Ask him for this.
3. Arrange the day around listening to God. The following format is adapted from Glandion Carney’s book The Spiritual Formation Toolkit.
|8:00—9:00||Prepare your mind and heart, take a walk, or do whatever will help you set aside concerns over tasks and responsibilities. Try to arrange your morning so you can remain in silence from the time you awaken.|
|9:00—11:00||Read and meditate on Scripture, taking time to stop to reflect when God seems to be speaking to you through the text.|
|1 1:00-12:00||Write down responses to what you have read. Speak to God about them|
|12:00—1:00||Eat lunch and take a walk, reflecting on the morning.|
|1:00—2:00||Take a nap.|
|2:00—3:00||Set goals that emerge from the day’s reflection.|
|3:00—4:00||Write down these goals and other thoughts in a journal. You may want to do this in the form of a letter to God. Prepare to reenter society.|