I realize I’m speaking in generalities, but I believe people in our current generation are some of the most stressed out, harried, unsettled people ever. You might feel like you’re one of them. And when you think about it, it really shouldn’t be this way. We have access to more creature comforts than any other culture or group. Compared to our predecessors, we are free from the stress of securing the basics of life, like where my next meal is coming from, what happens if I get sick or injured, or how I will provide for my family. Virtually all of us own cell phones and have instant access to more information that we can use in two lifetimes. Our houses are heated, cooled, powered, and equipped with running water. Skilled health care is readily accessible. Local stores sell food and whatever else we need. So why are we so stressed?
I believe a major cause is sensory overload. Our easy access to information has become a two edged sword- we’ve become addicted to needing information. We’ve become addicted to the need for constant sensory input. Many people cannot fall asleep at night unless the TV is playing in the background.
As an exercise, walk through your typical day. Try to accurately gauge the amount of sensory input your mind is exposed to on an hour by hour basis. Unless you live alone or the kids have grown and left home, mornings are probably a zoo. Driving to work usually involves listening to the radio. Then there’s everything associated with work. Evenings are a jumble of catching up, eating, homework, housework, and TV. That doesn’t count the numerous times each day we check our emails, look at our social media homepages, answer calls, carry on conversations… You get the picture.
The antidote to overload is solitude. Solitude isn’t necessarily an escape to an uninhabited island (unfortunately). Solitude is stolen moments free from external stimulation. There is more value in solitude than simply shutting out noise and enjoying silence. Here are some valuable benefits to a life of someone that makes time for solitude:
Solitude allows you process and contextualize the events of your life. It’s hard to overstate the importance of being able to accurately contextualize the events of the day. Taking a few minutes to reflect on what happened and what was said will enable you to separate the wheat from the chaff of life.
Solitude is where you are refreshed, recharged, and restored. This is self-explanatory, but it’s also true. There’s a reason why basketball and football games have halftime. You can certainly survive the day or week or month without a period of refreshing, but who wants to live like that?
Solitude is the best atmosphere for making important decisions. When an important decision needs to be made, advice from friends, family, and experienced acquaintances are both valuable and advisable. But once you get your advice, it helps to take uninterrupted time to sort, mull over, consider options, and weigh consequences. That’s the value of solitude. The extraneous voices and the drone of life are quieted. If you think about it, I think you’ll agree that most of your important decisions have been made during times of solitude and reflection.
Solitude is where God’s voice is best heard. If you happen to be a person of faith, then recognizing and understanding God’s voice is critical. When God communicated with people in the Bible, He never seemed to shout over the din of life. Instead, He chose occasions that resembled times of solitude. Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Daniel, Job, they all heard directly from God, and God seemed to choose private, quiet times to communicate.
I’m not suggesting we quit our jobs for the desert life of a monk, nor am I suggesting we smash our cell phones and drop out of modern life. But I am recommending a fresh look at the benefits of periodic solitude. Turn off your radio when you’re driving. Sit out on the porch. Take a short walk. Eat lunch outside. You might be surprised at what you’ve been missing.