Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:4-5 ESV)
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
(Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 ESV)
God’s plan for us is that we be transformed into the likeness of Jesus. It appears to me that the way this happens in through some very intentional actions. I think the three verses above are related. Jesus makes it clear that we need Him. We try to do so much on our own. It is as if we want to prove to Jesus how much we’ve grown up and how proud of us He should be. We should clearly know better, but how do we learn. Nouwen would say that we learn by swimming upstream against the tide of culture. We intentionally spend some time with Jesus alone and turn off all the inputs of the world.
It is this nothingness that I have to face in my solitude, a nothingness so dreadful that everything in me wants to run to my friends, my work, and my distractions so that I can forget my nothingness and make myself believe that I am worth something. — The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen (page 15)
Nouwen makes a clear distinction between privacy and solitude. Our culture, even our church culture, makes a big deal of our right to privacy. I don’t find a right to privacy in scripture. Privacy encourages me to hide things, mostly sin. Sin grows in darkness and privacy is created darkness. I’m not suggesting that everything we do should be public. I am suggesting that we’d probably grow more if the people who love us were aware of what we’re hiding.
So privacy won’t result in transformation. It certainly won’t help me get to the place where it is Christ who lives in me. So, what is solitude? It is a time when I shut down all activity and shut off all input. This is incredibly difficult for me. Even my quiet time is filled with activity and input. I struggle to spend 5 minutes doing nothing and taking in nothing. The only time I experience this is after our bedtime prayer. As I try to go to sleep I probably come the closest to what Nouwen would describe as solitude. My mind goes crazy and I am confronted with my anger, greed, and fear. Eventually, I go to sleep. When the desert fathers retreated from community they were intentionally entering into a place where they could not escape their own thoughts.
For that reason, Nouwen wants to make solitude the objective. I still don’t agree with that. I think the objective is to be crucified with Christ as Paul describes in Galatians. He has presented his body as a living sacrifice and now he is abiding in Christ. Solitude may be one way to achieve this, but is it the only way?