In chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel account, just after a dramatic scene where Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river and the Holy Spirit descends upon him “in bodily form like a dove” (I’d call that a good day), he is “led around by the Spirit in the Wilderness.” The Greek word here for wilderness is erémos, and the word is meant primarily to represent a lack of population: a place where there are no other people. Many of us are too young to remember life before constant digital noise, when we weren’t ruled by our email inboxes or Instagram notifications. Now more than ever it’s difficult to escape our cultural pull toward distracting ourselves by binging Netflix shows, scrolling through endless news feeds, and picking up our phones every single time a new notification pops up.
I’m not against digital additions to our lives, but it’s hard to deny that it’s having some negative effects. I get enormous benefit from my iPhone, but I’ve also found it to be a constant distraction if I’m not careful. A notification can quickly lead to long periods of scrolling, and emails pouring in can divert me from meaningful in-person conversations or the ability to focus on doing important work. Distraction isn’t new, but it’s in our pockets now.
In chapter 4 of Luke’s gospel account, just after a dramatic scene where Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river and the Holy Spirit descends upon him “in bodily form like a dove” (I’d call that a good day), he is “led around by the Spirit in the Wilderness.” The Greek word here for wilderness is erémos, and the word is meant primarily to represent a lack of population: a place where there are no other people.
This isn’t the last time that Jesus retreats away from other people. The Gospel stories are filled with times where He retreats (sometimes unsuccessfully) to be with the father. It seems that the Gospel authors are placing these moments in the story intentionally, showing us something about the way that Jesus lived: that he valued being with God and that He found God’s presence when He was away from other people.
Jesus’ way of life can counteract the negative effects of digital distraction in our lives. Taking on a rhythm similar to the one that He had can bring us peace that we didn’t realize was possible. Sometimes walking at Jesus’ pace means slowing down.
The Christian philosopher Dallas Willard said this:
““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.”
When we practice silence and solitude, we are doing what followers of Jesus have been doing for thousands of years: quieting ourselves so that we can hear the still, small voice of God. We can put to-do’s, emails, and anxious thoughts on the backburner for a time and rest in God’s presence.
There is no science or formula to this, but below is a short guide to help you try it out. This isn’t meant to be overbearing or to fill your schedule, but just to provide a way for you to pause your day and orient your thinking on God’s presence.
A Guide for Practicing Silence & Solitude
Pick A Time & Place
It sounds simple, but the first step is simply to commit. It could be as simple as in your living room in the morning for 10-15 minutes, but creating a space in your schedule that works well for you will set you up for success. This will look different if you’re single than if you have kids, so don’t feel like it has to look a certain way (I know mornings may feel more spiritual, but if your kids get up early you may need to pick a different time).
Remove Digital Distraction
In the year 2020, this may be the most likely thing to disrupt time in God’s presence. Creating a space without Instagram & email is vital to letting God speak. This is easier for some of us than others. You may just need to place your phone on silent, you may need to set it down at the other end of the room you’re in, or you may need to put it in a drawer somewhere out of reach. It may even be tempting to play music, but I would invite you to consider doing this in complete silence.
Begin With Prayer
Begin your time by inviting God into your space and asking him to do His deep work on your soul. It may be helpful to pray some scripture, bringing your mind to the presence and goodness of God.
This may feel uncomfortable. Many of us aren’t used to this kind of blank space. You may feel the urge to use your phone (this is why we put it away), you may feel anxious & worried. God has to bring these emotions to the surface so that He can deal with them. Over and over, as you practice silence & solitude you’ll discover that it’s a safe place to bring these negative emotions to God, rather than covering them up with the coping mechanisms of modern life.
This is the hardest part. God wants our lives, not a week or so. Whether you practice this once a week or every day, set some sort of rhythm and commit to it. Over time this is how we can be “transformed through the renewing of our minds.” Through time in God’s presence, we remain in the world but not of the world.