Further up and Further In


Fashioning Our own Wilderness: Solitude

Further up and Further In


If you are continuing with this retreat on the same day, take a few moments to take a break and allow whatever God stirred in you in The First Reflection to settle. Again, go for a walk; lie in a hammock, take a nap; do something that feels unhurried and possibly pointless! When you are ready to transition, get into a comfortable listening posture, ask the Lord for the grace to remain open and attentive, and proceed.


Read reflectively 1 Kings 19:11-13. Notice what word or phrase captures your attention. Linger with that word or phrase and allow it to nourish your soul.

Again and again in our lives, God meets us in the wilderness. He meets us in the desert.


There can be many different reasons why we find ourselves in this wilderness type place, a place of being alone or in a place of solitude. Sometimes the wilderness is chosen for us and other times we choose it, knowing the power the wilderness holds for transformation. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus chose to go to solitary, lonely places to be alone with His Father.


There are things we learn, understandings we come to and realizations we find only in the wilderness.​ Michael Card says it this way:


“In the wilderness, the children of Israel discovered that above all others, He was worthy. He was the Father they wanted. He was the Provider they needed. He was the Mighty One without whose protection they would have disappeared in the desert sands as had so many other people lost before them. As they discovered His worth in the stresses and strains that only the wilderness provides, they discovered worth-ship — they discovered how much God is worth — which is what worship really is.” ​


It was the wilderness where Elijah ended up running for dear life when Jezebel threatened him with extinction. Could it have been that, even as he was running for his physical life, he was running for the state of his soul as well?


As he runs, he ends up on Mt. Horeb. The word “Horeb” means desolate, barren, deserted, solitary, lonely. Mt Horeb is another name for Mt. Sinai. Think of all the things that happened on Mt. Sinai. This was where Moses had his encounter with the Lord in the burning bush and where he was given the 10 commandments. Some say the cave where Elijah ultimately found himself was the very cave or cleft in the rock where Moses saw the Lord’s goodness pass by.


Like Elijah, we all need time and spacein our lives to disengage from the world and recover.​ We need time and space to respond to Jesus’ invitation to come away with Him to a quiet place and get some rest. Sometimes it is up to us to create or fashion that space for ourselves.

If you cannot go into the desert, you must nonetheless ‘make some desert’ in your life. Every now and then leaving … and looking for solitude to restore, in prolonged silence and prayer, the stuff of your soul.”

— Carlo Carretto

We have to fashion our own desert where we can withdraw every day, shake off our compulsions and dwell in the gentle healing presence of the Lord. Without such a desert we will lose our own soul while preaching the gospel to others.”

— Henri Nouwen

Reflect for a moment.

What has this looked like for you during this season?

What has been your experience of creating your own desert within the desert?

Where have you gone?

What did you do?

How did it go?

There are many reasons why getting extended time away with God has been, for me, an important practice in restoring my soul. Ruth Haley Barton says it best:

“Times of extended retreat give us a chance to come home to ourselves in God’s presence and to be with God with what is true about us in utter privacy. This is important for us and for those we serve. When we repress what is real in our lives and just keep soldiering on, we get weary from holding it in and eventually it leaks out in ways that are damaging to ourselves and to others.


“But on retreat there is time and space to attend to what is real in our own lives — to celebrate the joys, grieve the losses, shed tears, sit with the questions, feel my anger, attend to my loneliness — and allow God to be with us in those places. These are not times for problem-solving or fixing because not everything can be fixed or solved. On retreat we rest ourselves in God and wait on Him to do what is needed and we return to the battle with fresh energy and keen insight.“


— Ruth Haley Barton

In Elijah’s time of solitude, God makes Himself known not in the wind, earthquake or fire.


Instead it was a still, small voice. The Hebrew meaning of the phrase “still small voice” is more like “a quiet breath or sound”. In retreat two, Daniel spoke of the Hebrew word for Spirit (RUACH) and the Greek word (PNEUMA) meaning “breeze” or “breath”.


Now think about that in terms of the still small voice, or as some translations say the “gentle whisper” that Elijah hears. A whisper suggests intimacy. You have to lean in close to hear a whisper. It helps to be still. It’s difficult to hear a whisper if you’re running around. A whisper is better heard when we’re undistracted and attentive. And as we discovered in The First Reflection, God’s whisper is tender and full of affection for us. Once we hear it for ourselves, we want to hear it again and again.

“For the man or woman who has come to know and love the Lord God in the depths of such intimacy, the times of solitude are the most precious in all of life. They are a rendezvous with the Beloved. They are anticipated with eagerness … gentle interludes with (God) alone are highlights of life.” ​


— Phillip Keller

Reflection Questions

In 1 Kings 19, God asked Elijah a simple question, “What are you doing here?” We hear an echo of this question when Jesus asks the two disciples who are following Him in John 1:38, “What do you want?” Another paraphrase might be, “What are you looking for?”


As you sit in silence with God today, how would you honestly answer the questions, “What are you looking for? What do you want?” Be aware of the tenderness in God’s voice as He invites your engagement, as He draws you into the desert for this intimate conversation.

Moving forward, what might it look like for you to come closer to hear the whisper of God?


What might it look like to fashion your own desert in the days to come?


Is there a church nearby that keeps its doors open where you could slip in and pause for some silence, solitude and prayer? Is it possible to get up early before the household is awake or stay up later to find a desert time? Are there places outdoors that draw you in and offer a sanctuary of sorts?

As you continue to practice retreating in God’s presence, you might find these guidelines from Emilie Griffin​ helpful. You might also enjoy this article​ written by Matt Scott on silence and solitude.

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